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New ‘Zoobiquity’ Initiative, Conference Cross Disciplines

The Zoobiquity Research Initiative attempts to teach medical students with work on projects of both human and animal help.

Zoobiquity conference organizers, from left to right, Patricia Conrad, DVM, Ph.D., co-director of the U.C. Global Health Institute’s One Health Center and a professor of parasitology at the U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine; Barbara Natterson Horowitz, MD, director of imaging at the UCLA Cardiac Arrhythmia Center and associate clinical professor of medicine in the division of cardiology at David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA; and Cheryl Scott, DVM, RN, program director of the Calvin Schwabe One Health Project at U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

Photo by Reed Hutchison

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A new project, the Zoobiquity Research Initiative, was launched last week in an effort to help University of California Davis veterinary students and University of California Los Angeles medical students work together on projects that affect both animal and human health. Areas of topics will include obesity, geriatrics and environmental toxic exposure.

The initiative was launched at the similarly named new conference, Zoobiquity, which was organized by the U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine; the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA; the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens; and the One Health Center of the U.C. Global Health Institute.

The conference was attended by more than 200 veterinarians and human physicians to better understand the global and species-spanning nature of illness. The conference was also designed to help forge ways that both veterinary and human medical fields can work together to further medicine, science and research.

“The Zoobiquity conference and the initiative focus on the many similarities, both genetic and physiological, between species, which are vast and often underappreciated,” said Patricia Conrad, DVM, Ph.D., co-director of the U.C. Global Health Institute’s One Health Center and a professor of parasitology at the U.C. Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

Zoobiquity describes “a species-spanning approach to health that draws expertise from veterinary and human medicine—to the advantage of both,” according to Barbara Natterson Horowitz, MD, and Kathryn Bowers, who coined the term.

Dr. Natterson Horowitz is the director of imaging at the UCLA Cardiac Arrhythmia Center and associate clinical professor of medicine in the division of cardiology. Bowers is a medical author.

U.C. Davis noted that the conference was part of a university-wide One Health Initiative.

“Veterinary medicine has been at the forefront of comparative medicine, addressing diseases in all species, from aquatic animals to primates,” said Bennie Osburn, DVM, Ph.D., dean of the U.C. 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.

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“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.”

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.

For example, case studies illustrated similarities between species such as 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 mother of three; and salmonella in a farm dog and a reptile collector.

“Solving these problems on an animal level may help prevent the spread of disease, as well as lead to treatments for animals,” Natterson Horowitz said.

The afternoon portion of the program was held at the Los Angeles Zoo, where conference participants took parts in rounds of animal cases, led by the zoo’s veterinary staff. Topics focused on comparative elements in these cases, such as skin cancer in a rhinoceros horn, diabetes in New World and Old World monkeys and heart condition in a lioness, among others.

“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, MD, 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.”

The proceedings from the Zoobiquity conference will be submitted for publication in both veterinary and human journals, according to U.C. Davis. 

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