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Tag: diabetes

Scientists say they have figured out how diabetic alert dogs detect hypoglycemia

Specially trained dogs have been alerting diabetics to decreases in their blood sugar levels for years now — but only now do scientists have a pretty good clue of how dogs are able to do it.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge say what the dogs are able to sniff out is a common chemical called isoprene, which is found on our breath.

Isoprene increases significantly — and sometimes almost doubles — during hypoglycemia.

Medical detection dogs wake up or alert their owners whenever their blood sugar level drops to the point of hypoglycemia, a condition that can cause shakiness, loss of consciousness, and, if untreated, death.

Using mass spectrometry, the scientists studied the breath of eight women with type 1 diabetes, noting changes in the chemical signatures of their exhalations when their blood sugar levels were lowered to the point of hypoglycemia.

The increased in isoprene is too subtle for humans to smell, but with the ability to detect odors at concentrations of around one part per trillion, dogs are able to sense it.

The scientists aren’t sure why isoprene increases as blood sugar levels drop, but they suspect it might be a byproduct of cholesterol.

Their findings were published in the July issue of the journal Diabetes Care.

The research could lead the way to developing medical sensors that replicate some of what diabetic alert dogs do, providing diabetics with an alternative to frequent blood testing, said lead researcher, Mark Evans.

“It’s our vision that a new breath test could at least partly – but ideally completely – replace the current finger-prick test, which is inconvenient and painful for patients, and relatively expensive to administer.”

Diabetic alert dog Taffy makes the yearbook

harryandtaffy

A diabetic alert dog named, of all things, Taffy is pictured in the new Northern Guilford High School yearbook, appearing right next to the human he serves.

Taffy and Harry Hulse, a sophomore, started the school year together — Harry’s first with a diabetic alert dog at his side.

The dog is able to detect spikes and drops in Harry’s blood sugar and notifies him by pawing him.

Before Taffy, the 15-year-old North Carolina boy had to check his blood sugar up to 15 times a day.

“My blood sugar is very unstable,” said Harry, who uses an insulin pump to help regulate his levels. “He’ll alert me when that happens by pawing me on my leg or scratching me.”

Harry was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2010 and has hypoglycemia unawareness. When his blood sugar is low he doesn’t receive the typical warning symptoms, such as sweatiness or shakiness. He received the dog last August through Diabetic Alert Dogs of America in Las Vegas.

While fellow students were surprised to see the dog following Harry at first, they’ve grown used to the sight.

taffy“People really don’t even know he’s there. He’s really quiet,” said Harry told Fox 8 News.

Taffy remains on duty while Harry sleeps at night.

“When I’m sleeping, I obviously don’t know what’s going on and my mom and dad aren’t aware either,” he explained the teenager. “My blood sugar is supposed to be between 110 and 150 and once it dropped to 43 while I was asleep.”

Taffy woke him up by pawing him.

yearbookGetting Taffy’s photo in the yearbook was his mother’s idea. He didn’t know about it until the photos were taken.

” … They said, ‘We’re taking a picture of your dog, too.’

“He looked really cool,” Harry said of the dog. “He looked better than me.”

Recipients say agency’s diabetic alert dogs aren’t performing as promised

Three North Texas families say the diabetic alert dogs they received from a Virginia-based nonprofit aren’t alerting them to anything, and have turned out to be nothing more than expensive house pets.

The three families are among 30 that have filed complaints against Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers, according to NBC 5 in Dallas.

Each of the three paid up to $20,000 for what they were told were specialized service dogs trained to alert them to spikes and drops in blood sugar and help them manage Type 1 diabetes.

Mindy Guidry said the dog she received to help her daughter manage her diabetes has failed to detect any blood sugar spirals. On top of that, the dog is afraid to go out in public.

“I cannot take her out in public at all. Even in our own household she’s scared,” Guidry said.

Krista Middleton told NBC 5 that her dog doesn’t alert her when her blood sugar is dropping dangerously low.

“And then I’m passing out. I’m going into comas. My kids are finding me in seizures,” said Middleton. “It gets to the point where, as a mom, I wanted to make sure my kids weren’t the ones to find me convulsing.”

Service Dogs by Warren Retrievers says it offers a one- to two-year training program with initial in-home sessions of up to five days, long-distance training and education and up to seven more multi-day visits.

Middleton and Guidry both failed to complete the training program, a spokeswoman for the agency said, and both still owe the agency money.

Middleton said when she informed the non-profit her dog wasn’t working, she got no response.

But Warren Retrievers spokeswoman Jennifer Bulotti told NBC 5 when a dog isn’t working “instant intervention and training is provided.”

Dan Warren, founder and president of the nonprofit, was convicted of passing forged documents in 2008, before he started his service dog agency. While working at a car dealership, he had someone prepare phony tax returns to help customers get loans for cars, NBC 5 reported. He was sentenced to five years’ probation

Tax records from 2012 list his salary from the service dog agency as $157,411.

