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Treating the Inner Animal in All of Us

New veterinary and comparative medicine center advances health care, human and otherwise


  • Scott LaFee

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  • Scott LaFee

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Discoveries about how diseases arise or are transmitted in animals can be useful in understanding the same sorts of afflictions in humans. Similarly, new therapies or techniques used in people may be effective in caring for animals as well.

The newly established Center for Veterinary Sciences and Comparative Medicine (CVSCM) at the University of California, San Diego School of Medicine embodies this ideal – a highly integrated and innovative consortium of universities, institutions, scientists, physicians and veterinarians seeking to improve the condition of all animals, human and otherwise.

“By understanding the biology of disease, either in people or in animals, all benefit,” said Peter Ernst, DVM, PhD, professor of pathology at UC San Diego School of Medicine and founding CVSCM director. “We want to use the lessons learned and advances made in human healthcare to improve the lives of animals and vice versa.”

The CVSCM features a faculty of 25 academic veterinarians from UC San Diego School of Medicine, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, The Scripps Research Institute, Salk Institute for Biological Studies, Sea World and the San Diego Zoo.

It builds upon UC San Diego’s long-standing post-doctoral training program in laboratory animal and comparative medicine and has close links to the UC Veterinary Medical Center-San Diego, a collaboration between UC San Diego Health Sciences and the UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine.

Many CVSCM scientists are on the leading edge of their research disciplines, investigating mucosal infections and immune responses, gastrointestinal ailments such as inflammatory bowel disease or celiac disease, parasite transmission, cancer and neurodegenerative diseases involving prions and misfolded proteins – the last affecting humans, cows, deer and other animals.

For example:

  • Joseph Vinetz, MD, professor in the Department of Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine, studies leptospirosis, a disease transmitted from infected wild and domestic mammals to humans. He is investigating the ecology of the disease, and why some patients develop mild cases, while others suffer severe infections.
  • Sheila Crowe, MD, professor in the Department of Medicine at UC San Diego School of Medicine, studies epithelial cell biology related to celiac disease as well as Helicobacter pylori, the cause of gastroduodenal ulcers and gastric cancer. She is also investigating other infections that can be transmitted from animals to humans.
  • Nikos Gurfield, DVM, County Veterinarian for San Diego County, focuses upon West Nile virus, which affects birds, horses and humans.
  • Christina J. Sigurdson, DVM, PhD, associate professor in the Department of Pathology at UC San Diego School of Medicine, and colleagues are studying the cause of a highly prevalent protein aggregation disease known as serum amyloid A amyloidosis in endangered Channel Island foxes. Amyloidosis also occurs in humans.

Ernst said creating the CVSCM boosts the ability of veterinary scientists to tap into the larger and better-funded world of human health research. “We will have access to greater resources, improved collaboration with other physicians and scientists and more exposure to new and different trials, projects, techniques and technologies. We can learn new tricks.”

The CVSCM is not a veterinary service, Ernst noted, but rather an effort to advance the care of animals – and humans – through new, unprecedented efforts in research and training for graduate veterinarians. “We are committed to the idea of one health/one medicine,” he said.

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