Scientists from the Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Chemical Biological Center are working with the University of Pennsylvania and various canine training facilities to continue research on how dogs can help fight COVID-19 and other chemical-biological threats.
A research team led by Dr. Patricia Buckley, the centre’s supervisory biologist and director of biochemistry, recently began the second phase of this feasibility study to see if dogs can be trained to detect the smell of COVID-19 from people’s sweat.
Scientists at the center say these dogs are able to detect a COVID-positive person days before a rapid test. “We are taking advantage of this ability to detect odor and find out how far we can extend its detection limits,” said Jenna Gadberry, researcher at the center. ” So far, the values ââthey could see have been amazing. ”
This research is funded by the Department of Defense’s Domestic Preparedness Support Initiative and is a collaborative effort that includes the center, the University of Pennsylvania’s Penn Vet Working Dog Center, and Tactical Directional Canine (TDK9) Systems. Scientists at the center work together to ensure compliance with research regulations, communicate with dog trainers, process data, and create test plans. The University of Pennsylvania serves as the sample collection hub to set up the clinical trial. The university receives institutional review board approval to collect the human clinical samples, and TDK9 and the Penn Vet Working Dog Center conduct the dog identification training.
In the fall of 2020, the team of staff completed the first phase of the study, which collected human COVID-19 positive and negative urine and saliva samples. Phase two required volunteer participants to wear a t-shirt overnight and send it to the University of Pennsylvania, where the t-shirt was used as a training aid for the dogs to sniff them. Participants had to take an accompanying COVID-19 test to see if they were positive or negative for the virus. Although this was a long and arduous process, the center’s scientists say it was worth it. “It took longer than we expected, but we were fortunate to have many wonderful volunteers to offer their help,” said Dr. Michele Maughan, researcher at the center.
After the team has collected samples from the shirts, it will now analyze the data on the t-shirts and test the dogs with a tool developed by the center called the Training Aid Delivery Device. According to Dr. Kelley Evans, the center’s veterinarian, “the t-shirt study will prove whether the dogs can recognize these volatile organic compounds in sweat and determine if a person is asymptomatic for COVID-19.”
The sniffer dogs were selected based on a number of criteria, including their motivation to sniff out the COVID-19 smell. According to Pat Nolan, owner and operator of TDK9, they needed to find dogs that were excited and motivated enough to detect the smell of volatile organic compounds, but at the same time focused enough to get the job done. Eight dogs were selected at the beginning of the project and have moved on to phase two. There are seven Labrador Retrievers and one Belgian Malinois, ages 2 to 7 years old. The dogs come from all over the United States, and there is even a dog from Mexico.
The center’s team is excited about the huge impact this research could have in the fight against COVID-19, but also hopes it will have a positive impact on the war fighter by detecting biological threats beyond the pandemic. âThe way we make this feature available to people isn’t necessarily a COVID-19 detection feature; it’s a biological threat detection capability, ” Gadberry said. âWe know this won’t be the last time we see some type of virus or pandemic, but we are demonstrating dogs’ ability to find a positive person or threat. We can use what we learn from the dogs to apply to some of our portable detectors or laboratory detection systems. At this point in time, you are able to recognize completely different elements than our laboratory equipment. “
The center’s scientists hope to use the canine skills in environments where large groups of people congregate, including large ships, training environments, and events like the U.S. Military Academy graduation ceremony. âUsing this ability would be good for the army in many ways, especially if they have large-scale exercises or have large numbers of people to be gathered in one place. We are looking for a way to promote the safety of warriors in large gatherings by checking them in this element, âBuckley said.
Further information can be found on the website of the Chemical-Biological Center DEVCOM.