When it comes to noses, dogs are a bit of a wunderkind. It has been reported that pups can sniff out bacteria dangerous to bees, detect certain kinds of cancers and help track down rare species. And for years they have been able to assist those with diabetes by signaling to their owners – by laying down, giving a paw or barking — when they are at risk of having a hypoglycemia attack. A lifesaver, for sure.
These sort of attacks can result in shakiness, fatigue and disorientation. If a diabetic doesn’t receive insulin in time, seizures can also occur and lead to unconsciousness.
But until now no one knew how exactly what dogs were smelling or sensing?
It’s isoprene — a naturally occurring chemical in a person’s breath.
A team at the University of Cambridge found that dogs are able to detect the onset of a hypoglycemic attack in people with Type I diabetes by using their nose to smell the increase of isoprene during such attack.
The researches recruited eight diabetic women for the study. In a controlled environment, they slowly lowered the women’s blood sugar levels. In doing so, they saw a spike in isoprene, with some believing it’s a byproduct of cholesterol production.
While people are unable to detect isoprene, trained dogs can — a skill that could save the lives of people.
“Humans aren’t sensitive to the presence of isoprene, but dogs with their incredible sense of smell, find it easy to identify and can be trained to alert their owners about dangerously low blood sugar levels,” Dr Mark Evans, a consultant physician at University of Cambridge, said in a statement. “It provides a ‘scent’ that could help us develop new tests for detecting hypoglycaemia and reducing the risk of potentially life-threatening complications for patients living with diabetes.”
With these findings, scientists are looking for other ways to detect isoprene. One idea is to create a breathalyzer that can recognize a spike in the chemical.
The findings were first published in Diabetes Care.
Featured image from Flickr/liz west