Master of Smell – wissenschaft.de

Holger Volk from the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover with the Bernese Mountain Dog Cordula. She is one of 15 dogs that have undergone special training to sniff out SARS-CoV-2 infections as part of a study led by Volks. (Image: Ralf Baumgarten)

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Holger Volk from the University of Veterinary Medicine Hanover with the Bernese Mountain Dog Cordula. She is one of 15 dogs that have undergone special training to sniff out SARS-CoV-2 infections as part of a study led by Volks. (Image: Ralf Baumgarten)

Dogs have proven themselves in detecting corona viruses. And they are also good for sniffing out other diseases.

Cordula sniffs at a hole in the big metal box and pauses. Finally, the black-haired Bernese mountain dog sticks her brown and white nose all the way into the hole. It was worth it: a treat falls out of a metal box at her feet.

Cordula is one of a total of 15 dogs that completed a one-week special training course as part of a study by the University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover (TiHo). It has turned them into medical super-noses, detecting those infected with corona viruses from over 5,000 samples with a precision of 92 percent. The dogs had only been trained with saliva samples, but they sniffed out Corona just as reliably in urine and sweat samples.

Dogs are so-called macrosmatics with an exceptional sense of smell and memory. The good sense of smell is absolutely necessary for them to perceive information that is vital for them. Man recognized this more than 10,000 years ago when he domesticated the dog. Since then, he has been using the four-pawed scent expert to track down prey. Science has only been using canine talent in medicine for a few decades, for example for epileptics. The animals can detect a change in body odor just before an epileptic seizure. The dog’s alert can help sufferers find a safe environment before the seizure begins and take emergency medication.

The driving force behind the study of dogs’ sense of smell and its importance for corona detection is Holger Volk, Professor of Small Animal Diseases and Head of the Small Animal Clinic at the TiHo. The successes in the research field of epilepsy had aroused his interest. Together with his colleague, the TiHo virologist Albert Osterhaus, a co-discoverer of the corona virus, he looked through more than 130 worldwide studies on the subject in a meticulous specialist literature search. The meta-study documents the worldwide successful use of medical detection dogs. They usually sniff out diseases of all kinds in body fluids, body odor, breath, sweat or cell cultures with a high hit rate. In addition to corona, prostate cancer and bacterial infections are also reliably sniffed out in experiments by trained dogs – malaria parasites even before the onset of the disease.

Volk’s team relies on dog noses because they have proven their suitability for detecting diseases of all kinds. But the study cautiously states: “In order to definitively diagnose a certain disease, additional laboratory tests must be carried out.”

This abridged article, including images from the photo reportage, is from the February 2022 issue of bild der wissenschaft. You can read in the full article why dogs can smell so well and what technical alternatives to sniffing out pathogens scientists are investigating.

Reference-www.wissenschaft.de

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