Scientists found that the dogs’ paralysis could be helped by fixing breaks in the spinal cord using olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) taken from their noses. These cells support nerve fibre growth that maintains a communication pathway between the nose and the brain.
A random controlled trial was conducted by scientists studying 34 pet dogs who had suffered spinal injuries as a result of previous accidents and back problems (no dogs were harmed deliberately to aid the research).
One group of dogs (23 dogs in total) had the OEC cells injected into the injury site, whilst the other group only had the liquid in which the cells were suspended injected. Those dogs which had been injected with the OEC cells showed significant improvement and were able to walk on the treadmill with the support of a harness.
The scientist believe that the transplanted OEC cells regenerated nerve fibres across the damaged region of the spinal cord, enabling the dogs to regain the use of their hind legs and coordinate movement with their front limbs.
Professor Robin Franklin, one of the study leaders from Cambridge University, 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.”
The findings could provide hope for humans suffering for paralysis, however Prof Franklin warns the treatment is likely to only restore “at least a small amount” of movement in affected limbs. It is expected that the procedure will need to be used as part of a combination of treatments, alongside drug and physical therapies.
Prof Geoffrey Raisman, chair of Neural Regeneration at University College London said: “This is not a cure for spinal cord injury in humans – that could still be a long way off. But this is the most encouraging advance for some years and is a significant step on the road towards it.”
The study was funded by the Medical Research Council and was published in the neurology journal, Brain. The research was a collaboration between the Medical Research Council’s Regenerative Medical Centre and Cambridge University Veterinary School.
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