The Virginia Attorney General’s office has received 30 complaints against Warren Retrievers, but declined to discuss the details of any of them.

Providers of service dogs operate relatively free of government regulation or required standards, and some think it’s time for that to change.

“This is an industry that’s fraught with fraud,” said Brent Brooks, president of The Diabetes Alert Dog Alliance (DADA). “It angers me to have to say it but you have to be skeptical.”

Dachshund’s blindness doesn’t slow him down

Here’s a quick video update on Ace’s old neighborhood walking buddy, Frank, who went blind a couple of months ago from diabetes.

When first they met, the dachsund’s only problem was being a bit overweight. With exercise and dieting he was trimming down nicely when he was diagnosed with diabetes and, almost overnight, lost his eyesight.

That made him a little hesitant, especially when he was outside, and wary about taking that next step — but only for a few days.

Now, he he tears up the nature trail when he comes over my way for a visit. And, as you can see from this outing to a soccer field, recorded by his owner, he bounds as much as he ever did, if not more. These days, he doesn’t hesitate to go full speed ahead, even when he’s not sure what’s ahead.

Dog amputates his diabetic master’s toe

Kiko the terrier not only detected his master’s diabetes, he went so far as to perform surgery — chewing off his owner’s toe, and possibly saving his life.

The Jack Russell terrier apparently sensed an infection festering in his master’s right big toe — and, unlike his master, took steps to resolve the situation.

A trip to the hospital afterwards confirmed that Jerry Douthett’s toe required amputation, and Douthett credits the dog with helping him realize he has been suffering from Type 2 diabetes.

Douthett had a dangerously high blood-sugar level of 560 when admitted to the hospital, according to the Grand Rapids Press — many times the recommended 80 to 120.

Kiko apparently even waited until his owner, a 48-year-old musician, was well anesthesized before beginning the operation.

“Jerry had had all these Margaritas, so I just let him sleep,” his wife, Rosee, a registered nurse, told the newspaper. “But then I heard these screams coming from the bedroom, and he was yelling, ‘My toe’s gone, my toe’s gone!'”

Douthett said his toe began swelling several months ago, but he didn’t tell anyone:  “I was hiding it from people, Rosee included … It smelled, and I look back now and realize every time we’d visit someone with a dog, their dog would be sniffing all over my foot.”

At the hospital, doctors determined his toe was infected to the bone, and amputated what was left of the digit.

Researchers have found that dogs may be able to tell when their diabetic owners are in danger of having a severe diabetic episode. In a 2008 survey at Queen’s University Belfast in Northern Ireland, researchers found that 65 percent of diabetics reported that their pets had reacted by whining, barking or licking when they were having a blood sugar emergency.

At the Cancer and Bio-Detection Dogs Research Center in Aylesbury, England, dogs are trained and paired with diabetics so that they might be alerted when their blood sugar drops dangerously low.

(Photo: Katy Batdorff / The Grand Rapids Press)

A dog in every doctor’s office? Why not?

With evidence both anecdotal and scientific showing dogs have the potential to sniff out diabetes — or at least detect the changes that occur when a person is about to have a hypoglycemic attack — a research center in southern England is training dogs to warn diabetic owners when their blood sugar levels fall to dangerously low levels.

As this 2007 video shows, some dogs already have the skill down, but the Cancer and Bio-Detection Dogs research center in Aylesbury, based on recent evidence suggesting a dog’s hyper-sensitive nose can detect impending attacks, is now working to train 17 dogs that will be paired up with diabetic owners.

A survey last December by researchers at Queen’s University Belfast found 65 percent of 212 people with insulin-dependent diabetes reported that their pets had reacted by whining, barking, licking or some other display when they had a hypoglycemic episode, according to Reuters.

“Dogs have been trained to detect certain odors down to parts per trillion, so we are talking tiny, tiny amounts. Their world is really very different to ours,” research center Chief Executive Claire Guest said.

The center is continuing work to perfect dogs’ ability in spotting signs of cancer. Guest said having a dog in every doctor’s office would be impractical, but the research could help lead to the invention of an electronic nose that will mimic a dog’s.

“At the moment electronic noses are not as advanced as the dogs’, they are about 15 years behind. But the work that we are doing and what we are finding out will help scientists advance quickly so that they can use electronic noses to do the same thing,” she said.

Pretty amazing stuff, but I think I’d rather be diagnosed by a dog than an electronic nose. And what’s so impractical about a dog in every doctor’s office? Seems entirely practical to me, and a good way — if shelter dogs could be trained to sniff out disease — to allow everyone to live a little longer.

Besides, it would make doctors’ offices far more inviting, and give us something to do in the waiting room.