Spinal disorders: Helping dogs recover may someday help humans

man in lab coat looks at x-rays of dog's spinal injury

Image: College of Veterinary Medicine

Jonathan Levine’s research on spinal cord injuries in dogs may one day help humans with similar injuries. The U.S. Department of Defense seems to agree, as it has funded a large-scale, three-year clinical trial of dogs with injuries resulting from intervertebral disc herniation. While humans with spinal cord injuries usually sustain these due to trauma, canine disc herniation does mimic certain facets of human injury.

Importantly, canine disc herniation results in spinal cord bruising and compression, as is the case with trauma in humans. Additionally, the treatment for canine disc herniation is amazingly similar to that which is administered to humans with spinal cord trauma.

“The animals get an MRI, they get surgery, and they get rehabilitation,” said Levine, an associate professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences at the Texas A&M College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

Using dogs with naturally occurring neurological conditions gives a much more realistic view of how a drug might perform in humans. However, the study is also much more complicated because the researchers don’t have control over a number of factors. Dogs vary widely in their genetics, the location and severity of the injury, and time before treatment begins. Spinal cord injuries in humans, of course, have similar variability.

“If a drug doesn’t work on dogs, that is a good indication that it might not work in humans either,” Levine said.

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