From airport security to hospital early-detection systemIt's well-known that man's best friend has an extraordinary keen sense of smell, with some promising studies even showing that dogs can detect certain types of cancers. But it turns out that Rex's nose, if properly trained, can also detect a very common and tenacious type of bacterial infection that can be deadly to the weakened patients in hospitals and care homes.
Dutch scientists have published a proof of principle study in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) that explains how they trained a 2 year old beagle called Cliff to detect the signature smell of the Clostridium difficile superbug, and how it was able to identify with a high degree of precision which hospital patients were infected with the bateria and which were not, either by smelling stool samples or just from smelling the air around the patients.Early detection with the help of trained dogs could be a low-cost way to save lives, showing that sometimes the solution to a problem is found in nature, right under our nose!
Here's what C. difficile looks like:
Note: One science site, Science 2.0, seems to think that this study is a spoof. After looking into it, I couldn't find anything that indicate that it is and everything seems legit. But just in case, I've contacted the authors of the study and they confirmed that it's not a spoof.
Via British Medical Journal (BMJ 2012;345:e7396)