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Archive for Dog Stem Cell Therapy

Animal Stem Cell Therapy Market: Outlook Continues to Remain Positive by 2017 2025 – LANews By Abhishek Budholiya (press release) (blog)

Animal stem cell therapy is a usage of animals stem cell to treat a disease or disorder. The ability of stem cell is to divide and differentiate into a cell with specialized function useful for repairing body tissues damaged by injury or disease. The animal stem cell therapy process involve three steps which include collection of stem cell sample from animals and preparing the sample to concentrate the stem cells. Finally, the therapy includes transferring the stem cells into the injured site for treatment. Animal stem cell therapy increases the expectancy of life in animals with no side effects. It is available for the treatment of arthritis, degenerative joint disorders, tendon, and ligaments injuries in animals. Stem cell therapy is most often used to treat dogs, cats, and horses. But recent developments made it possible to use animal stem cell therapy in tiger, pig, etc. Present animal stem cell therapy is studied in treatments of the inflammatory bowel, kidney, liver, heart and immune-mediated diseases respectively.

Animal Stem Cell Therapy Market Drivers and Restraints,Segmentation,Region-wise Overview and Key Participants:

Increasing prevalence of disease in animals with growing population and to increase the animals quality of life, the companies focus shifting towards animal stem cell therapies. Along with increasing government funding for the protection of animals and fast approvals of FDA contributing towards the rapid growth of the animal stem cell therapy. The research in animal stem cells offers great promise for understanding underlying mechanisms of animal development; it gives great opportunities to treat a broad range of diseases and conditions in animals. Animal stem cell therapy is increasingly recognized as critical translational models of human disease for treatment. All these factors act as drivers for the robust growth of the animal stem cell therapy market.

There are little evidence-based preclinical animal studies acts as restraint in the animal stem cell therapy market. The evidence-based clinical trials of animal stem cell therapy provide tremendous opportunities for the efficient advancement of other species.

Segmentation based on Applications: Dog, Cat, Horse, Others;Segmentation based on End-user: Veterinary hospitals, Veterinary Clinics, Research organizations.

Studies in the animal stem cell therapy continue at a breathtaking pace due to increasing demand and treatment cost covered in reimbursements. And animal stem cell therapy is more effective than traditional treatment available in the market which is boosting the companies to increase the spending in the R&D for innovative methods. Because of the novelty and complexity of animal stem cell therapy, FDA encourages individuals, universities and drug companies for further innovations. The future expected with double CAGR during the forecasted period.

Regarding geographies, North America is dominating the global animal stem cell therapy market due to the increased incidence rate and awareness about the therapy. U.S represents the largest market share in the North America due to the increasing demand for the therapy. Europe and Asia-Pacific are showing a significant growth rate during the forecasted period due to the growing adoption of the animal stem cell therapy. The animal stem cell therapy market in underdeveloped countries is slow when compared to the developed countries.

The key participants in the animal stem cell therapy market are Magellan Stem Cells, ANIMAL CELL THERAPIES, Abbott Animal Hospital, VETSTEM BIOPHARMA, Veterinary Hospital and Clinic Frisco, CO, etc. The companies are entering into the collaboration and partnership to keep up the pace of the innovations.

A sample of this report is available upon request @https://www.persistencemarketresearch.com/samples/14941

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Animal Stem Cell Therapy Market: Outlook Continues to Remain Positive by 2017 2025 – LANews By Abhishek Budholiya (press release) (blog)

Concerns over paraplegic dog’s treatment – INFORUM

Tommy, our beloved 8-year-old border collie mix, was diagnosed by MRI with an inoperable tumor on his spinal cord. We had difficulty diagnosing what appeared to be a weak leg, and he began to cry out occasionally as he climbed stairs. We escalated, and our vet referred us to an MRI immediately.

After the diagnosis, the vet specialist said that Tommy was quite stoic because he did not cry out more often, given the location of the tumor. We knew he was not himself, but what we did not know was the level of pain that he lived with that last month of his life.

I question the motivation of these people: How on Earth (in their own words) “during four weeks of screaming in pain” did they not decide that perhaps it was time to let Chuckie go? Who knows what pain he endures now? I was saddened to see that their own motivations have overtaken their empathy for what might be in the best interest of Chuckie.M.J., Manchester, Mo.

Dear Dr. Fox: I was dismayed by the excessive treatment the letter-writer has gotten and is getting for a paraplegic dog. I love animals, have taken good care of my pets and have volunteered and donated to the Missouri Humane Society, so it isn’t that I’m anti-animal, but I think what the writer has done for this one dog is too much.

