New malaria project for detection dogs

Bio-detection dog Jobi. Picture by Emma Jeffery
Bio-detection dog Jobi. Picture by Emma Jeffery

A Great Horwood charity has entered into a groundbreaking malaria research project.

Durham University has won a grant from Grand Challenges Explorations (GCE), funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to pursue an innovative global health and development research project with Medical Detection Dogs.

The project will also involve the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the Medical Research Council Unit, The Gambia.

Their aim will be to find a way of detecting malaria that is non-invasive and can be used to test a large number of samples at a time.

Current tests require finger prick blood collection and laboratory screening.

Dogs, on the other hand, are portable and quick.

Medical Detection Dogs are already trained to use their sense of smell to detect the odour of human disease.

The charity’s co-founder, Claire Guest, said: “Malaria is one of the most pernicious global diseases and it is hugely exciting that the solution might lie in the technology we have been pioneering here at Medical Detection Dogs.

“Dogs have an extraordinary sense of smell. They can detect parts per trillion. That is equivalent to one spoon of sugar in two Olympic-sized swimming pools. I feel confident they will learn to detect the odour of malaria.”

Steve Lindsay, of Durham University’s School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences, said: “Recent research has demonstrated that patients infected with the malaria parasite produce specific odours in their breath that disappear after treatment of the parasite. We also know that malaria mosquitoes prefer to feed on malaria patients, which they almost certainly identify by their odour.

“If dogs can be used to identify malaria-infected individuals, they could be used at ports of entry for screening travellers entering areas that are malaria free, but susceptible to re-invasion.

“They could also be used for active parasite detection among communities where malaria is approaching zero and only a few individuals in several thousand carry parasites and act as reservoirs of infection.”