Canine COVID-19 Detection Training Has Begun, With Help From a Delaware Startup
Dogs can’t catch COVID-19, but they might be able to detect it and help us stop the spread. A Delaware startup has developed a device to safely train dogs to sniff out the virus.
SciK9‘s TADDs (training aid delivery devices) are simple: a container, a membrane/filter, and a lid. The odor permeable membrane structure is the star of the show: made of a gas-tight chemical-resistant gasket, hydrophobic and oleophobic membrane, and a custom polypropylene membrane holder with a safety grid placed over the membrane to prevent puncture. It only allows odors through, so there is a scent but no actual exposure to the substance. The container lid is also gas-tight and chemical-resistant.
The TADD is the only training aid containment device to:
- allow odors to be turned on/off,
- securely contain liquids, oils, solids, small particulate, and hazmat,
- extend the training aid (i.e. substance) shelf life, and
- completely protect the animals and handlers from the substance.
Not only that, but all materials pass NASA’s Outgassing Compliancy tests, meaning that the product has no odor, so dogs are trained on exactly the substance odor.
SciK9, TADD and COVID-19
The TADD prototype was first developed in 2013 as part of research for the U.S. Army’s military explosives community canine detection program. Over seven years, the product was improved for durability, and many different uses. Michele Maughan, a researcher involved in the project, founded SciK9 in early 2020, with the intention of providing safer training to dogs who detect explosives, narcotics, medical diagnosis, etc.
However, SciK9 saw the need for its product immediately with the COVID-19 pandemic. Maughan, with the U.S. Army and the University of Pennsylvania, sought to explore the possibility of dogs detecting biomarkers produced by COVID-19 in humans. Discussions of this project began on March 27, ten days later planning started, and by the end of May COVID-19 human samples had been collected and dogs began training. The dogs never have exposure to the virus but are trained to detect human immune system responses to the virus. The goal is for the dogs to sniff out the disease in humans even before symptoms occur. SciK9 was recently awarded the Booz Allen Foundation Fund Grant, which will fund 250 TADDs for continued research.
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