Just think of the hundreds and hundreds of dogs in shelters and the care some of the healthier ones could get if the writer stopped at sensible treatment for that one dog. Actually, that dog is getting better and more extensive care than some children. Enough is enough in trying to help a pet.R.B., Kirkwood, Mo.

Dear M.J. and R.B.: The money that caring people sometimes put out for their beloved animal companions, especially with advances in cancer treatments and stem cell therapies, can be very considerable. Are they being selfish? What then of their love and concern?

Some do choose instead to opt for euthanasia, especially when there is a low chance of recovery, and give a large donation in their animal’s name to their local animal shelter or rescue organization.

We cannot compare the quality of medical care and what might be spent on a child in a poor village with a toy poodle in New York City suffering from comparable conditions, nor their chances of recovery. Such situational ethics are confounded by other social and family priorities, availability of services and where there is choice, just how much one feels like spending and can afford in the hope that the loved one will recover. It is a tragedy of the times that here in America, families can be bankrupted by the medical bills of one member under cancer treatment.

Just as we see with people, dogs do vary greatly in their pain tolerance; some are more stoic than others, who may border on hysteria because of fear as well as pain. This is where the experienced clinical eye of the veterinarian is invaluable to determine the best course of treatment and the animal patient’s quality of life and chances of total or partial recovery.

Regardless of costs and affordability and the fact that some animal caregivers may seek to extend an animal’s life for various personal reasons rather than for the animal’s own sake, all involved have a duty to make the animal patient as comfortable as possible and give the animal a chance where there is a strong will to live.

Being nursed at home or setting up in-home palliative care with a visiting veterinarian may be preferable to long-term hospitalization where recovery may be protracted or arrested by separation anxiety and loss of the will to live.

Send all mail to animaldocfox@gmail.com or to Dr. Michael Fox in care of Universal Uclick, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO 64106. The volume of mail received prohibits personal replies, but questions and comments of general interest will be discussed in future columns. Visit Dr. Fox’s website at http://www.drfoxvet.net.

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Concerns over paraplegic dog’s treatment – INFORUM

Spike in drugs found at Wandsworth Prison after sniffer dog handler … – Evening Standard

Britains largest prison is failing to stem the flow of drugs into cells after its sniffer dog had time off and amid a shortage of CCTV operators, its monitors said today.

The Independent Monitoring Board for Wandsworth Prison said illicit substances were fuelling violence as it issued a highly critical report on conditions.

In one month, dog searches were conducted on only 10 out of 31 days.

It said: It had been intended that Wandsworth should be a hub for the new regional dog team but no new staff were appointed and there was no cover made available when the one dog handler went on training or leave.

As a result dog searches had decreased.

The security risk was worsened by the lack of operational CCTV to monitor visitors.

Drug failure: Wandsworth prison (Picture: Nigel Howard)

The board warned that Wandsworth had once again been unable to provide a consistently safe, decent and humane environment for its 1,600 prisoners over the past year.

It blamed the failure on severe staff shortages which were undermining the efforts of the prisons strong management team and hard-pressed officers and affecting almost every aspect of prison life.

The resulting problems included prisoners being locked in their cells for excessive periods. This was causing boredom and frustration and contributing to high levels of violence.

Staff shortages were also preventing education and training which was vital to the process of rehabilitating offenders and preventing recidivism.

On the drugs problem, the board said there were almost daily drone deliveries last summer, helped by the large number of smashed cell windows, but that airborne smuggling had decreased sharply after a police car chase of a suspected drone operator resulted in a fatality.

Other measures had also helped and there had been no known drone deliveries since last September.

Other forms of smuggling continued. Several staff had been excluded after being subjected to X-ray and dog searches. But the amount of contraband being brought in by visitors remained relatively high because of the lack of staff to monitor CCTV or conduct sniffer dog checks.

The boards report also disclosed that about 40 per cent of Wandsworths inmates are foreign nationals, with 112 Poles forming the largest contingent.

The Ministry of Justice said recruitment of dog handlers was under way at a regional level and that posts at Wandsworth are expected to be filled in the near future.

It added: Wandsworth has already taken action to address a number of concerns raised in the report, including a targeted, local recruitment campaign which has already begun to boost the number of prison officers in post.

The prison has also put in place new measures to tackle the supply and use of illegal contraband. This includes the recruitment of new dog handler posts to step up drug detection.

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Spike in drugs found at Wandsworth Prison after sniffer dog handler … – Evening Standard

Fetal membranes may help transform regenerative medicine – Medical Xpress

A new review looks at the potential of fetal membranes, which make up the amniotic sac surrounding the fetus during pregnancy, for regenerative medicine.

