Scientists at Cambridge University in Great Britain have just succeeded in reversing paraplegic paralysis in dogs that had sustained spinal cord injuries (SCI) by injecting them with cells found in the lining of their nose.
In the back of the nasal cavity the olfactory ensheathing cells (OEC) can be found. These cells are responsible for prompting nerve cell growth and replacement in the olfactory system. In the experiment they took OEC lining the individual dogs nose and grew them in a laboratory for several weeks prior to being injected into the injury site in the spinal cord.
Many of the dogs injected showed some form of improvement in lower limb movement compared to the control group that showed no change in motor recovery of the lower limbs.
Professor Robin Franklin, a regeneration biologist at the Wellcome Trust-MRC Stem Cell Institute and report co-author, 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 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’.
The transplanted OEC prompted regeneration of nerve fibers across the damaged area of the spinal cord but not to the higher centres, including the brain. This resulted in the return of some lower limb muscle recruitment and coordination, however it would have no effect on sexual function and bladder and bowel control.
However scientists are cautiously optimistic that the technique could be transferable to treating humans with SCI, although it does give some hope that research is progressing in the right direction.
Prof Geoffrey Raisman, chair of Neural Regeneration at University College London, who discovered olfactory ensheathing cells in 1985 said: “This is not a cure for spinal cord injury in humans – that could still be a long way off. But this is the most encouraging advance for some years and is a significant step on the road towards it.”
Visit the link below for further information and video of Jasper the dog starting to walk again.