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Dogs train to detect urinary tract infections

By Paula Akana
Published On: Jul 12 2013 11:26:42 AM HST

They sit, they fetch, they roll over and some can detect urinary tract infections! It's groundbreaking new medical research right here on the islands

HONOLULU -

Dogs are training to be your best friends if you develop a urinary tract infection.  It's all in the nose.

The trainees at Assistance Dogs of Hawaii on Maui are learning to detect E. coli in urine, which is the cause of 80 percent of urinary tract infections.

Every day Clinical Labs of Hawaii flies in urine specimens, some containing E. coli -- others negative for E. Coli.

They are placed in white scent detection boxes with four healthy controls and one infected control box placed in random order.

In the initial training, the dogs are on leashes.  They recently did away with that in a double blind study.  What the dogs do is remarkable!

"For the double blind ones, the dogs are off leash and working independently and they go through the lineup of five boxes.  And they'll sniff out each one of the boxes and they've been trained to sit in front of the box that contains E. coli," said Mo Maurer from Assistance Dogs of Hawaii.

Kapiolani Medical Center is one of the partners in this study.  For Kapiolani, Dr. Wendi Hirsch, better known as the mom of chief canine officer Tucker, it's exciting research.  She's seen the training first-hand and knows the healing power of the pooch and says UTIs are a big problem.

"For our patients and people who have spinal cord injuries, it's a very common complication and a real common reason that they come into the hospital," says Dr. Hirsch.  "They can't feel what's going on and the infection takes over before they know so it's a chance to find out early that they have this UTI and get them treated and keep them healthy and that's always a good goal."

"The other things that we teach dogs, it has a big impact and helps people in their activities and daily living.  But this has the potential to save people's lives," said Maurer.

The Makana Aloha Foundation is funding the research, but more grant money is needed.

Most of these dogs will be paired up with people in need of canine helpers.  The next step will be to actually train health facility dogs, like Tucker, to do the UTI detection.

How is this all possible?  Maurer says a dog's sense of smell is 100,000 times stronger than a human.

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