Fetal membranes have been used as biological bandages for skin grafts as well as for serious burns. They may also have numerous other applications because they contain a variety of stem cells, which might be used to treat cardiovascular and neurological diseases, diabetes, and other medical conditions.

“The fetal membranes have been used successfully in medical applications for over a century, but we continue to discover new properties of these membranes,” said Dr. Rebecca Lim, author of the STEM CELLS Translational Medicine review. “The stem cell populations arising from the fetal membranes are plentiful and diverse, while the membrane itself serves as a unique biocompatible scaffold for bioengineering applications.”

Explore further: Stem cell research could prevent premature births

More information: Rebecca Lim. Concise Review: Fetal Membranes in Regenerative Medicine: New Tricks from an Old Dog?, STEM CELLS Translational Medicine (2017). DOI: 10.1002/sctm.16-0447

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Fetal membranes may help transform regenerative medicine – Medical Xpress

Stem cell treatment for children with spina bifida helps puppies first – University of California

A pair of English bulldog puppies are the first patients to be successfully treated with a unique therapy a combination of surgery and stem cells developed at the University of California, Davis, to help preserve lower-limb function in children with spina bifida.

Because dogs with the birth defect frequently have little control of their hindquarters, they also have little hope for a future. They are typically euthanized as puppies.

At their postsurgery re-check at 4 months old, however, the siblings, named Darla and Spanky, showed off their abilities to walk, run and play to their doctor,veterinary neurosurgeon Beverly Sturges.

The initial results of the surgery are promising, as far as hind limb control, said Sturges. Both dogs seemed to have improved range of motion and control of their limbs.

The dogs have since been adopted, and continue to do well at their home in New Mexico.

Spina bifida occurs when spinal tissue improperly fuses in utero, causing a range of cognitive, mobility, urinary and bowel disabilities in about 1,500 to 2,000 children born in the U.S. each year. The dogs procedure, which involved surgical techniques developed byfetal surgeon Diana Farmerof UC Davis Health together with a cellular treatment developed by stem cell scientistsAijun WangandDori Borjesson, director of the universitysVeterinary Institute for Regenerative Cures, represents a major step toward curing spina bifida for both humans and dogs.

Farmer pioneered the use of surgery prior to birth to improve brain development in children with spina bifida. She later showed that prenatal surgery combined with human placenta-derived mesenchymal stromal cells (PMSCs), held in place with a cellular scaffold, helped research lambs born with the disorder walk without noticeable disability.

Sturges wanted to find out if the surgery-plus-stem-cell approach could give dogs closer-to-normal lives along with better chances of survival and adoption. At 10-weeks old, Darla and Spanky were transported from Southern California Bulldog Rescue to the UC Davis veterinary hospital, where they were the first dogs to receive the treatment, this time using canine instead of human PMSCs.

Another distinction for Darla and Spanky is that their treatment occurred after birth, since prenatal diagnosis of spina bifida is not performed on dogs, Sturges explained. The disorder becomes apparent between 1 and 2 weeks of age, when puppies show hind-end weakness, poor muscle tone, incoordination and abnormal use of their tails.

UC Davis is the only place where this type of cross-disciplinary, transformational medicine could happen, according to Farmer.

Its rare to have a combination of excellent medical and veterinary schools and strong commitment to advancing stem cell science at one institution, she said.

UC Davis is also home to the One Healthinitiative aimed at finding novel treatmentslike thesefor diseases that affect both humans and animals.

Ive often said that I have the greatest job on the planet, because I get to help kids, Farmer said. Now my job is even better, because I get to help puppies too.

With additional evaluation and U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, Farmer and Wang hope to test the therapy in human clinical trials. Sturges and Borjesson hope to do the same with a canine clinical trial. They hope the outcomes of their work help eradicate spina bifida in dogs and humans.

In the meantime, the team wants dog breeders to send more puppies with spina bifida to UC Davis for treatment and refinements that help the researchers fix an additional hallmark of spina bifida incontinence. While Darla and Spanky are very mobile and doing well on their feet, they still require diapers.

Further analysis of their progress will determine if the surgery improves their incontinence conditions, Sturges said.

Funding for this project was provided by the Veterinary Institute for Regenerative Cures (VIRC) at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, and the Surgical Bioengineering Lab at the UC Davis School of Medicine. Private donations to the veterinary school for stem cell research also contributed to this procedure. Farmer and Wangs spina bifida research is supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Shriners Hospitals for Children and the March of Dimes Foundation.

