Dogs with paralyzed hind legs regained the ability to walk after getting a shot of a chemical cousin of antifreeze that helped repair nerve cells in their damaged spinal cords, scientists reported.
Purdue University researchers who led the project hope the approach can soon be tried in people, but caution that there are significant differences between human and canine spinal cords.
The treatment only worked on dogs given the injections within about three days of their injury. Some dogs not given the injections eventually walked again, but those getting the new treatment had a dramatically higher recovery rate.
This is big news. If this treatment has a high success rate for dogs, it could very well work (though probably to a lesser extent) for us humans, too.
In the study, 19 paraplegic dogs were injected with polyethylene glycol, or PEG - a nontoxic liquid polymer composed of long strings of the same type of molecules found in antifreeze.
Within eight weeks, 13 of the 19 canines, about 68 percent, regained the use of their hind legs and were able to walk, some almost as well as before their injury.
The dogs were injected twice with PEG, first soon after their owners brought them to the researchers' labs and then after standard surgery and steroids to reduce inflammation.
Among a group of 24 dogs that received just the standard surgery and rehabilitation therapies, only about 25 percent regained the same level of mobility, feeling and bodily functions, with about 62 percent remaining paraplegic.
Though the sample size is small, the 68% success rate of this experimental treatment is definitely statistically significant when compared to the 25% success rate of the control group.
Richard Borgens, the Purdue professor of neuroscience who oversaw the study, said his West Lafayette, Ind., lab had previously used PEG to repair damaged spinal cords in guinea pigs with about a 90 percent success rate.