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Deer Hunters’ Trick Can Help Diabetics

The scent of a human alerts deer to a hunter’s presence so scientists developed sprays for suppressing the telltale odor. Now, in an unexpected twist, researchers at Mississippi State University have discovered that the work of those scientists could help develop an electronic device to do the work of “diabetes alert dogs”. The team presented the findings at the 247th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS) in March 2014 in Dallas.

A release from the society explains that when a diabetic patient’s blood sugar rises or falls, the person emits a different set of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in their breath. Animal trainers have figured out how to get dogs to sniff out changes in blood sugar levels that can cause a number of symptoms including seizures. The specially trained dogs’ keen sense of smell have already saved some patients hundreds of trips to the hospital. But dogs are expensive, require a lot of care, and they get tired. That’s why the MSU team hopes to translate their work into a portable electronic “nose” to do the dogs’ critical job tirelessly, 24-7.

To that end, they collaborated with Bronson Strickland, Ph.D., a colleague in the MSU wildlife ecology department. He was studying odor-reducing products geared toward deer hunters.

“The hunting community, the deer hunters in this case, are always looking for ways to beat the deer, so to speak, in terms of scent control,” Strickland said. “A deer’s sense of smell, like a dog’s, can be anywhere from five hundred to a thousand times more acute than a human’s.”

The techniques and analytical instruments the team used to look for deer-alerting odors overlap significantly with the lab’s research regarding diabetes alert dogs.

“It’s exciting to work in this field,” Mlsna said. “We now have the combination of the analytical power and the computing power to really make sense of all these complicated data.”

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