IMPACT JORNALISM DAY 2015: MEDICAL/PUBLIC HEALTH

This dog can sniff out a diabetic attack

Izzy, a five year-old german shepherd, has been trained to sense the crisis 20 minutes before it sets in.
Izzy, a five year-old german shepherd, has been trained to sense the crisis 20 minutes before it sets in.PHOTO: LA REGIONE TICINO
Professor Robin Offord thought up a new way to treat postpartum bleeding.
Professor Robin Offord thought up a new way to treat postpartum bleeding.PHOTO: GENEVA TRIBUNE

This story was first published on June 20, 2015

IZZY is a five­year­old german shepherd, and a very special one: he has been trained to detect when his master is about to have a hypoglycaemic crisis, lose consciousness and slip into a coma.

A guardian angel for people who have diabetes, he can sense the crisis 20 minutes before it sets in.

His support has changed the life of Mr Angel Fraguada from Geneva, who has suffered from Type 1 diabetes for the last 14 years.

  • SNIPPETS

  • Check out your risk of getting Alzheimer's with supermarket videogame

    A NEW specialised videogame, developed by Greek scientists, promises to diagnose whether the user will face memory problems or develop Alzheimer­like forms of dementia.

    Called "Virtual Supermarket", the user has to navigate the virtual supermarket and buy items displayed on a shopping list.

    He or she can move to various locations in the supermarket by touching the green footprints displayed on the screen and can look around the virtual environment by scrolling left and right on the touch screen.

    After purchasing all items on the list, the user must proceed to the cashier and pay using the correct amount.

    Fifty­five people aged between 57 and 84 - 21 healthy and 34 with mild cognitive impairment - took part in the research programme.

    It took people who had mild cognitive impairment about 18 minutes to complete the game the first time, while healthy participants completed it in 10 minutes.

    According to the findings published in The Journal of Alzheimer's Disease, the game achieved correct classification rate of 87.3 per cent in diagnostic accuracy.

    YIANNIS DEVETZOGLOU/TA NEA (GREECE)

  • Simple way to treat post-partum bleeding

    SOME 140,000 women die every year due to uncontrolled bleeding after giving birth, and the vast majority of these deaths happen in developing countries.

    There is a simple and effective drug to treat post­partum bleeding: Ocytocin.

    But there is a problem.

    "This compound does not tolerate heat or humidity. It deteriorates very quickly in these conditions," said Professor Robin Offord of the University of Geneva's medicine faculty.

    To overcome the problem, he came up with the idea of changing the form of this drug.

    "Ocytocin is available only in liquid form, but it would be more stable as a powder," he added. It took the scientists three years to develop it.

    The researchers also came up with the idea of administering the drug using a plastic inhaler.

    His team will be conducting phase I clinical trials.

    The research requires US$200,000-US$400,000 (S$267,000-S$534,000), not including the cost of the drug.

    BERTRAND BEAUTÉ /GENEVA TRIBUNE (SWITZERLAND)

Mr Fraguada, who has worked as an acrobat in shows such as Cirque du Soleil, used to struggle with managing his diabetes and hypoglycaemia. "Many factors influence sugar levels in the blood; from stress to physical activity," he said.

Seven years ago, a first aider told him about dogs for diabetic people. He was in the United States at the time, where training programmes for such dogs have been in existence for many years.

That was how he started searching for a service dog. He attended courses in the US and he is now a trainer of lifesaving dogs.

He trained his german shepherd who has warned him of changes in his sugar levels, night and day, for the last four years.

"I trained Izzy to alert me when sugar leaves a determined safety range," he said.

Izzy often senses the change before it is detected by the glycaemia measuring machine. "Sometimes he starts barking 20 minutes before the sugar begins to drop or rise alarmingly."

This gives him the time to rebalance his blood sugar levels, either by having something sweet or injecting insulin.

Such dogs are trained to recognise a specific smell, undetectable by humans, which signals a change in blood sugar levels.

In Switzerland, Mr Fraguada is helping several families with diabetic children and adults find and train service dogs.

But not all dogs can do that. "The dogs must have a very sensitive nose, and it takes between six and 18 months to train them," said Mr Fraguada.

"But the master must be trained as well. The bond between the two is very important. My dog, for example, follows me everywhere, even in the plane."

SIMONETTA CARATTI/ LA REGIONE TICINO (SWITZERLAND)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 15, 2016, with the headline 'This dog can sniff out a diabetic attack'. Print Edition | Subscribe