Dogs raise hopes for paralysed humans

The random controlled trial looked at 34 pet dogs that had all suffered spinal cord injuries as a result of accidents and back problems. Photo / Thinkstock
The random controlled trial looked at 34 pet dogs that had all suffered spinal cord injuries as a result of accidents and back problems. Photo / Thinkstock

Scientists in Britain have found a way to get dogs with severe spinal injuries back on their feet in a discovery that raises hopes for paralysed humans.

Movement was restored to dogs' hind legs by using olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) taken from their noses to fix breaks in the spinal cord, during a study by Cambridge University.

It is the first trial to demonstrate effective spinal cord repair on real injuries.

May Hay, whose dachshund Jasper underwent the treatment, 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."

The random controlled trial looked at 34 pet dogs that had all suffered spinal cord injuries as a result of accidents and back problems and were unable to use their back legs to walk.

One group of dogs had OECs injected into the injured area while another was only injected with a placebo, with both tested on a treadmill at one-month intervals.

Those injected with OECs experienced significant improvement in their movement, and were able to move previously paralysed hind limbs, according to the findings reported in the journal Brain.

Professor Robin Franklin, one of the study leaders at 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."

OECs support the growth of nerve fibre that maintains a passage of communication between the nose and the brain.

However, researchers conducting the trial found that new nerve connections only formed over short distances within the spinal cord and stressed the limitations of the procedure.

"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," Prof Franklin added.

"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."

- AAP

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