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Stem cell treatment for children with spina bifida helps puppies first – University of California

Terre Haute animal hospital in stem cell study for dogs – WISH-TV

Deana ReecePublished: August 23, 2017, 7:22 pmUpdated: August 23, 2017, 9:34 pm

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. (WTWO) Maggie Mae and her owner, Robert Howrey, came from Paris, Illinois, for a check-up at the Wabash Valley Animal Hospital in Terre Haute.

She doesnt act like it, but Maggie Mae is a senior citizen and she has problems with her joints.

Arthritis is a common condition in older dogs and we like to help them out, said Dr. Andrew Pickering, a local veterinarian.

A California company called Animal Cell Therapies has enlisted U.S. veterinarians to participate in a study of using stem cells for dogs with arthritis. Some of the canines in the study receive an injection of stem cells, others get just a saline solution.

Pickering doesnt know which injections Maggie Mae is getting, but she no longer limps. Hes encouraged by the results.

Were hoping this particular type of treatment will cure the condition for a long period of time so we dont have to keep giving the dog medication all the time, Pickering said.

Howrey said its almost like having a new dog.

Its been about six weeks, so now shes back doing normal activities, she runs, she chases squirrels.

The research will continue for several more months. The local clinic is looking for owners who would like to involve their pets. Study participation is free for dogs that qualify. Plus, even the animals that receive the saline injections can get the stem cell treatment once the study is complete.

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Terre Haute animal hospital in stem cell study for dogs – WISH-TV

Stem Cell Treatment for Children With Spina Bifida Helps Dogs First … – UC Davis

A pair of English bulldog puppies are the first patients to be successfully treated with a unique therapy a combination of surgery and stem cells developed at the University of California, Davis, to help preserve lower-limb function in children with spina bifida.

(Editorsnote: Photos and b-roll available.)

Because dogs with the birth defect frequently have little control of their hindquarters, they also have little hope for a future. They are typically euthanized as puppies.

At their postsurgery re-check at 4 months old, however, the siblings, named Darla and Spanky, showed off their abilities to walk, run and play to their doctor, veterinary neurosurgeon Beverly Sturges.

The initial results of the surgery are promising, as far as hind limb control, said Sturges. Both dogs seemed to have improved range of motion and control of their limbs.

The dogs have since been adopted, and continue to do well at their home in New Mexico.

Spina bifida occurs when spinal tissue improperly fuses in utero, causing a range of cognitive, mobility, urinary and bowel disabilities in about 1,500 to 2,000 children born in the U.S. each year. The dogs procedure, which involved surgical techniques developed by fetal surgeon Diana Farmer of UC Davis Health together with a cellular treatment developed by stem cell scientists Aijun Wang and Dori Borjesson, director of the universitys Veterinary Institute for Regenerative Cures, represents a major step toward curing spina bifida for both humans and dogs.

Farmer pioneered the use of surgery prior to birth to improve brain development in children with spina bifida. She later showed that prenatal surgery combined with human placenta-derived mesenchymal stromal cells (PMSCs), held in place with a cellular scaffold, helped research lambs born with the disorder walk without noticeable disability.

Sturges wanted to find out if the surgery-plus-stem-cell approach could give dogs closer-to-normal lives along with better chances of survival and adoption. At 10-weeks old, Darla and Spanky were transported from Southern California Bulldog Rescue to the UC Davis veterinary hospital, where they were the first dogs to receive the treatment, this time using canine instead of human PMSCs.

Another distinction for Darla and Spanky is that their treatment occurred after birth, since prenatal diagnosis of spina bifida is not performed on dogs, Sturges explained. The disorder becomes apparent between 1 and 2 weeks of age, when puppies show hind-end weakness, poor muscle tone, incoordination and abnormal use of their tails.

UC Davis is the only place where this type of cross-disciplinary, transformational medicine could happen, according to Farmer.

Its rare to have a combination of excellent medical and veterinary schools and strong commitment to advancing stem cell science at one institution, she said.

UC Davis is also home to the One Healthinitiative aimed at finding novel treatments like these for diseases that affect both humans and animals.

Ive often said that I have the greatest job on the planet, because I get to help kids, Farmer said. Now my job is even better, because I get to help puppies too.

With additional evaluation and U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, Farmer and Wang hope to test the therapy in human clinical trials. Sturges and Borjesson hope to do the same with a canine clinical trial. They hope the outcomes of their work help eradicate spina bifida in dogs and humans.

