A team of UK scientists have conducted a study that has enabled dogs that had lost the use of their hind legs due to spinal injuries to walk on all fours once again. The results of the study are a significant advancement for the treatment of spinal cord damage in humans.
The study (which is published in the latest issue of Brain, a neurology journal) involved 34 dogs that were unable to use their hind legs. A control group of 11 dogs were injected with a neutral fluid, while 23 of the dogs had olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) transplanted into the site of their injury. Neither the researchers nor the dog owners knew which injection each dog had received.
These cells came from the lining of the dogs’ noses and are known to facilitate constant regeneration of the nerve fibres that enable the sense of smell. They were extracted from the dogs’ noses, then grown and expanded for some weeks in the lab.
Following the transplants, researchers observed that many of the dogs regained co-ordinated limb movement in their back legs, which meant that neuronal messages were being conducted across the damaged part of their spinal cords. Some were able to walk on a treadmill using all four legs and a harness for support.
Jasper, a 10-year-old dachshund that once was unable to walk at all using his back legs, saw significant improvement and can now walk unaided. “Now we can’t stop him whizzing round the house and he can even keep up with the two other dogs we own. It’s utterly magic,” said Jasper’s owner, May Hay.
The study was conducted at the University of Cambridge and was the result of collaboration between the UK Medical Research Council’s Regenerative Medicine Centre and Cambridge’s Veterinary School. It has been thought that OECs could help to reverse paralysis caused by spinal injuries for more than a decade, and initial trials have suggested that the procedure is safe for humans.
The scientists behind the Cambridge study are cautiously optimistic about the treatment being used on human patients in future. While this procedure could not help people to regain all lost function, it could be of benefit when used alongside other treatments.