Debbie Flint

Update on my charity medical detection Dogs, February 2024

As many of you know I am an ambassador for the amazing charity medical detection dogs, dogs helping humans. 

In preparation for the 15th anniversary celebrations on Tuesday, the 20th of February, MDD issued the update below and it makes for fascinating reading. How far we have come since I first found them in 2015.

Urinary Tract Infection (UTI) project

UTIs can be complicated and life-threatening if left untreated, especially for vulnerable groups, such as the elderly, who are at a greater risk of developing complications. For these individuals, UTIs may progress rapidly and are the leading cause of hospitalisation.

As we celebrate our milestone year we’re training a team of dogs to distinguish between the odour of samples from patients with a UTI and samples taken from healthy volunteers. Once our dogs have proved they can detect the odour in our training room, we’ll work in collaboration with the NHS and healthcare providers to transition a team of dogs to detect UTI via passive searching (dogs directly sniffing people) in the community, enabling us to deploy our research as reality in a practical environment. This will be our first community based project and trials are already underway in collaboration with our local council. We hope to expand this around the UK as soon as possible.

These dogs will be known as Community Medical Detection Dogs which will help with early UTI diagnosis. Our service will also include Community Assistance Dogs which will attend to offer mental health benefits such as providing emotional support and improve quality of life.

Colorectal cancer project

2024 marks the start of our colorectal cancer study. It’s the fourth most common form of cancer in the UK and the overall survival rate for bowel cancer is in the region of 60%. Many of those who are not cured present with advanced disease – a reflection of how hard it can be to make a diagnosis.

Due to the invasive nature of the colonoscopy screening process, only just over half of those offered will take it up. The non-invasive faecal screening lacks sensitivity and often still results in the need for a colonoscopy. We are aiming to use urine samples over faecal samples as there is less stigma around supplying these. This would mean any resultant diagnostic test would be more accessible and more people would likely present for screening.

We believe that information learned from our dogs about its odour could help deliver an accurate, rapid and non-invasive test for early diagnosis that would be offered to clinicians to use alongside existing diagnostic methods.

Parkinson’s disease

We’ll be publishing the results from our team of Parkinson’s disease detection dogs this year but are happy to tell you before this that they proved they could find an individual with PD very reliably from their odour, with up to 80% sensitivity and up to 98.3% specificity, in our double blind trial.

After this success, the next stage of this project is to show how early in the disease process our dogs can detect Parkinson’s disease odour. We will show them samples from patients with symptoms that are often associated with PD (but may be other conditions) alongside confirmed PD samples, to see if there are similarities in odour between true PD and these pre-conditions. If the dogs identify some of the samples as Parkinson’s disease this will give information which could assist with earlier identification of PD before a patient displays the more definite, debilitating symptoms.

We believe there is a real potential for dogs to achieve even higher accuracy with increased exposure and refined training methods and to detect early-stage Parkinson’s disease, even prior to diagnosis.

Medical Alert Assistance Dogs

We continue to train and place these incredible, life-saving dogs and are pleased to have returned to pre-Covid numbers.

Our charity strategy states that we will focus placing them based on clinical need and where there is no viable diagnostic alternative in the near future which means that many of our dogs currently alert to conditions such as Postural Tachycardia Syndrome (PoTS), Addison’s disease and Non Epileptic Attack Disorder (NEAD).

For some time, we’ve wanted to formally demonstrate the impact of our Medical Alert Assistance Dogs on patients and healthcare systems and thanks to funding from People’s Postcode Lottery, we’ve recently worked with experts in the field of health economics to help us prove that our dogs are beneficial to patients but also provide significant advantages for the NHS too.

The results found that Medical Alert Assistance Dog placements were associated with a cost saving to the NHS alone of £33,213 per person over a 9-year period compared to standard care alone. By including societal costs, the overall cost savings rise to £79,172 over the same time period. An average patient with PoTS requires 5.4 times fewer ambulance call-outs and Accident & Emergency admissions and overall, healthcare costs of treating fall-related injuries are estimated to be 6 times lower after providing a Medical Alert Assistance Dog.

So… as you can see there has been lots of progress since the early days of the charity! Our Bio Detection research is now becoming a reality and will have an impact in the community. Our Assistance Dogs continue to enable our clients to live their lives as well as saving them and in 2023 alone we had clients that felt able to get married, have children, travel and start their own businesses thanks to their dogs. Fundraising continues to be absolutely vital to all of this happening and at the current time we need to raise £2.5m per year to run our charity.

To find out more about all the great work being done, please visit their website here.

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