In the meantime, the team wants dog breeders to send more puppies with spina bifida to UC Davis for treatment and refinements that help the researchers fix an additional hallmark of spina bifida incontinence. While Darla and Spanky are very mobile and doing well on their feet, they still require diapers.

Further analysis of their progress will determine if the surgery improves their incontinence conditions, Sturges said.

Funding for this project was provided by the Veterinary Institute for Regenerative Cures (VIRC) at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, and the Surgical Bioengineering Lab at the UC Davis School of Medicine. Private donations to the veterinary school for stem cell research also contributed to this procedure. Farmer and Wangs spina bifida research is supported by funding from the National Institutes of Health, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Shriners Hospitals for Children and the March of Dimes Foundation.

Excerpt from:
Stem Cell Treatment for Children With Spina Bifida Helps Dogs First … – UC Davis

Puppies receive stem cell treatment developed to help children with spina bifida – Sacramento Bee

A procedure combining surgery with stem cell treatment has aided two bulldog puppies with spina bifida and a team of UC Davis researchers hopes to test the therapy in human clinical trials.

The puppies were treated with a therapy developed at UC Davis to help preserve lower-limb function in children with spina bifida, according to a university news release.

Spina bifida occurs when spinal tissue improperly fuses in utero causing cognitive, mobility, urinary and bowel disabilities. Approximately 1,500 to 2,000 children in the United States are born with the condition each year.

Because dogs with the birth defect have little control of their hind quarters, they typically are euthanized as puppies.

After their post-surgery checkup at 4 months old, the sibling pups, Darla and Spanky, showed off their ability to walk, run and play.

The initial results of the surgery are promising, as far as hind limb control, veterinary neurosurgeon Beverly Sturges said in a written statement. Both dogs seemed to have improved range of motion and control of their limbs.

The dogs have since been adopted and continue to do well at home in New Mexico.

The dogs procedure involved surgical techniques developed by fetal surgeon Diana Farmer of UC Davis Health together with a cellullar treatment developed by stem cell scientists Aijun Wang and Dori Borjesson, director of the universitys Veterinary Institute for Regenerative Cures.

Farmer pioneered the use of surgery prior to birth to improve brain development in children with spina bifida. She later showed that prenatal surgery combined with cells derived from the human placenta held in place with a cellular scaffold helped research lambs born with the disorder walk without noticeable disability, the news release said.

Sturges wanted to find out whether the surgery-plus-stem-cell approach could give dogs more normal lives, as well as better chances of survival and adoption.

Darla and Spanky were transported from Southern California Bulldog Rescue to the UC Davis Veterinary hospital when they were 10 weeks old. They were the first dogs to receive the treatment, this time using canine instead of human placenta-derived cells.

The dogs treatment also occurred after birth, because the prenatal diagnosis of spina bifida is not performed on dogs, Sturges said. The disorder becomes apparent between 1 and 2 weeks of ages, when puppies show hind-end weakness, poor muscle tone, and abnormal use of their tails.

The research team wants dog breeders to send more puppies with spina bifida to UC Davis for treatment and refinements that will help researchers correct another hallmark of spina bifida, incontinence. Although Darla and Spanky are mobile and doing well, they still require diapers, the news release said.

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Puppies receive stem cell treatment developed to help children with spina bifida – Sacramento Bee

Stem cell treatment for children with spina bifida helps dogs first – Phys.Org

An English bulldog undergoes surgery for spina bifida at the UC Davis Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital. The dog is part of a pair of puppies being treated for spina bifida through a combination of stem cell therapy and surgery, research made possible through collaboration between the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine and UC Davis Health. Credit: Gregory Urquiaga/UC Davis

A pair of English bulldog puppies are the first patients to be successfully treated with a unique therapya combination of surgery and stem cellsdeveloped at the University of California, Davis, to help preserve lower-limb function in children with spina bifida.

Because dogs with the birth defect frequently have little control of their hindquarters, they also have little hope for a future. They are typically euthanized as puppies.

At their postsurgery re-check at 4 months old, however, the siblings, named Darla and Spanky, showed off their abilities to walk, run and play to their doctor, veterinary neurosurgeon Beverly Sturges.

“The initial results of the surgery are promising, as far as hind limb control,” said Sturges. “Both dogs seemed to have improved range of motion and control of their limbs.”

The dogs have since been adopted, and continue to do well at their home in New Mexico.

A major step toward curing spina bifida

Spina bifida occurs when spinal tissue improperly fuses in utero, causing a range of cognitive, mobility, urinary and bowel disabilities in about 1,500 to 2,000 children born in the U.S. each year. The dogs’ procedure, which involved surgical techniques developed by fetal surgeon Diana Farmer of UC Davis Health together with a cellular treatment developed by stem cell scientists Aijun Wang and Dori Borjesson, director of the university’s Veterinary Institute for Regenerative Cures, represents a major step toward curing spina bifida for both humans and dogs.

