New Treatment May Restore Mobility in Dogs with Spinal Injuries

Dr. Borgens, director of Purdue Universitys Center for Paralysis Research, uses polyethylene glycol (PEG) injections to help paralyzed dogs like Kady walk again. (Photo courtesy of North Texan magazine)

Researchers at Purdue University and Texas A&M may have discovered a new way to treat spinal injuries and, in some cases, enable paraplegic dogs to walk, according to research printed in the December 2004 issue of the Journal of Neurotrauma. The successful treatment of dogs, and previously guinea pigs, may propel the research into the human field, said Richard Borgens, PhD, professor of neurology at Purdue University, who led the study.

Using an injection of the non-toxic polymer polyethylene glycol (PEG) before and after decompression surgery, veterinary neurologists were successful in treating 24 client dogs that would most likely have been euthanized because of their injuries, Borgens said. The research will be continued at Iowa State University in mid-January, said Karen Kline, DVM, MS, DACVIM neurology. "The reason this is important to veterinarians is that there is a big debate as to whether prednisone injectable steroids are safe and effective" in treating acute spinal cord injuries, she said. Kline will use client-owned dogs that are referred within 72 hours of receiving acute spinal cord injuries, she said. For more information, contact Kline via email.

The polymer acts as a surfactant, covering the hole or breach in the membrane, which allows the nerve cell to reestablish equilibrium, Borgens explained. By forming a film over the hole, the polymer allows the membrane to restructure itself “so that it’s almost as good as new,” he said. The other benefit to using PEG is its protective qualities. Secondary injuries often are progressive and “PEG interferes with that process biochemically” to prevent a secondary injury of the spinal cord, he noted.

Many dogs with spinal injuries receiving steroid treatment and surgery have a 20 percent chance of recovery, Borgens said. In comparison, dogs in the study had a 70 to 80 percent recovery rate. “There is no [existing] effective treatment for spinal cord injuries in dogs,” Borgens said. There is “no competitor [to this treatment],” he added. “There is no alternative.”

Dogs used for the research, which was conducted between 2000 and 2003, were 40-pound breeds between two- and eight-years-old with injuries that occurred naturally (not laboratory induced) and resulted in explosive disc herniation. Dogs had to be received at the teaching hospitals in Illinois and Texas within 72 hours of receiving the injuries. “We only took the worst injuries for the study,” he said.

Dogs that were accepted into the study had urinalyses and blood work done before receiving an injection of PEG before disectomy surgery, which removed bone from the spinal cord, Borgens explained. After surgery, dogs got a second shot of the polymer. All client expenses, which ranged from $2,000 to $4,000, were covered, Borgens said.

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