Will Dogs Bring An End To Finger Pricks? These Trained Dogs Are Able To Detect Low Blood Sugar In Diabetes Patients

New research into why dogs can smell low blood sugar in diabetes patients could lead to the end of finger pricks, according to TechTimes.

Dogs have been used as medical detection companions for years, as they are known to sniff out various forms of cancer and diabetes. But up until now, researches were not sure how they could detect the change in blood sugar so quickly. Thanks to a study published on June 27 called “Exhaled Breath Isoprene Rises During Hypoglycemia in Type 1 Diabetes,” we finally know why.

Researchers from the University of Cambridge have discovered that canines can sniff out the start of a hypoglycaemic or “hypo” episode and, as a result, prevent blood sugar levels from dropping dangerously low. It has now been discovered this is because they can detect the chemical isoprene. The ability of dogs to sense low blood sugar means people with type 1 diabetes would no longer need to prick their fingers, sometimes up to several times a day, to check their blood.

The study published in Diabetes Care was based on eight women diagnosed with type 1 diabetes who were aged 41- to 51-years-old and have been treated for diabetes for at least 16 years. In a controlled test, the women’s blood glucose levels were slowly lowered and it was found that “exhaled breath isoprene rose significantly at hypoglycemia compared with non-hypoglycemia,” according to the study. The breath was measured the same way a dog smells, via capturing and testing the breath. This can lead to a non-invasive way of detecting blood sugar and eradicate the need for finger pricks.

Scientists are now trying to create new medical sensors that can detect low or high blood sugar the same way a trained dog does. The breathalyzer would mimic a trained assistance dog’s nose, but many people would still opt to have a dog instead.

One trained dog that has become a sensation, and has inspired the research to end the finger prick is Magic, the golden retriever. Magic belongs to Claire Pesterfield, a pediatric diabetes specialist nurse, who has trained Magic to detect when her blood sugar levels drop dangerously low. Magic alerts Pesterfield when her sugar levels are getting too low by putting his paws on her shoulders. He does this even when she is asleep.

“He’s not just a wonderful companion, but he’s my ‘nose’ to warn me if I’m at risk of a hypo.”

Despite Magic, and many other dogs, being able to detect a rise in isoprene, scientists have warned people not to overstate some of the abilities of medical detection dogs. Dogs can detect some cancers, such as urological cancers and breast cancer, and diabetes, but that does not mean people should rely entirely on their four-legged friends. Many accounts of dogs identifying sicknesses are anecdotal and claims that dogs can detect lung cancer, colorectal cancer, and Parkinson’s Disease are still under investigation.

Even the detection of an isoprene spike is not that helpful because it is still unclear how the chemical is produced or why levels rise in people with diabetes and hypoglycemia. According to the study, there was no significant rise in other volatile organic compounds such as acetone, ethanol, and propane. But Dr. Mark Evans of Cambridge’s Institute of Metabolic Science said that the discovery of the rise in isoprene is still a useful one, according to Forbes.

“It provides a ‘scent’ that could help us develop new tests for detecting hypoglycemia and reducing the risk of potentially life-threatening complications for patients living with diabetes,” he said.

Despite not all claims being accurate, a dog’s uncanny ability to detect changes in human physiology has led to advancements in a plethora of medical detection devices and also provide comfort on a psychological level. Companion dogs for diabetes patients provide comfort and company that can not be replaced by a brethalyzer, so hopefully diabetes patients can opt for a dog or a breathalyzer, instead of the dreaded finger prick in the future.

[Photo by Matthew Eisman/Getty Images]