Can Surgery on Cats and Dogs Save Human Lives?

More on PawNation: Cats, Causes, Dogs

I have always loved cats, but now there's even more reason to appreciate our feline friends.

Veterinarians at the Royal Veterinary College's Queen Mother hospital for animals (QMHA) in England believe that the time has come for animal and human medicine to start learning from each other.

They are not alone. In 2007, the American Veterinary Medicine Association announced that they wanted to "unite human and veterinary medicine to improve animal and public health." That's because many diseases are shared by humans and animals.
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Stijn Niessen, lecturer in internal medicine at QMHA, explains how the two groups can profit from each other's experiences.

From The Guardian:

"Around 80% of diabetic cats have Type 2 diabetes - the condition that's costing the NHS £1m an hour," he says. "There are similarities between inflammatory bowel diseases in dogs and Crohn's disease, and between Cushing's disease and hyperthyroidism in cats. Cancers: lymphoma, leukemia. I could name you 100 diseases humans and animals share and the list would not be complete."

Human medicine, Niessen continues, puts "a lot of money and effort into trying to replicate these diseases, in mice for example. That can certainly help. But at best they're basically models - not the naturally occurring disease. And yet in cats and dogs we have those very diseases, occurring naturally."

The idea that human and animal medicine are vitally connected and should work together is not a new one: Sir William Osler, for example, a founding professor at John Hopkins hospital, promoted it eloquently in the 1800s. But it is only recently that it has begun to gain popularity.

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Here's one example of how humans might benefit from animal surgery.

Again, from The Guardian:

A neurosurgeon called Patrick Kenny is about to insert two stainless steel pins into Harry's skull. To these he will fit a clamp, immobilising Harry's head. His jaws will be wedged open. Then Kenny will cut a tiny hole through the back of the roof of Harry's mouth and, in an operation that will last more than four hours, set about removing a pea-sized tumour from a vital gland at the base of his brain.

Harry is a cat. A 12-year-old maine coon, in fact. He's a big old fella, as maine coons generally are, but Harry is considerably bigger than he should be, because the tumour on his pituitary gland is causing it to produce far more growth hormone than it should, a condition known as acromegaly. This has led to one of the disease's most common complications: uncontrolled diabetes, as the excess hormone counters the effects of insulin.

Henry's need for a large number of insulin injections has made his life miserable, and his tumor has continued to grow despite the injections. Radiation therapy and a drug program bring their own complications, which is why it was decided to try this operation, a brand-new approach.

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After the operation, the tumor cells are to be scrutinized in an attempt to understand why this tumor has grown. And the hope is that the knowledge gained from this will shed new light on how to deal with this disease in humans.

On a happier note, Henry's operation has been a success: he is recovering well, and almost back to his old pre-illness self.

What do you think? Does it make sense that human and animal doctors pool their resources, and start working more closely together? Or do you see veterinarians and human doctors as two different species?

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