[ Nutrition ]

Dogs Sniff Out Clues in the Fight Against Cancer

First, it was the orangutans at the Toronto Zoo while completing her masters degree in brain behaviour and cognitive science at York University. Scientists have finally figured out how dogs are able to accomplish this feat—an insight that could lead to new medical sensors. Failure to get a sugar boost can result in a seizure as well as unconsciousness. Fear not, with a little bit of input on your part, and a little bit of enthusiasm on his, you can train him as a hypo alert dog. For us, that would be like detecting a teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic sized swimming pools. As noted in a UPI article on the study, the researchers discovered that levels of one particular chemical, isoprene, rose significantly at the onset of hypoglycemia. In the case of diabetes, specially trained dogs can tell when their owner’s blood sugar level is low—a sign of a possible hypoglycemia attack.


In some circumstances – like Luke’s – a dog is a better judge of a little boy’s health than his parents, his myriad high tech monitoring machinery, even the patient himself. In a preliminary study to test this hypothesis, scientists gradually lowered blood sugar levels under controlled conditions in eight women, all around their forties, and all with type 1 diabetes. “High sugar readings give off a sweet smell through the body, low readings an acidic smell,” he said. “Our goal is to identify what collection of molecules in the breath are unique to ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, and lung cancer, and develop a test to find those.” Using animals to detect disease is not new, and this line of research is not as out there as it may sound. But how do these dogs know? Migraine sufferers know too well that treating a migraine in its early stages is essential to avoiding hours or even days of intense pain. Unfortunately, most insurance companies will not cover a diabetic service dog because they claim there are other medical devices that aid in the detection of lows and highs.

We started this page to help Ella raise money for a Diabetic Alert Dog. The glycaemia alert dogs placed with people with diabetes significantly improved the owner’s control over sugar, independence and quality of life. Looking at the data, the researchers found that isoprene rose significantly during hypoglycemia (the medical term for critically low blood sugar levels). In some cases, the presence of isoprene nearly doubled. That double smelling system allows trained dogs to detect cancer’s unique odors, called volatile organic compounds. The research is still in its infancy, but researchers are clearly excited about the potential—and theyre not alone. In a case study published in The Irish Journal of Medical Sciences last year, researchers claimed that a family pet had recognized hypoglycemia in an elderly man who had never been diagnosed with diabetes.

“Dogs have a sense of smell far superior to humans,” says study coauthor Mortimer O’Connor, MD, of Victory University Hospital in Cork, Ireland. What’s more, a handy breath device could replace the current finger prick test, which is inconvenient, painful, and relatively expensive.

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