One Medicine – time for reciprocity between humans and animals
A world where animals and humans benefit equally from advances in medicine. Collaboration between doctors, vets and scientists as the norm. Reciprocity: humans win, animals win. Is One Medicine a no-brainer or a professional, scientific and legal quagmire?
It is required by law in the UK and many other countries that most new medical treatments, devices, drugs and therapies intended for human or veterinary use, need to be tested on animals. Debates on the ethics and efficacy of laboratory animal models rage on but is it time to move beyond this increasingly redundant debate?
Do we finally have the capability to significantly contribute to making laboratory animal models obsolete by sharing what vets and doctors learn in clinical practice every day?
Thousands of animals die in laboratory tests, usually for the sole – often arguable – benefit of humans, with no benefit to themselves or their species. Yet every day, vets in clinical practice are learning from naturally occurring conditions that could benefit humans and animals alike. Similarly, human medical practice generates daily advances that could benefit animals as well as other humans. Neither profession regularly shares information that would progress treatments and procedures for musculoskeletal disease, neurology, oncology and much more.
The human/veterinary healthcare divide is relatively recent. Aristotle’s writings show that convergence between humans and animals was a normal part of scientific discourse in ancient Greece. This continued through the middle ages into relatively recent times. Divergence accelerated in the nineteenth century. Increasing focus on the conservation, welfare and rights of animals in the later twentieth and twenty-first centuries laid the ground for renewed interest in the connections between species.
Humanimal Trust was founded in 2014 to establish an evidence base and understanding of both the principle and the potential of One Medicine. This will inform mechanisms to reduce, refine and ultimately replace laboratory animal tests, ensure reciprocity of benefit for animals and make more rapid progress possible.
Take ‘Oscar’, a seven year-old cat who had a double leg amputation followed by prosthetic implants to allow him to walk independently again and ‘John’ a 26 year-old human who needs the same operation but for whom a prosthesis is not yet available. Is it right that cats and dogs like ‘Oscar’ have access to significantly more advanced procedures than ‘John’, helping them to live a pain-free and active life? Or that ‘John’ may never receive the treatment while waiting for animal tests to meet the current legal requirements for use of an animal procedure in humans.
Is it right that we continue to test human medical advances on otherwise healthy laboratory animals, often for human-only benefit? Why not use the learning from Oscar to help John or from John to help Oscar? Even when there is clear evidence from veterinary practice, the law and human medical convention may require thousands of animals to die to prove what we have learned already in clinical practice.
It’s not only musculo-skeletal treatments that leave us guessing why collaboration and shared learning is not the norm. Neurology and neuro-surgery, medical and surgical oncology, infection and antibiotic resistance and regenerative medicine can all provide similar examples.
A pathologist would struggle to tell the difference between an osteosarcoma cell from an eight year old child and an eight year old dog, so similar are the cells genetically.
It’s widely accepted that the use of antibiotics in farm animals is contributing to antibiotic resistance in humans through the food chain – yet cross-discipline conversations are only just beginning at any serious level.
Those who challenge One Medicine focus on differences between animal and human biology and physiology rather than similarities. Some hide behind current laws on animal testing requirements. Others simply focus on their own profession and fail to see the possibilities of collaboration.
To address this, Humanimal Trust launched the Humanimal Hub – a global digital community where people from veterinary, human medical other scientific backgrounds can connect, collaborate and engage with One Medicine. Through the Hub they can share knowledge, research ideas and funding opportunities, helping to shape the future of both human and animal health.
Thousands of members of the public have signed the Humanimal Pledge for One Medicine, making their own personal commitment to do all they can to advance collaboration and ultimately benefit both humans and animals, making laboratory animal models obsolete.
Financial and many other challenges facing human and veterinary medicine, heightened by COVID19, mean we cannot simply go on like this. The sooner the One Medicine message is heard and embraced by public and professionals alike, the faster progress will be. More humans and more animals will benefit more quickly, more equally and at the same time. Above all, we will save time, save money and save lives.