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New Research to Help Dogs With Spinal Cord Injuries

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Researchers in the Department of Veterinary Medicine at the University of Cambridge have started a clinical trial of a new treatment for dogs with severe spinal cord injuries. In 2005 Nick Jeffery and Nicolas Granger demonstrated that olfactory ensheathing cell transplantation was reliable and safe in dogs with spinal cord injury. These cells, which are only found in the smell system of the nose and brain, are able to form a bridge across the damaged spinal cord, and therefore help to provide improvements in walking and continence after injury.

They have now received funding from the Medical Research Council for this trial and are seeking dogs with spinal cord injuries to take part. Because of this sponsorship, owners are asked to pay only a small fee to enter their dogs into the study.

Is your dog a suitable candidate?

For inclusion, dogs must meet the following criteria:

  • Weigh less than 20kg
  • Have a suitable temperament for taking part in the post-operative tests (see below)
  • Have a spinal cord lesion located between the front legs and the back legs that was caused by a sudden traumatic episode such as a spinal fracture (after a road accident for instance) or intervertebral disc extrusion
  • Have reached an unchanging and unacceptable stage of recovery (for instance, complete loss of motor and sensory function in the hind limbs and/or incontinence) for a minimum of three months following the initial injury
  • Owners will need to bring their dog in monthly for evaluation over a six month period and then for the final evaluation at one year

What does it involve?

Each dog will have a small surgical procedure under general anaesthesia to have cells collected from the back of the nose. Dogs then stay in the hospital for two to three days so we can check that they are recovering OK. Our previous experience has not detected any detrimental effect on smell or behaviour following this procedure and dogs quickly recover, usually eating the same day.

These cells are then multiplied in our laboratory over three to four weeks to reach sufficient number before being injected directly into the damaged region of the spinal cord. An MRI scan is used at that time to determine precisely the centre of the injury and injections are made through the skin under X–ray guidance to ensure accurate placement.

During the trial, we are comparing injection of the cells to another treatment, which contains various factors that help to preserve the health and growth of nerve cells. Both treatments have been shown to give functional benefits and are randomly allocated to dogs taking part in the trial. Each dog is entitled to receive both types of treatment, meaning that the second alternative will be offered six months after the first.

The Functional Evaluation Exercises

The three main tests used to measure the outcome are:

  • Gait analysis – reflective markers are placed on the dog’s hair and infrared cameras are used to record and analyse the walking movements on a treadmill
  • Spinal cord conduction – small needle electrodes are placed under the skin (under sedation) and used to measure the conduction of nerve impulses in the spinal cord
  • Continence evaluation – a catheter is placed into the bladder to record the bladder function

These exercises are carried out before the transplantation surgery (so we have a baseline for each dog) and then at monthly intervals afterwards.
If you would like to find out more about this trial and see if your dog is suitable please contact Dr Nicolas Granger (01223 337665 or or Professor Nick Jeffery (01223 339969 or

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