Life for Miro, a 5 year old German Shepherd, has been what its owner calls an “emotional roller coaster ride” for the past two years. Several peaks and valleys have shaped his metaphorical landscape as he moved from initial fitness to dealing with injuries and illnesses. But a clinical study at UC Davis’s veterinary clinic may have put him back on a positive path.
Miro worked as a patrol dog with his handler / owner, Martin Gilbertson, a ranger at California State Parks, and spent three years doing duties that required him to be at the forefront of his game. In early 2019, he was just that after winning the Top Dog Award for his department.
This summer, however, Miro slowly got worse. He was diagnosed with lumbosacral disc disease that caused compression of the spinal cord. UC Davis veterinary neurosurgeons performed surgical decompression, and Miro eventually recovered after a long recovery period.
Miro with his handler Martin Gilbertson
“Life was great,” said Gilbertson. “At the beginning of December 2019, Miro was released to return to work. I thought all problems were behind us. “
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However, it only took a couple of weeks for the roller coaster to peak and descend.
In late December 2019, Miro collapsed for no apparent reason and began to shiver in ways Gilbertson had never seen before. So the couple returned to UC Davis, where Miro was diagnosed with myasthenia gravis, a disease in which signal transmission between nerves and muscles is impaired. This leads to muscle weakness and an inability to walk or run properly, as well as potentially devastating neuromuscular disorders.
Gilbertson was devastated.
“Going from the top of our profession to a potential couch potato for the rest of your life was a real bowel control,” he said.
However, a few weeks later, hope surfaced when faculty member of the Neurology / Neurosurgery Service, Dr. Pete Dickinson and Bev Sturges briefed Gilbertson on a clinical trial of myasthenia gravis they had initiated with the help of the Center for Pet Health (CCAH) and the Veterinary Institute for Regenerative Remedies.
“I thought, ‘What do we have to lose?'” Gilbertson said. “DR. Dickinson told me that Miro would be the first dog to ever receive this new treatment. We were excited and grateful that we could attend.”
A computer program shows Miro’s step pattern on the Tekscan Strideway pressure path.
Over the next several months, Miro received three stem cell treatments as well as traditional medication to treat myasthenia gravis. Part of Miro’s recovery also consisted of studying his gait, using new equipment to better analyze a dog’s stride pattern. Thanks to CCAH funding, the school recently acquired a Tekscan Strideway Print Path that enables clinicians and researchers to better assess a patient’s stride pattern and make decisions about optimal care and recovery. To fully understand a patient’s gait disorders related to injury or neuromuscular disease, veterinarians and researchers rely on objective, quantitative methods of assessing motor function. The strideway system complements the force plates in the school’s JD Wheat Veterinary Orthopedic Research Laboratory, which collects extensive information, but only for one step. The new pressure path extends the possibilities for quantifying pressure, vertical force and step parameters (timing and distance) on all limbs for several steps during walking, trotting or landing. Miro’s progress could be followed precisely during his recovery.
Before the trial, Miro could only walk about 10 steps before falling. He appeared to have recovered completely after the attempt and blood tests showed no evidence of antibodies to the disease. While the disease may not have completely disappeared from his system, the clinical trial appears to have suppressed the disease to the point where it no longer prevents Miro from his normal activities. Miro has retired from his job and is now enjoying life as a family pet.
It is true that Miro is now in remission, but until further analysis of the data is complete, it is too early to determine if the stem cells were the driving force behind his recovery, as they were given at the same time as the standard – Nursing medication. Miro’s results, along with results from two other dogs who completed the study, will be closely examined to see if this stem cell treatment can really be considered a cure for myasthenia gravis. Regardless of the final outcome of the study, Miro’s recovery was, in one way or another, due to a novel combination of treatments developed at UC Davis.