Researchers at the University of Cambridge have discovered one more reason why dogs are great: Their superior sense of smell is inspiring advancements in the medical field. In a study published recently in Diabetes Care, researchers determined that during a hypoglycemic attack in people with Type I diabetes, the amount of the naturally occurring chemical isoprene in a person’s breath increases. And dogs can smell this chemical.
In a preliminary study, researchers lowered the blood sugar levels of eight women with Type I diabetes, and analysed the chemical makeup of their breath. They found that “exhaled breath isoprene rose significantly at hypoglycemia compared with non-hypoglycemia”. (A hypoglycemic attack occurs when blood sugar decreases to dangerous levels).
In a press release, the University of Cambridge mentions how one woman’s golden retriever (named Magic) will jump up and put his paws on her shoulders if her blood sugar is low. That’s his signal that she’s at risk for a hypoglycemic attack.
Now that scientists are a little more clear why dogs can recognise low blood sugar in humans, they’re hoping the discovery can open up the possibility for new diabetes detection tools A breathalyser or something similar that monitors isoprene levels could hypothetically mimic the function of a dog's nose. Of course, it wouldn't be nearly as cute.