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Penn Vet is conducting research to see if dogs are able to test patients for the coronavirus through their sense of smell.

Credit: Kylie Cooper

As the struggle to produce sufficient coronavirus tests continues, researchers around the world are looking to find new, creative ways of testing for the virus. At Penn Vet, that means testing if dogs can smell the virus.

Researchers at Penn Vet theorize that dogs may be able to detect the coronavirus in humans, similar to the way law enforcement uses dogs detect drugs and explosives. Penn Vet Working Dog Center Director and professor Cynthia Otto told CBS Philly that the center will use eight Labrador Retrievers to see whether or not they are able to differentiate between samples from coronavirus patients in local hospitals, including the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia. 

Otto told CBS Philly she believed there was a distinct possibility of dogs being able to sniff out the disease largely because diseases and viruses tend to carry a unique odor.

If the theory proves to be true, it would not be the first time canines were used to help detect diseases. In the past, medical centers have used dogs to detect cases of cancer, malaria, and more, The New York Times reported.

If dogs can sniff out the virus, they would likely be used to detect COVID-19 in large public spaces, including airports, businesses, and hospital entrances, The Washington Post reported. 

The dogs began training earlier this month, learning to sniff out odors for a reward, according to the Washington Post. In the next phase of research, the  will train with urine and saliva samples from patients at HUP and the CHOP who tested positive and negative for the virus.

Penn Vet is not alone in its canine-focused coronavirus research. The London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine and Durham University reported that they are partnering with Medical Detection Dogs, a research organization focused on canines' ability to detect disease, to train dogs within the next six weeks in order to test patients for the coronavirus.