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Paralyzed Dogs Walk Again After Cell Transplant

Paralyzed Dog

Story at-a-glance -

  • A study published in November documents the first ever trial to evaluate the use of olfactory ensheathing cell (OEC) transplants to improve the mobility of dogs with spinal cord injuries. OECs are cells in the nose.
  • All the dogs in the study suffered severe spinal cord injuries, and a year or more after the injury, were unable to use their hind legs or feel pain in their hindquarters. The dogs were separated into two groups, with one group receiving injections of their own cells at the site of their injury, and the other group receiving injections of just the fluid used to transplant the cells.
  • The first group of dogs showed significant improvement over the other group, were able to move previously paralyzed limbs, and to coordinate movement between front and back legs.
  • Based on these results, use of OEC transplants in humans shows promise in restoring at least a small amount of movement in patients with spinal cord injuries.

By Dr. Becker

The University of Cambridge and the Medical Research Council’s Regenerative Medicine Centre at the University of Edinburgh have collaborated to develop a unique type of cell to regenerate damaged sections of dogs’ spines.

Previous research with lab animals established that olfactory ensheathing cells (OEC) – cells in the nose – can help regenerate the parts of nerve cells that transmit signals between damaged and healthy tissues in the spinal cord. In the nose, the cells have special properties that give them the ability to support the growth of nerve fibers that form pathways between the nose and brain.

Study Evaluates Effectiveness of Nose Cell Transplants

The scientists who developed the cell published a study in the neurology journal Brain in November 20121 . It details the first double blind, randomized controlled trial to evaluate the effectiveness of OEC cell transplants to improve the mobility of real-life canine patients with spontaneous, accidental spinal cord injuries.

There were 34 dogs in the study, all of which had suffered severe spinal cord injury. A year or more after their injuries, they were unable to use their back legs or feel pain in their hindquarters. Many were dachshunds, a breed especially prone to spinal cord problems. Dogs are more likely than humans to suffer a spinal cord injury due to a slipped disc, which in humans is typically a relatively minor condition.

The dogs were separated into two groups. One group had their own olfactory ensheathing cells injected at the site of their injuries. The second group was injected with just the fluid in which the cells were transplanted.

The dogs were held for observation for 24 hours after the injections, at which time they were returned to their owners. From there they were tested each month for neurological function and evaluation of their gait, which was done using a treadmill and a harness for safety. The researchers were especially interested in the ability of the dogs to coordinate movement between their front and back legs.

Very Encouraging Results

The first group of dogs – those who received the injection with actual cells – showed significant improvement over the other group. They were able to move limbs that had been paralyzed prior to the injection, and were also able to coordinate movement of their back legs with their front legs.

This result proved that in this group of dogs, neuronal messages were once again being transmitted across the damaged part of the spinal cord. Unfortunately, researchers discovered the new nerve connections were traveling over short distances along the spinal cord and not over long enough distances to connect the spinal cord with the brain.

Some of the dogs in the study, though not a significant number, regained control of their bowels and bladder.

Mrs. May Hay, who owns Jasper, one of the dogs in the study, said:

“Before the trial, Jasper was unable to walk at all. When we took him out we used a sling for his back legs so that he could exercise the front ones. It was heartbreaking. But 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.”

Here’s Jasper before and after the injection of OEC cells:

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Cell Transplants in Humans on the Horizon

Robin Franklin, co-author of the study OEC study said:

“Our findings are extremely exciting because they show for the first time that transplanting these types of cell into a severely damaged spinal cord can bring about significant improvement. We’re confident that the technique might be able to restore at least a small amount of movement in human patients with spinal cord injuries but that’s a long way from saying they might be able to regain all lost function. It’s more likely that this procedure might one day be used as part of a combination of treatments, alongside drug and physical therapies, for example.”

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