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UCLA, UC Davis School of Vet Med, L.A. Zoo foster species-spanning approach to medicine

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Feb. 2, 2011
   
A second grader and a Shih Tzu dog can both experience separation anxiety when their caregivers leave. A dangerous brain tumor manifests itself similarly in an alpaca and a school principal. West Nile virus attacks a flamingo in the same way it assails a nursing-home resident.   

Behind the skin, fur and feathers, humans and animals are profoundly alike; they carry vastly similar genetics and have tremendous overlap in their health and disease. Yet while veterinary and human medicine come together periodically to address topics such as food safety and emerging infections, the two fields mostly operate separately. But because they are often confronted with similar clinical challenges, experts say both fields will benefit from more cross-disciplinary interaction. 

To that end, Zoobiquity, one of the first conferences of its kind, brought together 200 physicians and veterinarians to give each a better understanding of the global and species-spanning nature of illness and to help forge ways that both fields can work together to further medicine, science and research. 

The one-day synergistic effort, which took place Jan. 29, was organized by the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine, the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens, and the One Health Center of the UC Global Health Institute. 

"Whether examining shared molecular structures or identifying surprising common behaviors, the conference urged physicians and veterinarians to engage in conversations that could lead to new ways to diagnose, model and treat diseases of many kinds," said the conference's chair, Barbara Natterson Horowitz, M.D., director of imaging at the UCLA Cardiac Arrhythmia Center and associate clinical professor of medicine in the division of cardiology. 

The morning portion of the program was held in the auditorium of Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, where veterinary and human specialists compared diagnostic and therapeutic approaches to their patients in the areas of cancer, heart disease, psychiatry and infectious diseases. 

CASE STUDY REVIEWS

Case studies illustrating similarities between species included obsessive-compulsive disorder in a bull terrier and a video store employee; lead poisoning in a California condor and toddlers; a brain tumor in a Rhodesian Ridgeback dog and a retired school guidance counselor; Lyme disease in a thoroughbred horse and a mother of three; and salmonella in a farm dog and a reptile collector. 

Instances like these, which bridge the species divide, abound in nature. More than 70 percent of infectious diseases, such as Ebola, West Nile virus and avian flu, come from the animal world and are transferred to humans, according to Natterson Horowitz. 

"Solving these problems on an animal level may help prevent the spread of disease, as well as lead to treatments for humans," she said. 

The conference focused on the translational aspects between species and on bringing to patients' bedsides the vast knowledge gathered by veterinarians in the barnyard, biologists in the bush and microbiologists at the lab bench. 

"Veterinary medicine has been at the forefront of comparative medicine, addressing diseases in all species, from aquatic animals to primates," said Bennie I. Osburn, D.V.M., Ph.D., dean of the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. "Our approaches to disease and well-being are similar to those in human medicine. Animals are excellent models for many diseases. Our strategies for the prevention and control of health threats in animals also contribute to human health and food safety, and we also look at disease processes at the environmental-animal-human interfaces. The Zoobiquity conference was an important first for highlighting the teamwork of veterinary medicine and human medicine in the overall improvement of health care delivery and solutions to animal and human diseases."   

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The afternoon portion of the program was held at the Los Angeles Zoo, where conference participants took part in rounds of animal cases, led by the zoo's veterinary staff. Experts in both animal and human medicine provided commentary on the important comparative elements in these cases, which included, among others, skin cancer in a rhinoceros horn, diabetes in New World and Old World monkeys, and a heart condition in a lioness.  

COLLABORATION LEADS TO "BEST CARE POSSIBLE"

"Such collaborations between veterinary and human medicine are helpful in developing new ways to diagnose and treat health conditions to provide the absolute best care possible," said Curtis Eng, D.V.M., chief veterinarian for the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens. "We are delighted to have partnered with UC Davis and UCLA in presenting the Zoobiquity conference." 

The Los Angeles Zoo has a longstanding working relationship with specialists at both universities. Natterson Horowitz, in her role as director of imaging at the UCLA Cardiac Arrhythmia Center, assists in monitoring common heart issues that can also affect animals. Her work with the zoo helped spark her interest in the commonalities between species and led to her spearheading the Zoobiquity conference.  

Zoobiquity is a term coined by Natterson Horowitz and medical author Kathryn Bowers to describe a species-spanning approach to health that draws expertise from veterinary and human medicine — to the advantage of both. 

THE FUTURE OF MEDICINE

"The Zoobiquity conference crossed disciplines, species and campuses to help expand the scope and reach of medicine and science for mutual benefit," said A. Eugene Washington, M.D., UCLA vice chancellor for health sciences and dean of the Geffen School of Medicine. "It brought together not only established field leaders but also younger physicians and veterinarians-in-training who will develop the future of medicine with new hypotheses and approaches." 

RESEARCH INITIATIVE LAUNCHED

A special project called the Zoobiquity Research Initiative was also launched at the conference. As part of the project, interdisciplinary teams of veterinary students from UC Davis and medical students from UCLA will work together on timely projects of importance to both animal and human health, including the effects of obesity, geriatrics and environmental toxic exposure. Experts from both fields of medicine will mentor the teams. 

"The Zoobiquity conference and the initiative focus on the many similarities, both genetic and physiological, between species, which are vast and often underappreciated," said the conference's co-chair, Patricia A. Conrad, D.V.M., Ph.D., co-director of the UC Global Health Institute's One Health Center and a professor of parasitology at the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine. 

The proceedings from the conference will be submitted for publication in both human and veterinary journals. 

ABOUT THE PARTICIPANTS

The Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens is a 135-acre oasis located in Griffith Park, at the junction of the Ventura (134) and Golden State (5) freeways. The zoo, which has more than 1,100 animals on display, is proud to open up its newest exhibit, Elephants of Asia. Zoo admission is $14 for adults and $9 for children ages 2 to 12. The zoo is open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily. For information, call 323-644-4200 or visit the L.A. Zoo website at www.lazoo.org.

The One Health Center is one of three centers of expertise in the UC Global Health Institute, launched November 2009 to harness the expertise of faculty across the 10-campus UC system to address complex global health problems and the needs of the world's most vulnerable populations. Contributing to this effort, the One Health Center, based at the School of Veterinary Medicine, is focused on assessing and responding to global health problems that arise at the human-animal-environmental interface, such as emerging infectious disease, water scarcity and quality, food security, and nutrition in California and globally. 

The UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine provides statewide teaching, research and service programs benefiting animal health, public health and environmental health in California and beyond. Ranked among the top veterinary schools in the U.S., the school offers the state's only public four-year program leading to the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree; residency training in the largest veterinary specialty program in the nation; and education for advanced graduate academic degrees. In addition to conducting studies emphasizing animal health, faculty are heavily engaged in investigations affecting the health of humans and the environment. Strategically located centers of excellence meet California's regional needs for clinical and diagnostic services related to food animals, wildlife and pets.  

The David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA is an internationally respected leader in research, medical education and patient care. The school has more than 2,000 full-time faculty members, almost 1,300 residents, more than 750 medical students and roughly 400 Ph.D. candidates. The Geffen School is ranked ninth in the country in research funding from the National Institutes of Health and third in research dollars from total sources.


Media contacts:

UCLA Health Sciences: Rachel Champeau,rchampeau@mednet.ucla.edu, 310-794-2270
UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine: Lynn Narlesky,, 530-752-5257
Los Angeles Zoo & Botanical Gardens: Jason Jacobs, Jason.jacobs@lacity.org, 323-644-4273