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Paralysed dogs walk again

INDIANAPOLIS, USA: RESEARCHERS APPEAR to be one step closer to finding a treatment that can reverse paralysis caused by spinal cord injuries. By injecting paralysed dogs with polyethylene glyco – a chemical cousin of antifreeze - veterinarians at Purdue University reversed their paralysis enabling these dogs to walk again. The Purdue study included 19 paralysed dogs between 2 and 8 years of age. The animals were treated with a liquid polymer known as polyethylene glycol, or PEG, within 72 hours of suffering a spinal cord injury. The 19 PEG treated animals were compared to a control group of 24 dogs that received only standard treatment for spinal cord injury.

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.

In one case, a Dachshund named Oscar was initially sent home with a wheel cart and little hope of recovery after a serious injury.

Soon after the dog got the chemical treatment, he began walking, although his back legs work in unison, giving him an unusual gait.

Close to 75 percent of the dogs treated with PEG were able to resume a normal life, with 13 of the 19 able to walk again. Among the 24 dogs that received the standard treatment, about 25 percent regained similar mobility, with the majority remaining paraplegic.

"We do not anticipate this treatment to have any significant effect on people who have suffered from spinal injuries in the past," said Professor Richard Borgens, the Purdue professor of neuroscience who oversaw the study. "But once it is refined, we hope it will prevent future spinal injuries from paralysing victims permanently. I would like a supply of PEG to become standard on every ambulance."

Prof. Borgens said his West Lafayette laboratory had previously used PEG to repair damaged spinal cords in guinea pigs with about a 90 percent success rate.

Although exactly how PEG works remains unclear, Borgens said it appears to act as a sort of ''molecular Band-Aid'' that forms a temporary seal over breaches in nerve cells in the spinal cord, aiding their healing process.

''This stuff is kind of like a radiator stop-leak for the nervous system. The polymer spreads out and forms a seal over the damaged areas in the nerve cells and allows the membrane below to reconstruct itself,'' said Borgens.

The study's findings appear in the December issue of the Journal of Neurotrauma.