Paralyzed dogs walk again thanks to nose cell transplants

Nadine Kalinauskas
Good News Writer
Good News

It's good news for paralyzed pooches: a group of dogs with spinal cord injuries walking again — thanks to innovative nose cell transplants.

A research team from Cambridge University transplanted olfactory ensheathing cells (OEC) from the lining of the paralyzed dogs' noses into their spinal-cord-injury sites and saw some impressive restoration of coordinated limb movement. Following the treatment, some dogs even regained bowel and bladder control.

The study, funded by the Medical Research Council, was published in the neurology journal Brain.

Watch Jasper, a paralyzed dog six months after his OEC injection, show off his incredible progress below.

"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," Jasper's owner, May Hay, told the Medical Research Council.

BBC News reports that "the only part of the body where nerve fibres continue to grow in adults is the olfactory system," and have long been considered potentially useful in spinal-cord repair. Unlike other cells in the central nervous system, OECs regenerate.

Thirty-four pet dogs took part in the concept trial, with 23 of them receiving the cells transplanted into the injury site. The remaining 11 dogs were injected with a neutral fluid.

"Many of the dogs that received the transplant showed considerable improvement and were able to walk on a treadmill with the support of a harness," BBC News reported. "None of the control group regained use of its back legs."

This study is the first of its kind testing OEC transplantation in "real-life" injuries rather than lab animals — and will likely revolutionize the way spinal cord injuries are treated.

"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," Professor Robin Franklin, a co-author of the study from the Wellcome Trust-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, University of Cambridge, said.