Puppies Find Help for Spina Bifida Through Stem Cell Treatment

Using an innovative approach that combines surgery and stem cell therapy, a team from the University of California, Davis, have helped two sibling bulldogs gain control of their back legs. The dogs, born with spina bifida, showed great progress at their four-month checkup after a successful surgery and stem cell treatment. Doctors said the dogs, Darla and Spanky, had increased control and range of motion in their limbs after healing from the procedures. Researchers believe continued treatment on other dogs with the condition, and eventual treatment on humans, could eventually provide new hope for those with spina bifida.  

What is Spina Bifida?

Spina bifida is a rare disease that affects fewer than 200,000 people in the United States each year. It occurs at birth when the spinal column does not fully close. The term spina bifida means “split spine.” There are three types of spina bifida, and the type and severity of the disorder vary greatly among individuals.

The most common form of spina bifida is called myelomeningocele, or spina bifida cystica. According to the Spina Bifida Association, this occurs when some of the spinal cord and nerves come through the opening in the spine, causing nerve damage. Between 70 and 90 percent of children with this form of spina bifida also have an increase of brain fluid as it is unable to drain as normal. This fluid buildup is dangerous because it causes swelling due to pressure.

Spina bifida occulta is sometimes known as “hidden spina bifida.” The Spina Bifida Association reports that 15 percent of healthy people have this form of spina bifida and are not aware of it. That’s because this type of spina bifida usually has no visible symptoms and can be harmless.

The final type of spina bifida is called occult spinal dysraphism, or OSD. Many babies are born with dimples on their backs, but for those with this form of the disease, the dimple could signify future problems. OSD can cause issues with the spinal cord as development and growth occurs.

Treating Spina Bifida

Treatments for Spina Bifida depend on the individual needs of each patient, but often involve surgery. There is no cure for the disease, so treatments to improve quality of life and manage symptoms are the core focus.

Dr. Ahvie Herskowitz, founder of San Francisco Stem Cell Treatment Center, has focused on finding new, innovative treatment options to offer relief to patients with neurological disorders.

“Right now we offer stem cell therapy for a variety of neurological conditions such as dementia and stroke patients, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, peripheral neuropathy, muscular dystrophy and more,” he said. “There is hope that the regenerative properties of stem cell therapy will one day provide cures to many of today’s most debilitating diseases.”