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Meet the dogs who can diagnose cancer, malaria and Parkinson's disease

PUBLISHED: 16:30 22 August 2019 | UPDATED: 08:02 23 August 2019

Medical detection dog training. From left to right volunteer Donna Askey with Betty, trainer Ali Charnick with Coco, and volunteers Jane and Libby Collins with Bobbin. Picture Lauren De Boise.

Medical detection dog training. From left to right volunteer Donna Askey with Betty, trainer Ali Charnick with Coco, and volunteers Jane and Libby Collins with Bobbin. Picture Lauren De Boise.

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Meet Suffolk's medical detection dogs - who are trained to sniff out slight changes in the odour we give off when we are ill.

Medical detection dogs volunteer trainers Jane Collins and daughter Libby, with Coco and Bobbins. Picture: Lauren De Boise.Medical detection dogs volunteer trainers Jane Collins and daughter Libby, with Coco and Bobbins. Picture: Lauren De Boise.

The dogs have two roles, first as an early warning system for people with conditions such as Type 1 diabetes or Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (Pots) and the second in research.

The animals use their sensitive noses to detect slight changes in odours given off by their clients, identifying differences in blood sugar levels or a drop or rise in blood pressure.

If they notice that anything is wrong, the dog will alert their client using a lick on the hand or a bark.

The animal will then get a big treat to reinforce its actions.

Medical detection dog training. From left to right volunteer Donna Askey with Betty, trainer Ali Charnick with Coco, and volunteers Jane and Libby Collins with Bobbin. Picture Lauren De Boise.Medical detection dog training. From left to right volunteer Donna Askey with Betty, trainer Ali Charnick with Coco, and volunteers Jane and Libby Collins with Bobbin. Picture Lauren De Boise.

Their other role is research based - where the dogs are used to diagnose diseases such as cancer, Parkinson's or malaria.

Charity Medical Detection Dogs are in the process of putting together a 'proof of concept', showcasing the dogs' skills in a laboratory with the hope of using the animals as a way of quickly testing for diseases in the future.

The charity currently have three dogs being trained and 'socialised' in Suffolk - Coco, Betty and Bobbin - and another seven in north Essex - and are looking for more volunteers to help out.

Volunteers take in the dogs when they are eight-weeks old where they are trained to feel comfortable in a variety of situations - from trips to the local supermarket to doctors appointments - so they can always be at their client's side.

Labradors Coco and Bobbin are training to become medical detection dogs. Picture: Lauren De Boise.Labradors Coco and Bobbin are training to become medical detection dogs. Picture: Lauren De Boise.

Ali Charnick, assistant dog trainer with the charity, said the lovable animals allow their clients to lead normal lives.

"The dogs give their clients back their independence," she said.

"We have one of our dogs that is at the University of Essex, helping his client to finish her degree.

"The dog lives in the halls of residence with her, allowing her to lead a normal life and complete her studies.

Labrador Betty is training to become a medical detection dog. Picture: Lauren De Boise.Labrador Betty is training to become a medical detection dog. Picture: Lauren De Boise.

"Someone with diabetes for example would have no warning that their blood sugar level has changed, leaving them at risk of a fall.

"The dogs will alert their owners if their condition worsens meaning they can be far more independent."

For more information on the charity and to find out more about volunteering see here

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