Dachshund with spinal injury

An experimental new drug could help dogs — and possibly people — with spinal cord injuries.

Although it's still in the early stages of testing, the drug was successfully used on mice at the University of California, San Francisco and will now be tested on dog breeds with long torsos and short legs who often suffer from spinal cord injuries, such as Corgis, Beagles and Dachshunds. According to the Journal of Neurotrauma, nearly one in five Dachshunds are affected by spinal cord injuries in their lifetimes.

“We are in a unique position of being able to treat a dog population where there are simply no current therapies that could effectively improve their hind limb function," said Linda J. Noble-Haeusslein, Ph.D., a professor in the departments of Neurological Surgery and Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Science at UCSF, in a press release. "The drug targets enzymes called matrix metalloproteinases (MMPs), which our group and others have shown are present in the cerebrospinal fluid of dogs with spinal cord injury resulting from disk herniation."

The research is being funded by a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense. If it’s successful, a similar treatment could be used to help people who sustain spinal injuries, including wounded soldiers. Based on figures from The National Spinal Cord Injury Association, about 265,000 individuals in the U.S. are living with damage to their spines.

How It Works

The treatment does not repair the damage to the spinal cord itself, but instead helps lessen the severity of secondary damage from the original injury. Spinal cord injuries tend to have a domino effect, hurting nearby cells and pathways that can cause additional problems, such as loss of hind limb function in dogs.

According to Dr. Noble-Haeusslein, who designed the treatment, the drug releases a protein into the injured cord that essentially blocks it from causing further secondary damage, but it does not repair damage that’s already been done.

"The mice went from being able to bear weight on their hind limbs (vehicle treated) but unable to walk to being able to take consistent steps with their hind limbs (drug-treated)," said Dr. Noble-Haeusslein.

What's Next for the Drug

The drug will now be tested at the Small Animal Hospital at Texas A&M University, which sees about 120 dogs a year who have developed sudden onset hind limb paralysis after sustaining a spinal injury.

With the consent of their owners, Jonathan Levine, DVM, an assistant professor of neurology at the university, will treat some of these dogs with injections of the protein-blocking drug, along with rehabilitation.

"If the drug is effective, it is likely that it will need to be given within the first 12 to 24 hours after a spinal cord injury," says Dr. Levine. "In mice, administering the drug for many days after an injury was not beneficial. We are continuing to work on understanding the optimal therapeutic window through work being done in Dr. Noble-Haeusslein’s lab at UCSF."