Researchers studying if dogs can sniff out coronavirus

PHILADELPHIA -- University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine has launched a pilot training program to research if dogs would be able to sniff out the coronavirus.

Penn Vet is using scent detecting dogs for their pilot training program to discriminate between samples from COVID-19 positive and COVID-19 negative patients.

Researchers hope the dogs could help asymptomatic patients, or hospital or business environments where testing is most challenging.

"Scent detection dogs can accurately detect low concentrations of volatile organic compounds, otherwise known as VOCs, associated with various diseases such as ovarian cancer, bacterial infections, and nasal tumors. These VOCs are present in human blood, saliva, urine or breath," said Cynthia Otto, DVM, PhD, professor of Working Dog Sciences and Sports Medicine and director of Penn Vet's Working Dog Center. "The potential impact of these dogs and their capacity to detect COVID-19 could be substantial. This study will harness the dog's extraordinary ability to support the nation's COVID-19 surveillance systems, with the goal of reducing community spread."

Preliminary screening of live humans by trained dogs could begin as early as July, Penn Vets says.

Eight dogs will undergo a process called "odor imprinting" for three weeks. The dogs will be exposed to positive COVID-19 saliva and urine samples inside the lab.

"Once the dogs learn the odor, the investigators will document that the dogs can discriminate between COVID-19 positive and COVID-19 negative samples in a laboratory setting, establishing the platform for testing to determine if the dogs can identify COVID-19 infected people," Penn Vet says.

The study is being funded in part by the new Penn Vet COVID-19 Research Innovation Fund.
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