Washington : According to a new study, dogs, also known as a man’s best friend, could someday be a powerful tool in diagnosing malaria.
Researchers at Durham University believed that trained dogs could be useful in detecting malaria and other paratsite infections.
Identification would also help people get treated early with anti-malarial drugs, researchers further observed.
The animals were trained to identify whether someone was infected with malaria, simply by sniffing their socks. Dogs have been trained to use smell to diagnose some forms of cancer and diabetes, and now, scientists have helped train dogs to detect malaria parasites.
“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, lead investigator on the study.
Lindsay’s team trialed their idea in the Gambia, where they collected socks given to 600 schoolchildren ages five to 13 who did or did not have malaria. The socks were used to train the dogs 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.
By smelling the socks alone, the dogs — Lexi, a Labrador-golden retriever, and Sally, a Lab — were able to accurately detect 70 per cent of infected children and 90 per cent of uninfected children.
The study showed that dogs can be deployed as tools for malaria detection, as they have in the diagnosis of some forms of cancer, according to the researchers.
Dogs have millions of sensors in their noses that make them more sensitive to odours than humans are.