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Durham University

Department of Biosciences

News and Events

Could dogs be trained to detect malaria?

(27 May 2016)

Professor Steve Lindsay of Durham University’s School of Biological and Biomedical Sciences has been awarded a prestigious Grand Challenges Exploration grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to see if dogs can detect malaria, with their highly developed sense of smell.

The $100,000 award will see Durham University partner with Medical Detection Dogs, the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and the Medical Research Council Unit, The Gambia on this innovative project.

We already know that dogs can successfully detect certain types of cancer and can even be trained to warn people with diabetes when their blood sugar levels are higher or lower than a specific range, which could cause them to enter a coma. But the question this grant aims to address is, ‘Could dogs be trained to detect specific odours that could identify people infected with malaria?’

Malaria is a huge global health threat with an estimated 214 million malaria cases and 438,000 deaths last year. This ground-breaking research aims to find a new way of detecting malaria that is non-invasive and can be used to test a large number of samples at a time. Current tests require finger-prick blood collection and laboratory screening. In contrast, using dogs would provide a mobile and rapid testing method.

We will work with the MRC Unit in The Gambia to collect urine and sweat samples from 400 Gambian children, including a proportion known to have malaria. The children will be asked to wear nylon socks for 24 hours, which will be used together with skin swabs to provide the sweat samples. The dogs will then be trained to distinguish between positive and negative samples using odour clues.

The study will start later in 2016 and for further information please contact Prof. Steve Lindsay (s.w.lindsay@durham.ac.uk).