Scientists have reversed paralysis in dogs after injecting them with cells grown from the lining of their nose.
The pets had all suffered spinal injuries which prevented them from using their back legs.
The Cambridge University team is cautiously optimistic the technique could eventually have a role in the treatment of human patients.
The study is the first to test the transplant in “real-life” injuries rather than laboratory animals.
In the study, funded by the Medical Research Council and published in the neurology journal Brain, the dogs had olfactory ensheathing cells from the lining of their nose removed.
These were grown and expanded for several weeks in the laboratory.
Of 34 pet dogs on the proof of concept trial, 23 had the cells transplanted into the injury site – the rest were injected with a neutral fluid.
Many of the dogs that received the transplant showed considerable improvement and were able to walk on a treadmill with the support of a harness.
None of the control group regained use of its back legs.
The research was a collaboration between the MRC’s Regenerative Medicine Centre and Cambridge University’s Veterinary School.
Professor Robin Franklin, a regeneration biologist at the Wellcome Trust-MRC Stem Cell Institute and report co-author, said: ‘Our findings are extremely exciting because they show for the first time that transplanting these types of cell into a severely damaged spinal cord can bring about significant improvement.
“We’re confident that the technique might be able to restore at least a small amount of movement in human patients with spinal cord injuries but that’s a long way from saying they might be able to regain all lost function. …