Levi The Medical Detection Dog helping us save lives by detecting bowel cancer in urine
Did you know that cancers give off a specific odour that genetically trained working dogs can detect in elements such as urine, faeces, blood and breath?
A dog’s sense of smell is so strong that it can detect the equivalent of one teaspoon of sugar in two Olympic sized swimming pools of water.
Detection dogs have been used all over the world for decades to detect explosives at airports, drugs and food, track missing persons and even alert diabetic patients before their blood sugar levels fall to dangerously low levels.
We are lucky here in New Zealand we have our very own special K9 Medical Detection Charitable Trust run by the amazing Pauline Blomfield who has over 40 years experience training .
Levi is being trained to be our very own bowel cancer hero.
Levi is a 18 month old German shepherd training to detect bowel cancer odour in urine and save lives through early detection.
Levi has come from a genetically bred working line with a dad that is a very famous police dog in Denmark.
With the establishment of a new South Island training centre, a full time professional dog handler and Levi, the trial will be undertaken by the K9 Medical Detection NZ Charitable Trust with the help of scientists at Otago University between January 2020 and January 2022.
Levi will take around a year to train to detect various concentration levels of bowel cancer in saline samples followed by a second study in which he will be trained and tested in his ability to detect bowel cancer in urine.
Our Bowel Cancer Foundation Trust CEO, Georgina Mason says that a successful trial could provide a ‘significant breakthrough’ as more extensive screening is ‘badly needed’ and could pave the way to thousands more early detections.
“Overseas studies have found evidence of urinary biomarkers in bowel cancer patients which we’re expecting the dogs to be able to pick up in our early stage detection trial.”
“Bowel Cancer is one of the most commonly diagnosed cancers in New Zealand with around 3,000 people diagnosed with it, and 1,200 dying from it, every year”.
“Up to 90% of people can be saved if bowel cancer is detected early enough – but the existing National Bowel Cancer Screening Programme is currently only available for 60–74 year olds and probably won’t be available in all District Health Board areas in New Zealand until 2021”.
“Even when the screening programme is fully rolled out it is only expected to detect between 500 and 700 cases of bowel cancer a year – this age group currently only accounts for around 36% of the cases of bowel cancer which are registered annually with the Ministry of Health”.
Ms Mason says that more people could be saved if we can help prioritise those who need urgent treatment.
“A large number of people with a positive FIT (faecal immune) test or home bowel screening test, don’t have cancer or high risk polyps which means that this test will enable us to make better use of resources by prioritising those patients that would more likely have bowel cancer and need urgent treatment”.
“This early non-invasive test could also be useful for applications outside of the screening programme to exclude bowel cancer in patients who present with non- specific symptoms or who are under the age of screening and free up our struggling workforce”.
“We are extremely grateful to the Lindsay Foundation who have funded the first half of this trial. Their love of animals and desire to make an impact in Health has made them a perfect fit for our research programme”.
Updates on Levi's progress below
We will update you on Levi's progress throughout the trial. In the mean time you can follow Levi on Instagram