Claire Guest from Medical Detection Dogs also won a prize from the Purina Better With Pets initiative and shared her story with me for the Sunday Mirror newspaper.
DOGS could be the key in finding pioneering new treatment to help patients with Parkinson’s disease.
Claire Guest, founder of Medical Detection Dogs, began training her dogs to sniff out Parkinson’s after her own father John, 79, was diagnosed two years ago.
He’d lost his sense of smell in his 40s then after caring for Claire after her dog Daisy detected her breast cancer six years ago he experienced stiffness in movement and had difficulty balancing and walking.
Claire, 54, from Milton Keynes, explained: “Dad was very active, enjoying walking with my mum Maureen and their dogs, and it came on slowly, over three or four years, to the point where he struggled on a short walk.
“When he was diagnosed I was devastated. While dad had been nursing me through cancer, he had Parkinson’s and the damage was taking place. Once that happens, you can’t reverse it.”
The disease affects one in 500 people and diagnosis is carried out by a doctor or neurologist looking for clinical signs such as tremor, rigid muscles, impaired balance and speech problems. Parkinson’s UK say by then up to 50 per cent of cells in the brain have been damaged beyond repair.
In a study with Manchester University, Claire’s dogs Peanut, Bumper, Zen and Rumba correctly diagnosed Parkinson’s in 400 samples.
Dogs have 300 million scent receptors and sniff a swab from the neck or forehead on an interactive stand which they press with their nose if they detect it.
In June, Claire’s charity was given £11,000 from pet food brand Purina’s Better With Pets initiative to further her work. She hopes this potential for earlier detection will lead to better treatment, improve quality of life and help patients live longer.
Claire said: “Dad thinks it is absolutely incredible. The time when it could have helped him has sadly passed but he thinks very much to the future and the people it will help.
“He’s absolutely passionate about what we’re doing and the fact that his daughter and the dogs will hopefully make a difference to millions of people.”
Clare Bale, Head of Research Communications at Parkinson’s UK, said: “Working with Medical Detection Dogs is a really interesting avenue to explore and it could be part of potentially identifying people at a very early stage of the condition.
“There’s a long period people spend in this terrible uncertainty where they are going through many different medical tests we know that is tremendously stressful and distressing.
“If we could take away that terrible process that would be a phenomenal thing. Although at the moment we don’t have any treatments that can slow, stop or reverse Parkinson’s we are working towards them.”
A version of this story appeared in the Sunday Mirror newspaper and you can read it online here Woman whose dog detected her breast cancer trains dogs to sniff out Parkinson’s.