London - As he strolls across the lawn, it is hard to believe Jasper the dachshund was unable to use his hind legs just two years ago.
Paralysed in an accident, he needed years of physiotherapy and a special trolley to get around.
But scientists conducting a study at Cambridge University have helped him walk again with a pioneering treatment that offers hope for human patients with spinal injuries.
Injecting cells from the dog’s nose into the injured part of his spine helped repair the damage. After the treatment, Jasper was able to move his previously paralysed hind legs and co-ordinate movement with his front limbs. The ten-year-old dog is now “whizzing around” unassisted and can also swim.
Early trials involving humans have taken place, and Professor Robin Franklin, co-author of the study from the Wellcome Trust-MRC Cambridge Stem Cell Institute, 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.
“We’re confident 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.”
In the study, published in the journal Brain, scientists looked at 34 pet dogs with severe spinal injuries that left them unable to use their back legs to walk.
Those injected with olfactory ensheathing cells (OECs) from their noses showed a considerable improvement, moving previously paralysed limbs. Some also regained lost bowel and bladder control. A second group treated with a placebo showed no benefits.
Previous research suggests OECs, which maintain the communication pathway between the nose and the brain, can help form a bridge between damaged and undamaged parts of the spine by regenerating nerve fibres. The latest study was the first conducted on animals at least 12 months after their spines were damaged in accidents. Scientists say this more closely resembles a scenario that would involve human patients.
Jasper suffered a slipped disk that left his hind legs paralysed in 2008. His owner, May Hay, said: “Before the trial, he was unable to walk at all. When we took him out we used a sling for his back legs so he could exercise the front ones. It was heartbreaking.
“But now we can’t stop him whizzing around the house and he can even keep up with the two other dogs we own. It’s utterly magic.”
Professor Geoffrey Raisman, chairman of neural regeneration at University College London, said: “This is not a cure for spinal cord injury in humans. But this is the most encouraging advance for some years and a significant step on the road towards it.
“This shows convincingly that the beneficial effects previously reported in rodents can be produced in other species.
“That is encouraging for application in human injuries.” - Daily Mail