Jasper the Dachshund walks again! A fantastic headline for Jasper, Jasper’s owners but also for veterinary medicine. Jasper, a 10 year old dachshund had lost the use of his hind limbs following a slipped disc (a common problem for little dachsies). Vets and doctors at the University of Cambridge harvested olfactory ensheathing cells from his nose and transplanted them to the injury site in his back. Following a period of rehabilitation Jasper had regained much of the use in his legs, to his owner’s delight. This story was picked up by the BBC amongst others and has provided some hope to paraplegic human and canine patients.
It will be some time before we know if these gains are transferable from canine to human patients but it is another example of what the powers that be in the veterinary world like to call ‘One Health’. One Health is the concept that human and animal disease is interlinked in positive and negative ways; zoonotic disease such as avian influenza, the development of antimicrobial resistance in food producing species but also in the application and development of novel therapies. Animal testing is viewed by most in the medical profession as a necessary evil but what we are talking about here is something slightly different, treatments designed for the direct benefit of the animal involved which may also act as proof of concept for treatment of other species.
Vets must always act in the best interests of their patient and whether or not to treat in these circumstances often involves some soul searching for owners and vets. Once the decision to treat has been reached however veterinary patients have some advantages over their human counterparts.
The first advantage is that dogs wear their genes on their sleeves. Dog breeds are from very small gene pools with some predisposition to diseases genetically inbuilt. This makes identifying genetic factors in diseases an easier process. The LUPA project is seeking to use this advantage to unravel the genetic basis for a variety of tumours.
The second advantage is I’m afraid a pragmatic one. The use of novel therapies in human beings is only approved once patients have failed first line treatment. This self-selects for difficult to treat cases, novel agent X may work twice as well as the first line therapy in the initial stages of the disease but because of ethical approval required for testing may never get the chance. Use of novel agents in veterinary patients is much less tightly restricted so is easier to gain results for the whole gamut of disease.
The third advantage is one of timescale. Humans live longer than dogs and cats so prospective epidemiological studies may take many decades to compile. Humans also tend to survive longer after being diagnosed with a disease. So if a new treatment increases average survival time from 6 to 7 years in humans it will take a decade to run that study, in dogs whose survival time is increased from 8 months to 10 months then the study can be run in a year.
This integration has forced vets to up the quality of their research output but provides exciting areas of collaboration, and as long as it makes Jasper happy too then the concept of ‘One Health’ has to be beneficial.
Mr Richard Harper BVetMed MSc(Onc) MRCVS
T: 0208 4449006