NBD, just a paralyzed dog walking again after cells from his nose were used to fuse a spinal cord injury.
Good boy, Jasper! We all probably know that spinal cord neurons usually don’t regenerate after injury in adults. That’s why paralysis occurs, in a sense. There are lots of trials out there using cells that can regenerate, often stem cells, to try and “bridge the gap” and repair severed nerves.
This study was a bit different. It used a cell from the dogs’ noses, called an olfactory ensheathing cell (OEC), to help stimulate spinal nerve growth the same way they usually do between the nose and the brain. (For those who might have noticed that his tail was still able to wag when his legs were paralyzed, I have no idea why that is)
The result is the cute pup above. It’s really not known if it could aid humans one day, but if it can help Jasper, I think we can all agree that’s pretty wonderful.
Now if you’ll excuse me I have to go wipe off all these tears of science happiness (definitely not cute puppy tears, nope, no sireeee).
(via University of Cambridge, here’s the original research paper)
The reason his tail was able to wag was probably because he had some sacral sparing (which is fairly common) following his injury. Sacral sparing occurs when portions of the outer spinal cord are relatively preserved after ischaemia and cytokine-mediated tissue damage destroy the central cells of the spinal cord. These outer regions relay messages between the sacral neurons (i.e, the ones in humans that control some of our bowel, bladder, and sexual function, and toe movements) and the brain.
The presence of sacral sparing bodes well for rehabilitation because it means that there is an established, healthy tract of cells that ‘new’ sprouting neurons can follow when they regenerate (which does happen naturally to at least a minimal extent). Otherwise, neurons tend to sprout haphazardly, and do not create useful connections.