Experimental bone growth treatment saves dog’s leg

Eva with her owner, Fiona Kirkland, and surgeon William Marshall. Picture: Martin Shields
Eva with her owner, Fiona Kirkland, and surgeon William Marshall. Picture: Martin Shields
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Scientists and veterinarians at a Scottish university have helped save a dog from losing its leg thanks to a pioneering bone growth treatment.

In what has been described as an “exciting development” in the fledgling field of bone regeneration technology, the team at the University of Glasgow were able stimulate the growth of new bone in the young animal’s leg.

The dog, Eva, a two-year-old Munsterlander, was facing amputation after being struck by a car, which left her with a broken front leg.

But thanks in part in a common household ingredient found in paint and nail polish, the researchers were able to grow new bone to fill a 2cm-long gap at the top of her right foreleg.

Those behind the discovery said it will bolster research into bone regrowth, which could allow trauma surgeons to improve the quality of life of landmine blast survivors.

Eva’s vet, William Marshall, who is based at the university’s Small Animal Hospital, made several attempts to treat her leg, all to no avail.

But after learning of a synthetic bone research project at the university, he enquired about a new technology which allows bone tissue to grow where it would otherwise not naturally regenerate.

It works by delivering a naturally occurring protein called BMP-2, which causes bone tissue to grow. In previous tests, however, the protein spread in the body, meaning bones grew in unwanted places.

But the project leaders, Professor Manuel Salmeron-Sanchez and Professor Matt Dalby, found that by using an everyday solution known as polyethyl acrylate (PEA), the protein could be in place.

By coating a mixture of bone chips in both BMP-2 and PEA – the first time it has ever been done – the bone in Eva’s leg regrew. Seven weeks on, she is set to make a full recovery.

Mr Marshall said: “Eva is an energetic and otherwise very healthy dog. Amputating her leg would have significantly affected the way that she walks and runs, but without the treatment provided by Manuel and his team there would really have been no other option.”

Mr Salmeron-Sanchez said: “This is an exciting development. During research and development, the use of PEA and BMP-2 to grow new bone tissue has looked very promising, but I was not expecting the treatment to be used to help a patient for several more years.

“If I’m honest, we were not at all sure the treatment would work in such a complex infected fracture.”

The synthetic bone research project is being funded by Find A Better Way,a landmine charity founded by former England footballer, Sir Bobby Charlton.

He said: “When I signed the funding agreement for this project just six months ago I was not expecting there to be any results from this technology for years. Eva is a beautiful dog and I’m delighted she will now have a normal life thanks to the work Find A Better Way has funded at the university.”

“I’m even more thrilled to think about what promise this technique holds for landmine blast survivors, and the rest of humanity, in the future.”