About the study
This study is built on the scientifically proven ability of dogs to act as great biosensors, capable of detecting odours associated with human health, as well as drugs, explosives and food.
For example, it has been scientifically proven that dogs can sense small changes in volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which can be produced by the human body when it is diseased. Dogs have already been trained to diagnose cancer in samples from patients, to alert people with diabetes that their blood sugar is low and detect many other diseases.
In a study published in the Lancet Infectious Diseases last year and funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, our team of partners demonstrated that dogs can detect the presence of malaria in human odour with an effectiveness greater than 90%, even at an early stage of infection, which is above the World Health Organization’s standards for a diagnostic test. Importantly, the dogs can detect this in individuals who have no symptoms. We are now furthering this method to be used on the ground in sub-Saharan Africa where malaria is of serious concern.
Now, we hypothesise that dogs will also be able to detect VOCs in people who are infected with COVID-19. The research will involve training six available bio-detection dogs to distinguish between positive and negative odour samples, collected from up to 3,250 asymptomatic adults (who will be independently tested for COVID-19 infection). Our vision is to develop a fast, effective and non-invasive diagnostic, with the bio-detection dogs working to detect individuals infected with coronavirus at ports of entry and large gatherings.
Our world-leading team of scientists is highly experienced and perfectly positioned to perform the work required to demonstrate that dogs can detect COVID-19, deploy and up-scale.
Our study objectives are:
To rigorously test the method through an intensive training programme, and, if successful, to deploy dogs within 8-10 weeks after training.
To work with other, experienced partners to scale-up operations rapidly for mass global mass testing during the current pandemic. Each dog can screen up to 250 people hourly.
To place dogs in service at airports and other ports of entry to detect infected travellers, and for community surveys in countries worldwide.
The implications of the study
This study could have a profound impact on how quickly we return to normality. Once we have demonstrated that our initial set of six trained dogs are capable of reliably identifying people infected with the coronavirus as, this non-invasive testing approach can then be scaled up significantly and rapidly.
Several trained dogs would be able to screen thousands of travellers each day at airports, identifying individuals who may require an additional test for confirmation or advised to self-isolate. This would allow the UK to further re-open its borders to international travel, with authorities confident that asymptomatic passengers can be quickly and effectively identified on arrival.
There is also potential for trained dogs to be used to screen commuters at travel hubs, visitors at museums, theatres, cinemas and sporting venues, which could help the entertainment sector. And just as importantly, a fast, effective and non-invasive COVID-19 diagnostic tool would ensure other more limited healthcare testing resources are used where they are truly needed.
Ultimately, we intend to scale up operations on a global scale, by working with dog training agencies, and the military and police forces, to deploy dogs in as many countries as possible. We are already in discussion with local governments and border agencies in several countries regarding this.