Keynote Lecture

Thursday, September, 29th, 2022: 05:00 pm

Chair: Raluca Niesner

Sebastian Meller
Sebastian Meller

Diagnoses by Dog Noses? Real-time Detection of SARS-CoV-2 Infections by Trained Dogs 

Department of Small Animal Medicine and Surgery, University of Veterinary Medicine Hannover


COVID-19 developed into a pandemic within months. Polymerase chain reaction (PCR), antigen tests, and countermeasures such as vaccines against the causative SARS-CoV-2 have consequently become the state of the art tool box for pandemic control. However, frequent pre-symptomatic,  asymptomatic and, recently, post-symptomatic transmissions continue to pose a major challenge. To overcome some of the limitations of the current test strategies, scientists around the world have investigated dogs’ olfactory capability as a real-time detection method. Several diseases induce “smellprints” in affected individuals (volatile organic compounds (VOCs)), which can be easily detected by dogs.

Initially, a case-controlled pilot-study was conducted with samples from RT-qPCR-SARS-CoV-2 positive and negative individuals. Individuals with severe COVID-19 were identified with 83% sensitivity and 96% specificity. A follow-up study addressing further emerging questions demonstrated that there exists a universal COVID-19 smell across different body-fluids in individuals with symptomatic as well as asymptomatic infection. In a third step, it was shown that dogs were able to distinguish SARS-CoV-2 from other viral pathogens and that they also can identify the post-COVID-condition, highlighting that specific SARS-CoV-2-induced VOCs exhibit prolonged temporal dynamics. Finally, a real-life and real-time mass screening event was conducted. Dogs were able to detect sweat samples from concertgoers with 82% sensitivity and 100% specificity.

Dogs are able to detect samples from SARS-CoV-2-infected individuals and can be deployed in real-time mass screenings as a supplement to conventional detection methods against pandemics. Current studies address standardization measures (e.g., training with viral proteins) to reinforce infrastructures for comprehensive canine training and deployments.

2019-present: University of Veterinary Medicine, Hannover (Germany): Post-Doc habilitation position, Department of Small Animal Medicine and Surgery, Prof. Dr. Holger Volk
Neuroscience and Neurology research with a focus in epilepsy and behaviour

2018-2019 : University of Veterinary Medicine, Hannover (Germany): Post-Doc position, Department of Pharmacology, Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Löscher & Prof. Dr. Manuela Gernert
Preclinical epilepsy research and Neuropharmacology (intracerebral therapies)

2015-2018:  University of Veterinary Medicine, Hannover (Germany), Ph.D. studies, Department of Pharmacology, Prof Dr. Wolfgang Löscher
Preclinical epilepsy research and Neuropharmacology (antiepileptogenic therapies, microdialysis & behaviour in rats)

2014:  Universidad Austral de Chile, Valdivia (Chile), Student, Clinical & scientific work in veterinary medicine

2011-2012:  Universidad de Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Las Palmas (Spain), Student, ERASMUS program in veterinary medicine

2011: Texas A&M University, College St. (USA), Student, Exchange program; clinical & scientific work in veterinary medicine

2009-2015: University of Veterinary Medicine, Hannover (Germany)