Can working dogs learn to detect COVID in humans? The army strives to discover

Can working dogs learn to detect COVID in humans?  The army strives to discover

A joint research effort between the U.S. military and the University of Pennsylvania hopes to train dogs to develop accurate detection of COVID-19 biomarkers in humans.

Researchers at the university previously trained dogs to successfully detect diabetes and ovarian cancer. Given the current circumstances, focusing on the coronavirus was obvious.

“I called the research partner in my branch with whom I work most closely on dogs,” said Michele Maughan, a researcher in the Center for Chemical Biology at Combat Capabilities Development Command. “And said to him, ‘We keep saying we have to find a way for dogs to detect COVID-19, let’s do this!

Maughan then contacted the director of Penn Vet’s Working Dog Center, Cynthia Otto, who quickly approved the partnership. An additional phone call to Patrick Nolan, a U.S. Army Special Forces veteran and former military working dog trainer, got the ball rolling, and on May 26, just months after coming up with the idea, the first dogs have started to train.

Nolan, who now has a working dog training center in Maryland, enthusiastically provided 10 working dogs to participate in the six to nine week program.

“Training dogs to do this kind of work, detecting a substance down to parts per trillion is an art,” Maughan said in the statement. “And I couldn’t think of anyone better than him to do it.

Every Labrador Retriever in training learns to detect proteins produced by the human immune system while fighting COVID-19 without ever needing to be exposed to the real virus.

Because dogs can detect the immune system response even before the onset of fever, they are able to identify carriers of COVID-19 without the need for a thermal imager and they are faster than any. swab test.

To train the labs, researchers use a container known as the Training Aid Delivery Device, or TADD, a tightly sealed capsule capable of holding hazardous substances that can be safely detected by each dog.

The Training Aid Delivery Device, or TADD, may contain toxic substances that can be safely detected by working dogs.  (Jack Bunja / CCDC Chemical Biological Center)
The Training Aid Delivery Device, or TADD, may contain toxic substances that can be safely detected by working dogs. (Jack Bunja / CCDC Chemical Biological Center)

These devices are then placed on a drive wheel containing a series of spokes, or arms, each with a TADD attached to the end. The dog should distinguish cans on the wheel that contain substances emitted by a COVID-19 transporter from those containing materials designed to distract the animal, such as food or a toy.

Yet detection isn’t the only part of training dogs will need to master. Keeping them locked into the task at hand for hours at a time is a whole different business, said Jenna Gadberry, Maughan research partner.

“Not all dogs can stick to the length and intensity of training to get to detect in the trillion range,” Gadberry said in the release.

“And not all dogs have the will to stay with game for hours at a time, which is essential if dogs are to provide COVID-19 testing at entrances to crowded public places such as airports, sports stadiums or at the border. control the checkpoints. “

While the end goal is to have dogs to help out these places, funding for the current partnership only extends to the training itself – not the on-site application of the newly trained animals.

Despite the future uncertainty of the program, it would be difficult to validate a penny-seeking approach with a cohort of virus-detecting dogs on hold.

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