Stem Cells Allow Dogs to Walk Again

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Stem Cells Allow Dogs to Walk Again

Pet parents with dogs that have suffered paralyzing spinal cord injuries know how heartbreaking it is to see their 4-legged kids struggle, even if they have specially designed wheels that help them to get around.

That’s why a recent study that involved stem cell research gives new hope to these pet parents.

According to Popsci, scientists at Cambridge University in Great Britain successfully removed stem cells, called olfactory ensheathing cells, from the noses of affected dogs, multiplied the cells in a lab, and then injected them into the injury points of the animals.

According to the article, which cited the BBC, many of the 23 dogs in the study that received the injection had improvement in walking. There were also 11 dogs used as a control group; none of those dogs recovered the use of their hind legs.

The dogs that regained use of their hind legs had been using especially designed wheel chairs for dogs. After the injection, which allowed the dogs to grow new connections in the affected nerves in their spinal cords, the dogs were able to relearn the ability to walk using all four feet.

The study involved mostly Dachshunds, which are prone to injury. "Weiner dogs" have a long body and are typically quite active. Jumping or even running or playing can sometimes cause spinal cord injury.

Jasper, a Dachshund in the study who could not walk at all regained full use of his legs. "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," Jasper’s owner, May Hay, said in a statement. "It’s utterly magic.”

Stem cell therapies have come a long way for our 4-legged pets in the past few years. Many veterinarians now use stem cell therapy to help dogs suffering from hip dysplasia, a common painful genetic condition that affects many dogs, especially German Shepherds and some other large breed dogs.

More than 30 years ago, I saw a dog in a wheelchair for the first time. A neighbor of my in-laws had a Chihuahua that suffered some sort of injury that rendered her back legs useless. The man had designed and built the dog a homemade wheelchair. I thought it was brilliant, but my mother in law thought it was cruel. I could never reason that logic. The dog was not in pain and seemed happy wheeling around the yard.

Could these stem cell therapies help humans as well? “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,” said Robin Franklin, a regeneration biologist at the Wellcome Trust MRC Stem Cell Institute and study co-author.

We didn’t even know this could be done 30 years ago. I think it is more hopeful for both humans and pets than we might realize today.


Editor’s Note: Image by Flickr user handicappedpets1


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