Simon McKinna, 24th November 2016

Simon McKinna, 24th November 2016

Medical Detection Dogs, Simon McKinna (pictured on the right of the photo with Laurence Barker, Volunteer Development Manager from Diabetes UK's Eastern Region).

The group was delighted to welcome Simon back to learn more about this rapidly developing charity that is now helping so many people and saving lives.

He advised that there are now 71 registered dog placements covering a range of medical detection and support roles. Training for each dog, which takes place at the charity’s centre near Milton Keynes, lasts 18 months and costs £13K. Because this charity depends for funding solely on donations it achieves this success and expansion by means of an enthusiastic ‘army’ of 572 volunteers, whilst only having 22 staff and thereby keeping its overheads to a low 4.5%; the remaining 95.5% going directly to training and placements. Parallel to this the charity is involved with several research projects to give veracity to the detection process and develop other treatments.

Cancer and Bio-Detection Dogs. Early work focussed on cancer detection as it was realised that dogs have incredibly sensitive noses (with 300 million sensor cells compared to the human nose’s 5 million) and the ability to detect, in the breath, urine or swabs, the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) given off by cancer cells. This is particularly useful in the detection of cancers that are hard to diagnose such as prostate cancer where the existing PSA test detects just 1 in 5 cancers whereas the dogs are capable of far greater and non-invasive accuracy.

Detection dogs are now trained to specialise in detecting specific types of cancer with the range of detections extending to include for example malaria (which world-wide kills one child per second) and Parkinson’s disease.

Medical Alert Assistance Dogs. Here the dogs are partnered to individuals and the main focus for support has been for children with Type 1 particularly the brittle form where control of hyper- and hypoglycaemia is extremely difficult, but also for those where natural awareness of these conditions is lost. Medical Alert Assistance trained dogs transform the lives of these children and their parents as they accurately detect oncoming hypos or hypers alerting the child by carrying the test meter and kit to the child (even undoing the zip in some cases) whilst also engaging the parent. Thus they can save lives, give confidence and independence thereby greatly enhancing the young diabetic’s life.

The performance of dogs is checked periodically to ensure they can still do everything required. When in training they live in the homes of volunteers (the charity has no kennels) and when retired usually live on in the homes of those they were placed with. Other detection dogs have been trained to help predict collapses that happen with sufferers of Addison’s disease (a disease of the adrenal gland).

Members thanked Simon for this further fascinating talk and wished the charity continuing success with its important work.

See for more information including examples of ill people explaining the essential life benefits given by their dog, and ways of helping this charity.