Dogs could someday be a powerful tool in diagnosing malaria, a new study shows.The animals were trained to identify whether someone was infected with malaria simply by sniffing their socks, according to the research, published Monday.
Dogs have been trained to use smell to diagnose some forms of cancer and diabetes, and now, UK scientists have helped train two dogs to detect malaria parasites, aided by the British organization Medical Detection Dogs.
“People carrying malaria parasite already have a signature scent, and we know if dogs can smell drugs, food and other substances, they should be able to detect this smell on clothing, too,” said Steve Lindsay, a public health entomologist at in the Department of Biosciences at Durham University and lead investigator on the study.
Lindsay’s team trialed their idea in Gambia, where they collected socks given to 600 schoolchildren ages 5 to 13 who did or did not have malaria. The socks were used to train the dogs in the UK over four months.
“We took the socks that had captured the scent of the children overnight and flew them to the UK, where the dogs were trained to smell and differentiate samples that were infected or not,” Lindsay said.
Of the samples, 175 were used to train the dogs: 30 from children infected with malaria and 145 from uninfected children.