Request a Quote

The public health pro’s best friend

September 14, 2020

What do a PCR test and a Labrador Retriever have in common? They can both sniff out signs of COVID-19.

Labs and other canine friends can distinguish urine from a patient who has tested positive from cans of urine from noninfected patients, according to the Washington Post. Faced with an array of controls in the lab, they will even walk right by cake batter.

For years, dogs have sniffed out cancers, diabetes and explosives thanks to their abundance of nose receptors. They have 50 times the number that humans have.

What are they detecting?

Unfortunately, canine-led COVID-19 testing – even if it were perfected for widespread use outside the lab – cannot now, if ever, scale to solve the nation’s testing and tracing challenges. But scientists say it has potential for use in nursing homes and businesses airports. Dogs are already deployed at the Dubai airport sniffing swabs from traveler’s armpit sweat, showing a 94.5% accuracy rate, the Post reports.

No one yet knows exactly what the dogs are detecting. It’s not the virus itself; it’s more likely something in the volatile organic compounds given off by dying cells. The work may help inform the development of electronic noses, which would detect scents not unlike the way facial recognition technology identities people.

Better than conventional tests?

To train the dogs, scientists first expose them to the target scent, then present them with multiple scents, rewarding them with kibble for detecting the COVID-19 sample. Training dogs to sniff out  COVID-19 relies heavily on deidentified human biospecimens from confirmed positive patients.

That’s not the first use of biospecimens you think of, but it’s arguably just another diagnostic, which is an area we know a lot about. We are deeply involved helping researchers develop and verify diagnostic tools such as liquid biopsies and other tests.

We’re also deeply involved in supplying researchers with biospecimens from patients who have, or once had, COVID-19. The purpose for these samples is understanding antibodies and developing new rapid-turnaround tests.

Although we at iSpecimen are not lucky enough to be  working directly with canines, we do enjoy them as pets – and love them a lot.

Learn about the iSpecimen Marketplace where you can browse millions of richly annotated, de-identified human tissue and biofluid biospecimens, in addition to hematopoietic and immune cell products and COVID-19 samples. You can join for free and creating a login is easy. Request a quote or custom collection today.