UPenn researchers hopeful dogs can sniff out coronavirus

As health officials and politicians continue to prioritize an increase in testing for the novel coronavirus, researchers at the University of Pennsylvania's School of Veterinary Medicine are hoping a new study will help sniff out the disease.

PennVet says scent detection dogs will attempt to tell the difference between lab samples from COVID-19 positive patients and COVID-19 negative patients.

According to the University, dogs have 300 million smell receptors which uniquely positions the animals to aid in disease detection. By comparison, humans have only six million smell receptors.


Over the course of three weeks, Penn says eight scent detection dogs will be trained using coronavirus positive saliva and urine samples. Once it is determined a dog can tell the difference between positive and negative samples in a lab setting, the study will use COVID-19 infected people. 

In many states, only symptomatic patients are able to receive a coronavirus test. PennVet is hopeful the scent detection dogs can identify the virus in asymptomatic carriers.

Cynthia Otto, who will head the study, says dogs are able to detect low amounts of organic compounds associated with diseases like ovarian cancer, bacterial infections, and nasal tumors.

"The potential impact of these dogs and their capacity to detect COVID-19 could be substantial," Otto said.

Researchers will collect samples from adults being screened at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. Children's samples will be collected at CHOP.

“This study will harness the dog’s extraordinary ability to support the nation’s COVID-19 surveillance systems, with the goal of reducing community spread,” Otto said.


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