Doggie Dementia Neural Regeneration Trial
Dementia in humans has already reached worldwide epidemic proportions – it currently affects 26 million individuals and is set to quadruple in number over the next 30-40 years because of the ageing profile of modern societies.
Dementia is ultimately a fatal disorder, and takes a terrible toll on sufferers, their family and friends, and the wider society through social, medical and economic stress.
One of the main obstacles for finding a cure for dementia is that by the time symptoms arise, millions of neurons (brain cells) and their interconnections (synapses) will have been lost.
At the same time there is increasing research interest in using neural stem cells (NSCs) to treat brain diseases. NSCs are a special kind of cell that can replicate almost indefinitely in a primitive state, and then mature and develop into any one of a number of different types of brain cells. All the cells in our brains now originate from NSCs when we were in our mother’s womb. Amazingly, research in the last 10-15 years has confirmed that there are a limited number of adult NSCs that persist in privileged regions of the brain throughout adult life.
Our group has developed a highly specialized technique for generating neurons from a small sample of canine skin. We do this by converting adult skin stem cells (found in all mammalian skin) into a type of neural stem cell. In addition, we have transplanted these canine skin-derived NSCs into rats with age-related memory dysfunction, and shown that the memory problems are reversed and that cells survive and engraft into the rodent’s brain.
In all our studies so far, transplantation of these cells has been safe – rodents have shown no side effects from the treatment nor developed brain tumors.
We are therefore at the exciting stage in our research where we aim to trial – for the first time – whether Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD) in older dogs can be reversed by brain transplantation of NSCs generated from a small sample of the animal’s own skin.
Why CCD or ‘Doggie Dementia’?
CCD has many parallels to human Alzheimer’s dementia (AD). Dogs with CCD share a similar pattern of clinical symptoms as human dementia, develop similar brain pathology, and react to new drugs as do humans. The likelihood of an older dog having CCD rises dramatically with age, as also seen in humans.
In short, CCD is a very faithful model of human dementia. This means that if a treatment works (or doesn’t work) in dogs with CCD, we can expect similar effects in humans.
Of course CCD is very distressing to the dog’s owner and family. Their well-loved pet will begin to wander and pace, appear lost, get stuck behind furniture, stare aimlessly at the walls, and lose continence. Perhaps most sadly, dogs with CCD seem to forget their connection with the people they have lived with for many years.
This trial is therefore unique. Not only will we be testing a completely new treatment option for dogs with CCD, it may also lead to similar trials in humans with dementia.
We hope that the DOG+CELLS Trial can ultimately help improve both canine and human health.
What would it involve for my dog?
There are a number of steps.
1. We would confirm your dog’s diagnosis by checking your responses to the Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Rating scale (CCDR), complete a thorough vet exam and health check, as well as test your dog’s memory using our Canine Sane Maze (CSM). The Canine Sand Maze takes about 3 hours and is located at the University of Sydney.
2. Under anaesthesia, your dog would have a brain scan (30 mins) as well as have a small (2cm cubic) sample of skin excised from their abdomen, requiring one or two stitches.
3. Generating your dog’s skin-derived Neural Stem Cells would occur at our Regenerative Neuroscience Group laboratory and take approximately 2-3 weeks
4. Your dog would now undergo brain surgery under anaesthesia, where we would inject with a fine needle the specialized cells into a specific region of the brain (using information from the brain scan).
5. After surgery, your dog would recover in our veterinary clinic under supervision, and when fully awake (approximately 12 hours later) would be released back to your care.
6. We would ask you to complete regular observations of your dog as well as the CCDR scale over the coming months.
7. 3 months after the surgery we would repeat the Canine Sand Maze memory test.
The figure below summarizes this sequence.
Would you like to volunteer your dog for the trial?
There are a number of issues to check. One of our staff would be happy to discuss with you further. In general:
- You need to live in Sydney and be willing to bring your dog into our Veterinary Clinic on a number of occasions over a 6-12month period
- Your dog needs to have a confirmed CCD diagnosis. Click here to get an initial idea.
- Your dog needs to be otherwise fit enough to tolerate two rounds of general anaesthesia and one brain operation.
Interested? Please leave your details here and one of our staff will contact you shortly.