Farmer pioneered the use of surgery prior to birth to improve brain development in children with spina bifida. She later showed that prenatal surgery combined with human placenta-derived mesenchymal stromal cells (PMSCs), held in place with a cellular scaffold, helped research lambs born with the disorder walk without noticeable disability.

Sturges wanted to find out if the surgery-plus-stem-cell approach could give dogs closer-to-normal lives along with better chances of survival and adoption. At 10-weeks old, Darla and Spanky were transported from Southern California Bulldog Rescue to the UC Davis veterinary hospital, where they were the first dogs to receive the treatment, this time using canine instead of human PMSCs.

Another distinction for Darla and Spanky is that their treatment occurred after birth, since prenatal diagnosis of spina bifida is not performed on dogs, Sturges explained. The disorder becomes apparent between 1 and 2 weeks of age, when puppies show hind-end weakness, poor muscle tone, incoordination and abnormal use of their tails.

A unique environment for collaborative research

UC Davis is the only place where this type of cross-disciplinary, transformational medicine could happen, according to Farmer.

“It’s rare to have a combination of excellent medical and veterinary schools and strong commitment to advancing stem cell science at one institution,” she said.

UC Davis is also home to the One Health initiative aimed at finding novel treatments like these for diseases that affect both humans and animals.

“I’ve often said that I have the greatest job on the planet, because I get to help kids,” Farmer said. “Now my job is even better, because I get to help puppies too.”

Hopes for clinical trials in humans and dogs

With additional evaluation and U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval, Farmer and Wang hope to test the therapy in human clinical trials. Sturges and Borjesson hope to do the same with a canine clinical trial. They hope the outcomes of their work help eradicate spina bifida in dogs and humans.

In the meantime, the team wants dog breeders to send more puppies with spina bifida to UC Davis for treatment and refinements that help the researchers fix an additional hallmark of spina bifidaincontinence. While Darla and Spanky are very mobile and doing well on their feet, they still require diapers.

“Further analysis of their progress will determine if the surgery improves their incontinence conditions,” Sturges said.

Explore further: Prenatal stem cell treatment improves mobility issues caused by spina bifida

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Stem cell treatment for children with spina bifida helps dogs first – Phys.Org

How video goggles and a tiny implant could cure blindness – Medical Xpress

Daniel Palanker uses optics and electronics to invent technology for restoring vision. Credit: Brian Smale

At 16, Lynda Johnson was ready to learn how to drive. Yes, she had a progressive eye disease, retinitis pigmentosa, which already had stolen her night vision. But throughout her childhood, the Millbrae, California, girl had kept up with her brother and sister, climbing trees, skateboarding and even riding a bike. She had studied the Department of Motor Vehicles manual and passed the written test. All she needed for her learner’s permit, the DMV clerk told her, was a physician’s note saying she could get behind the wheel.

When an ophthalmologist subsequently refused to give her the green light, Johnson was heartbroken. “I stormed out of his office, slamming every single door. And then I got so depressed,” she recalls. ” People would ask me, ‘What do you want to do when you graduate?’ and I’d say, ‘I don’t know. I’m going blind.'”

Today Johnson is a marriage and family therapist with a thriving practice in San Mateo, California, the mother of a 19-year-old son, and a counselor and support group facilitator at Palo Alto’s Vista Center for the Blind and Visually Impaired. She reads and writes with the help of a laptop computer that converts text into speech, and her guide dog, a golden retriever named Mackenzie, helps her get around.

Sometimes she wonders, though: What if scientists came up with a device, similar to a cochlear implant for deaf people, that could help her to see again? At 58, Johnson still remembers the old Six Million Dollar Man television seriesthe one where the injured test pilot, Steve Austin, gets new bionic limbs and a left eyeball with a 20:1 zoom lens and infrared capabilities. “Wouldn’t it be weird if I could go from this point to that?” she says, laughing. “I would so do it.”

Scientists and engineers still are a long way from creating a visual prosthesis that works as well as a real human eye, let alone a superhuman one. Nevertheless, two Stanford research teams are making steady progress in what was once the realm of science fiction. One of their promising new devices, a bionic vision system based on photovoltaic implants, is awaiting approval for human clinical trials in Europe. A second system, based on in vitro studies of the retina, could be ready for animal testing within four or five years. Both inventions have the same goal: to give back some measure of sight to people like Johnson, who have progressive diseases of the retinaespecially retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration.

