How nose cells are helping dogs walk again

Elemer the border collie regained leg movement after treatment with olfactory unsheathing cells. Photo: Cambridge Veterinary School

We already know the canine nose is pretty amazing. It has between 125 and 300 million olfactory receptors, making dogs’ sense of smell up to 100 million times better than our own. Now, cells from inside the nose are helping dogs with paralysis.

Researchers at Cambridge University used olfactory unsheathing cells, which surround receptor neurons that pick up scents. Using neurons from the nose is significant because they’re the only nerve cells that continue to regenerate throughout our lives.

Scientists put 34 dogs with paralysis from injuries in the study. They then removed some of the unsheathing cells from the lining of 23 of the dogs’ noses and injected them at the site of the injury. The other 11 dogs served as a control group and were not given treatment.

Many of the dogs in the experimental group eventually regained movement in their legs, like Jasper the dachshund.

What happened was the injected cells helped re-assemble connections between the severed nerve cells. None of the dogs in the control group regained their ability to walk.

While this incredibly promising science, it wouldn’t be a complete solution for humans. Study co-author Robin Franklin says it would work in conjunction with other treatments to help heal paralysis, but that treatment is still far in the future.

 

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