Good news for partially paralyzed pooches: scientists can now nearly reverse that affliction by injecting dogs with cells grown from the lining of their nose. The Cambridge University team behind the feat says they are cautiously optimistic that the technique could eventually have a role in treating human patients, the BBC reports. This is the first time the method has been proven to work on “real life” injuries rather than on lab animals.
All of the dogs used in the study had suffered spinal injuries which prevented them from using their back legs. The researchers took cells from the animals’ olfactory system—the only part of the body where nerve fibers continue to grow in adults. The cells in question, olfactory ensheathing cells, enable humans, our canine cousins and other mammals to smell and convey these signals to the brain.
For this study, some of the dogs’ olfactory ensheathing cells were removed from the lining of their nose, then grown for several weeks in a lab. The researchers injected 23 dogs with their self-grown cellular transplant at the site of their injury. Another 11 dogs receiving a neutral fluid instead, as a placebo.
Most of the dogs that received the cellular transplant showed considerable improvement, the BBC writes, and many were able to walk on a treadmill with the support of a harness after the procedure. The placebo dogs, on the other hand, didn’t regain any use of their back legs.
The researchers told the BBC:
“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.”
Though the technique is still no cure-all, for the study participants, it meant a lot. Jasper, a ten-year-old dachshund who participated in the trial, is enjoying his new mobility. His owner described her pet’s enthusiasm to the 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.”
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