Certainly the need is there. According to the National Institutes of Health, retinitis pigmentosa is the leading cause of inherited blindness, affecting 1 in about 4,000 people in the United States. As in Johnson’s case, the disease usually begins with a loss of night vision in childhood, and progresses to involve peripheral and then central vision, gradually robbing young people of the ability to read, drive, recognize faces and do routine daily tasks.

Macular degeneration, in contrast, is one of the leading causes of vision loss in Americans 60 and older. By 2020, the NIH estimates that as many as 3 million people in the United States may be living with various stages of the disease, which gradually destroys the densely packed light-sensitive cells, called photoreceptors, in the retina’s center, or macula. “Many of these folks are going to be losing their central vision,” says Chip Goehring, president of the American Macular Degeneration Foundation, “so it is absolutely vital that we have options for the restoration of sight, including biological and mechanical approachesstem cell therapies for photoreceptor replacement, gene therapies to restore dysfunctional retinal tissues, and prosthetic retinas that can serve an even wider population of people with vision loss.”

Worldwide quest

Normal retinal tissue consists of photoreceptors: light-sensitive cells resembling rods and cones at the base of the eye, topped by interconnected layers of neurons. The signal travels from the rods and cones, through bipolar cells to ganglion cells, then via the optic nerve to several brain areas, including the visual cortex. Scientists still aren’t exactly sure why the rods and cones break down in patients with retinal diseases, nor have they figured out ways to prevent, slow or reverse the process.

There is one silver lining, however: Retinitis pigmentosa and macular degeneration tend to spare some of the bipolar and ganglion cells. This means that the neurons in these patients’ retinas can be stimulated artificially, with micro-electrodes, bypassing the damaged rods and cones altogether.

Daniel Palanker, PhD, a professor of ophthalmology at Stanford, has an up close view of how devastating diseases of the retina can be: His mother-in-law has age-related macular degeneration and requires high-power magnifiers to read. Trained as a physicist, Palanker directs Stanford’s Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory, and has developed and patented numerous devices over the years to diagnose and treat eye diseases. Among them are a neurostimulator for enhancement of tear secretion in patients with dry eye syndrome, a femtosecond laser for cataract surgery, and a patterned laser scanning photocoagulator that surgeons use to treat multiple retinal disorders, including diabetic retinopathy, without excessive damage to the delicate tissues around the treatment spots.

The development of a visual prosthesis may be Palanker’s most challenging project yet. “It requires a combination of multiple skills,” he explains, sitting outside his laboratory on the Stanford Engineering Quad, a short walk from his collaborators at the School of Medicine. “You need a good understanding of optics, electronics, neuroscience and ophthalmic diseases.”

Currently there are about 20 research groups working on bionic vision systems around the world, including teams in Australia, China, Germany, Japan, Korea, the United Kingdom and the United States. Yet to date just one retinal prosthesis has been approved for the U.S. marketthe ARGUS II, developed by scientists at USC and Second Sight Medical Products Inc. Used by about 200 patients worldwide, the system consists of a miniature video camera mounted on a pair of goggles, a pocket-sized video processing unit, a transmitting antenna mounted on the side of the goggles, a pea-sized receiving antenna with electronics case attached to the side of the patient’s eyeball, and a 60-electrode array, tacked to the front of the retina. People who use the system say they can see broad patterns of light, such as open doorways or stripes on the floor.

A more recent system, the German-built Alpha-IMS from Retina Implant AG, has been used successfully by a handful of patients in Europe. Its implanta tiny video camera with 1,500 light-sensitive pixels, each having an amplifier and a stimulating electrodeis placed under the retina. The device, powered via a cable that exits the eye and passes under the skin to a receiver implanted behind the ear, enables users to see the ghostly shapes of nearby objects, such as apples and bananas on a table.

Palanker’s new prosthetic device, called PRIMA, is being commercialized in partnership with Pixium Vision of France. Like the ARGUS II, it features a tiny video camera mounted atop futuristic-looking augmented reality goggles, connected to a video processor about the size of a cell phone. Yet it doesn’t require the implantation of a bulky electronics case and antenna, or a cable coming out of the eye, like the German system. Instead it relies on multiple arrays of photodiodes, each about a millimeter in diameter and containing hundreds of pixels, which work like the solar panels on a rooftop. Surgeons can lay down these tiny chips, like tiles, replacing the missing light-sensitive rods and cones in the central retina.

