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Paralyzed dogs walk again after nose cell transplants

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A 10-year old dachshund named Jasper has regained the use of his hind legs after being injected with cells grown from the lining of his nose — cells that are showing a remarkable potential to replace damaged nerves. The procedure, which was conducted on a total of 23 dogs, is set to revolutionize the way spinal cord injuries are treated in humans.

All the dogs in the study, a collaboration between the MRC's Regenerative Medicine Centre and Cambridge University's Veterinary School, had suffered spinal cord injuries as the result of accidents or back problems (at least one year prior to the study), and none of them could use their hind legs to walk or feel any sensation in their hindquarters. Interestingly, many of the dogs used in the study were dachshunds — a breed that's particularly susceptible to spinal cord injuries.


For the study, which was published in the neurology journal Brain, the dogs had olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) taken from their noses and put into a cell culture for further growth. These cells, which are found at the back of the nasal cavity, are the only part of the body where nerve fibres continue to grow into adulthood. The potential for these cells to help in spinal cord repair has been known for decades. And indeed, earlier studies with rats had indicated that OECs have powerful regenerative potential.


Several weeks after the initial extraction, the cells were injected into the injured part of the dogs' back to help regenerate the damage done to their spine. After one month, the dogs were tested for neurological function, and for their walking ability (which was evaluated on a treadmill). And amazingly, what the researchers saw was significant improvement. Though not perfect, the dogs had regained considerable function of previously unusable hind legs. Some dogs even regained bowel and bladder control after the treatment.

That said, the new nerve connections were only generated over short distances within the spinal cord — what will likely have to be corrected with a supplementary intervention. For now, the researchers are optimistic but cautious about the therapy being used to treat human patients. Looking ahead, the researchers hope to see the procedure used alongside drug treatments to facilitate nerve fibre regeneration and bioengineering to substitute damaged neural networks.

And as for Jasper, his owner told BBC, "Before the treatment we used to have to wheel Jasper round on a trolley because his back legs were useless. Now he whizzes around the house and garden and is able to keep up with the other dogs. It's wonderful."

Via BBC.

Image: SPL.