One of the introductory lectures when I started veterinary school talked about how the University of Pennsylvania believed strongly in the principle of One Medicine. The German physician and scientist Rudolph Virchow first proposed this concept and said:
“Between animal and human medicine there is no dividing line – nor should there be. The object is different but the experience obtained constitutes the basis of all medicine”.
This belief led to the creation of the (sadly) now defunct United States Armed Forces Institute of Pathology in Washington, D.C. Even as a lowly intern I was welcome to bring in a tissue biopsy of a tough case, and could discuss questions at any time with some of the best minds available.
There are unique features to every species but under the skin and hide we are all mammals. There are far more things about our physiology that are similar, if not identical, than different. Research in one species can provide valuable insights for other species as well.
Robin Coombs was a veterinarian who developed an antibody test for autoimmune anemia which is used in both humans and animals. His work also led to the development of tests for other autoimmune conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis and tests to detect blood and tissue incompatibilities. Coombs developed his interest in immunology and diagnostics early in his career when working on a test for the disease Glanders which attacks horses and donkeys.
Animals have a long history of use in studying disease processes and treatments intended for human use. Mice, rats, rodents, dogs and monkeys are among the most commonly used. Animals can also benefit from research that was begun in humans. Oral joint nutraceuticals and bisphosphonate drugs (e.g. Os-Phos) were first pioneered in humans, as was hyaluronic acid for joint injection and use of platelet-rich plasma (PLP).
Research like this often follows a parallel course, with equine specific studies appearing alongside human. The animal research has the potential to advance more quickly because it doesn’t have the same level of ethical constraints as when working with human subjects. It is possible to better control important variables like level of exercise. On the flip side, interested human researchers can provide valuable critical review of the equine research, as in this paper: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4449579/ .
One Medicine is especially applicable to nutrition and supplements. While requirements and digestion may vary, the basic activities of nutrients and supplements at the cellular level are largely the same in all mammals. Using allometric equations, dosages in humans and small animals can be converted to equine on the basis of their metabolism rather than pound per pound.
The concept of One Medicine has always served me well. It opens a world of possibilities that would not exist if we had to rely on equine specific research alone.
Eleanor Kellon, VMD