Autologous skin-derived neural precursor cell therapy reverses canine Alzheimer dementia-like syndrome in a proof of concept veterinary trial

Stem Cell Res Ther. 2022 Jun 17;13(1):261. doi: 10.1186/s13287-022-02933-w.


Background: Older companion dogs naturally develop a dementia-like syndrome with biological, clinical and therapeutic similarities to Alzheimer disease (AD). Given there has been no new safe, clinically effective and widely accessible treatment for AD for almost 20 years, an all-new cell therapeutic approach was trialled in canine veterinary patients, and further modelled in aged rats for more detailed neurobiological analysis.

Methods: A Phase 1/2A veterinary trial was conducted in N = 6 older companion dogs with definitive diagnosis of Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD). Treatment comprised direct microinjection of 250,000 autologous skin-derived neuroprecursors (SKNs) into the bilateral hippocampus using MRI-guided stereotaxis. Safety was assessed clinically and efficacy using the validated Canine Cognitive Dysfunction Rating Scale (CCDR) at baseline and 3-month post treatment. Intention to treat analysis imputed a single patient that had a surgical adverse event requiring euthanasia. Three dog brains were donated following natural death and histology carried out to quantify Alzheimer pathology as well as immature neurons and synapses; these were compared to a brain bank (N = 12) of untreated aged dogs with and without CCD. Further, an age-related memory dysfunction rat model (N = 16) was used to more closely evaluate intrahippocampal engraftment of canine SKN cells, focusing on mnemonic and synaptic effects as well as donor cell survival, neurodifferentation and electrophysiologic circuit integration in a live hippocampal slice preparation.

Results: Four out-of-five dogs improved on the primary clinical CCDR endpoint, three fell below diagnostic threshold, and remarkably, two underwent full syndromal reversal lasting up to 2 years. At post mortem, synaptic density in the hippocampus specifically was nine standard deviations above non-treated dogs, and intensity of new neurons also several fold higher. There was no impact on AD pathology or long-term safety signals. Modelling in aged rats replicated the main canine trial findings: hippocampally-dependent place memory deficits were reversed and synaptic depletion rescued. In addition, this model confirmed donor cell survival and migration throughout the hippocampus, neuronal differentiation in situ, and physiologically-correct integration into pyramidal layer circuits.

Conclusions: With further development, SKN cell therapy may have potential for treating carefully chosen AD patients based on neurosynaptic restoration in the hippocampus.

Keywords: Alzheimer’s disease; Canine; Cell therapy; Dementia; Hippocampus; Neural precursors; Rodent; Stem cells.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial, Veterinary
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alzheimer Disease* / therapy
  • Alzheimer Disease* / veterinary
  • Animals
  • Cell- and Tissue-Based Therapy*
  • Dog Diseases* / therapy
  • Dogs
  • Hippocampus / pathology
  • Neural Stem Cells / transplantation