The dogs will undergo intensive training to see if they can spot coronavirus before symptoms appear
Back in April, the Chronicle reported that local charity, Medical Detection Dogs, was fundraising to train six dogs to detect if someone has COVID-19.
The Department of Health and Social Care has announced today (16 May 2020) that it is backing the trial with £500,000 of government funding. Minister for Innovation Lord Bethell said:
“Bio-detection dogs already detect specific cancers and we believe this innovation might provide speedy results as part of our wider testing strategy.
“Accuracy is essential so this trial will tell us whether ‘COVID dogs’ can reliably detect the virus and stop it spreading.”
If successful, the dogs could provide a fast and non-invasive detection method alongside the government’s 5-pillar testing strategy.
It is one of a number of testing measures being explored in order to ensure the government’s response to the virus is as extensive as possible.
The initial phase of the trial will see NHS staff in London hospitals collect odour samples from people who are infected with coronavirus and those who are uninfected. The six bio detection dogs will then undergo thorough training to identify the virus from the samples.
The dogs will only be deployed if backed by strong scientific evidence. Dr Claire Guest, co-founder and ceo of Medical Detection Dogs, said:
“We are delighted that the government has given us the opportunity to demonstrate that dogs can play a role in the fight against COVID-19. They have the potential to help by quickly screening people, which could be vital in the future.
“We have already demonstrated our expertise in canine disease detection by successfully training dogs to detect diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s and malaria, and we apply that same science to train life-saving Medical Alert Assistance Dogs to detect odour changes in individuals caused by their health condition.
“We are sure our dogs will be able to find the odour of COVID-19 and we will then move into a second phase to test them in live situations, following which we hope to work with other agencies to train more dogs for deployment. We are incredibly proud that a dog’s nose could once again save many lives.”