When PRIMA’s camera captures an image of, say, a flower, the video processor transmits that picture to a microdisplay mounted inside the goggles. Powerful pulses of near-infrared light illuminate this display and are projected from the goggles into the eye, like the invisible rays of a TV remote control. The implanted photodiodes pick up these signals and convert them into tiny pulses of electrical current, which stimulate the bipolar cells directly above them. The signals propagate to the ganglion cells and then to the brain, which perceives them as patterns of light: a flower!

To test the system, Stanford researchers implanted PRIMA chips in laboratory rodents and exposed them to flashes of light, or to flickering patterns on a computer screen. By recording the resulting electrical activity in the animals’ visual cortices, the scientists measured their visual acuity. “It turned out that the prosthetic acuity exactly matched the 70-micron resolution of the implant, which is half the acuity of the rats’ natural vision,” Palanker says. “Since the stimulation thresholds were much lower than the safety limits, we decided to develop even smaller pixels to enable better vision. More recent behavioral tests, conducted by the French collaborators in primates, have confirmed our results with rodents.

“Of course, until the implants are done in human patients,” he adds, “we won’t know for sure.” But when human clinical trials do start later this year in Europe, they hope to achieve resolution corresponding to 20/250 vision with 70-micron pixels. That still is worse than the standard for legal blindness, 20/200, but it may be enough for a user to read very large print, or to see the face of a newborn granddaughter.

In the next generation of the device, Palanker says, “We should be able to put more than 12,000 pixels within 15 degrees of the visual field,” taking the system to 20/150 or even better. And while PRIMA can’t reproduce color vision yetonly various shades of gray”We are working on single-cell selectivity in retinal stimulation, which might enable color perception,” he says. With more experience, surgeons also might be able to expand the visual field to about 20 degrees.

The next generation

Scientists’ ultimate dream is to build a visual prosthesis so small and powerful that it can stimulate specific neurons inside the retina, rather than sundry patches of them. That’s the goal of E.J. Chichilnisky, PhD, a Stanford professor of neurosurgery and of ophthalmology.

“Think of the retina as an orchestra,” Chichilnisky explains. “When you try to make music, you need the violins to play one score, the oboes to play a different score and so on.” Likewise, the retina’s 1 million or so ganglion cells are composed of about 20 distinct types. Each plays a slightly different role in transmitting the perception of shape, color, depth, motion and other visual features to the brain.

Chichilnisky joined the Stanford faculty in 2013, after 15 years at the Salk Institute for Biological Studies. Since his days as a Stanford doctoral student in the mid-1990s, he has worked with a variety of physicists and engineers, notably Alan Litke, PhD, of the UC-Santa Cruz Institute for Particle Physics, to develop small but powerful electrode arrays capable of measuring neural activity at the cellular level.

To better understand the patterns of electrical activity in the retina, Chichilnisky and his colleagues use eye tissue taken from primates that have been euthanized for other medical studies. By placing small pieces of retinal tissue atop the microchip arrays, then exposing those samples to various patterns of light, they’ve been able to record and study the distinctive electrical responses of five different types of retinal ganglion cells, which together account for 75 percent of the visual signal sent to the brain. They’ve also developed techniques to replicate those electrical patterns, artificially stimulating the ganglion cells with high precision, comparable to the natural signals elicited by the rods and cones.

By learning how to replicate these complex signals, Chichilnisky and his team are one step closer to their ultimate goal: a high-acuity visual prosthesis that behaves like an orchestra conductor, signaling the retina’s myriad neurons to fire in precisely the right ways, at precisely the right times. “I’m not saying we’ve got it nailed,” he says, “but we certainly now have proof of concept for how to make a better device in the future.”

Chichilnisky says the next challenge will be to fit his lab’s formidable computing power onto an implantable electrode array that can do its job safely inside the eye, without overheating surrounding tissues, and autonomously, “without any graduate students or postdocs running it,” he says, laughing. If all goes well, a prototype of the implant could be ready for testing in lab animals in four to five years.

With offices near each other at the Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory, Chichilnisky and Palanker frequently get together to discuss their research informally and debate the best ways to proceed toward replicating the natural function of the retina. Both men have the sense that they are pushing scientific boundariesand that their work someday may help more than blind people. Electro-neural interfaces already are being used to assist in the control of several vital organs, including the heart, bladder and limbs. Before long, they even may be hooked up to different parts of the brain, helping people with memory loss, for example or, incredible as it sounds, even enabling telepathic communication.

As Palanker says, “We live in an era when we are starting to overcome the limitations imposed on us by our biological nature … This is how evolution goes.”

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How video goggles and a tiny implant could cure blindness – Medical Xpress