Stem Cell Procedure Tested as Treatment for Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

An elderly golden retriever gazing into the distance. Senior dogs with dementia may be candidates for canine cognitive dysfunction treatment

Research at the University of Sydney has already helped two senior dogs with dementia and may eventually aid humans with Alzheimer’s disease as well. This novel approach is not based on medication, supplements, or activities. It consists of the following steps:

  • Assessing the dog as a good candidate and pre-testing the dog’s cognition;
  • Taking a skin sample from the dog in a surgical procedure;
  • Converting the retrieved adult skin stem cells to neural stem cells;
  • Injecting them into the dog’s brain;
  • Performing medical follow-up and retesting the dog’s cognition.

The procedure is not to be undertaken lightly since it involves anesthetizing the dog twice and, well, brain surgery. Anesthesia can be tricky in senior dogs, but blood work can help determine its safety. The good news is that two dogs with dementia have successfully undergone the procedure. Researchers accepted these dogs into the trial because they had clinically demonstrated dementia but were otherwise in good physical health. Laboratory measures of their cognitive skills before and after the procedure show greatly improved cognition. The owners are pleased with the results as well.

I think the best way to learn about this is from the mouths of the researchers involved. The following video is a TV interview with two of the team members at the University of Sydney. Timmy, one of the dogs who underwent the procedure, and his owner are there as well. You can’t get a real sense of Timmy under the bright lights of a television set, though. A little farther down is a link to a video that shows Timmy active in his own yard.

Link to the TV interview for email subscribers. 

The following article features a video of Timmy. He underwent the procedure in late 2015:  The Unlikely Symbol of Hope for Dementia Sufferers.

Here is another article that tells more about how Timmy’s owners made the decision to try the surgery: Dementia Researchers Look to Dogs for Breakthroughs.

Another dog had the procedure in March 2016 and is also doing well. The research team and the dogs’ owners are very excited about the results so far.

Finally, here is more technical information about the procedure. It includes the researchers’ contact information for folks who want to investigate enrolling their dog in the clinical trial: Dogs + Cells Trial: Cell Therapy for the Reversal of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction. If you are in the Sydney area and are at all interested, don’t hesitate to contact the researchers through the form on the page. Through my interest in dementia in dogs, I have gotten long-distance acquainted with team members. I’m impressed with their sincerity and careful work.

It’s rare that dog lovers can get behind any form of clinical study that involves animals. And of course, anyone considering it for their dog would have complex decisions to make. But this is potentially a triple-win situation. The procedure has a chance of helping the dog who undergoes it. As the research yields more data, it will advance the knowledge of canine cognitive dysfunction besides being an available treatment for more dogs. Finally, scientists’ work may eventually help humans in the fight against Alzheimer’s.

When I first published my book in 2015, I wrote that there was no cure for canine cognitive dysfunction. That is still the case, but this fascinating research offers some hope.