Entries in Diseases (5)


'Zoobiquity': 7 Diseases Animals Share With Humans

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) -- Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz is a sort of modern day Dr. Dolittle.

For the past six years, the UCLA cardiologist has been consulting with the Los Angeles Zoo to help treat diseases found in animals. Natterson-Horowitz said she was surprised to learn how much human and veterinary medicine have in common.

"Animals suffer from almost all of the diseases that human beings do, but veterinarians and physicians never talk about this," she said. "Physicians have not typically, traditionally, seen veterinarians as their clinical peers and that's unfortunate."

Her work became the focus of her new book, Zoobiquity: What Animals Can Teach Us about Health and the Science of Healing, which she co-wrote with science writer Kathryn Bowers. The book calls for an approach to medicine that crosses the species barrier. It argues that studying diseases found in both a human and an animal could save both lives.

Natterson-Horowitz's work at the zoo began after she attended a sleepover at the LA Zoo with her young daughter. She struck up a conversation with some of the veterinarians who ended up enlisting her help in cardiac cases.

Here are just seven examples of diseases shared by humans and animals:

1. Heart Disease

One of her first experiences dealing with animal patients came when she examined Cookie the lioness. The big cat had been diagnosed with fluid in the sac around heart -- a potentially fatal condition.

Natterson-Horowitz said what amazed her most was that the zoo veterinarians made Cookie's diagnosis not with a battery of expensive tests -- as they would at UCLA. Instead it was old-fashioned observation, like they used to teach in medical school.

Veterinarians, she said, are the ultimate general practitioners,dealing with a wide range of species including mammals, reptiles and insects. Also, unlike human patients, the animals can't describe their symptoms to their doctors. The vets have to be keen observers.

After that experience, Natterson-Horowitz said she began looking at her human patients differently.

In Zoobiquity, the authors note that animals can experience heart attacks and many species can be frightened to death. Sudden cardiac death, a leading cause of death in humans, can also have "a fear trigger," Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers wrote. However, they also acknowledged that physicians have been "skeptical of linking high emotion and cardiac death in humans."

2. Breast Cancer

According to Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers, certain types of breast cancer have been found a number of mammals.

Their list includes jaguars, cougars, tigers, sea lions, kangaroos, wallabies, beluga whales, alpacas and llamas.

Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers note that the only group of mammals in which breast cancer is rarely found are with the "professional lactators," meaning dairy cows and goats.

3. Skin Cancer

Dr. Curtis Eng, the Los Angeles Zoo's chief veterinarian, said the zoo has come to rely on human specialists like Natterson to help treat its animals.

"There are a lot of medical conditions that we just don't know enough about to treat the animal fully," he told ABC'S Nightline.

So when Rhonda the rhino was diagnosed with squamous cell carcinoma, a common type of skin cancer, on her horn, the zoo brought in one of UCLA's top oncologists. Rhonda even underwent surgery to remove it and is now cancer free.

4. Osteosarcoma

Osteosarcoma, a common type of bone cancer that forced Ted Kennedy Jr. to undergo a leg amputation in 1973, is the leading cause of death in golden retrievers, Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers wrote in their book Zoobiquity.

This disease has also been found in the bones of wolves, grizzly bears, camels, polar bears, some reptiles, fish and birds, according to the authors.

5. Obesity and Diabetes

Zoo animals not only can suffer from obesity, but diabetes is fairly common, in part because the animals eat food that has been genetically modified for human consumption.

In their book, Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers wrote that various animals in the wild will experience binge-eating, secret-eating, nocturnal-eating and food-hoarding, which could suggest a link between humans and "ancestral eating strategies."

6. STDs

Atlantic bottlenose dolphins suffer genital warts, baboons can get herpes, syphilis is rampant among rabbits, just to name a few sexually-transmitted diseases affecting animals that Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers note in their book.

"Wild animals don't practice safe sex," Natterson-Horowitz said. "Of course they get STDs."

In fact, an epidemic of sexually transmitted Chlamydia has devastated koala populations in Australia. Wildlife biologists Down Under are so concerned about it, they are working on a vaccine for Chlamydia in koalas. There is currently no Chlamydia vaccine for humans.

At the same time, Natterson-Horowitz and Bowers wrote that 1 in 4 humans worldwide will die of an STD.

7. Erectile Dysfunction

Horses can experience erectile dysfunction, the authors said. But there's no Viagra for them. Instead vets take a more holistic approach.

"I found that veterinarians are more comfortable talking about the sexuality of their animals then physicians sometimes are," Natterson said. "We are told in medical school to talk with our patients about their sexuality, but sometimes it's easier to talk to a patient about whether they have chest pain walking up a flight of stairs or not, then immediately getting into their sexual life."

Through her research, Natterson-Horowitz said stallions not only have been found to experience erectile dysfunction, they can have sexual dysfunction if they were bred too young or have an upsetting first sexual experience with a mare.

But acknowledging the similarities between humans and animals from a medical perspective does have bigger implications. How does the Zoobiquity approach apply, for instance, to the controversial issue of animal testing?

One could argue Zoobiquity is an argument for more animal testing, because of the similarities among different species, or Zoobiquity could be the basis for a moral argument against animal testing, because we share more in common than we think with the animal kingdom.

Should the Hippocratic Oath -- to do no harm -- apply to hippos? Natterson-Horowitz couldn't say.

"I can't give you a simple answer," she said, "because it's a very complicated, nuanced question."

But, she argued, doctors and veterinarians should have a lot to teach each other.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Study: Type 2 Diabetes in Children Harder to Treat

Fuse/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- A new study in the New England Journal of Medicine shows that Type 2 diabetes progresses more rapidly in children than in adults and is harder to treat.

The study, which was released Monday, found the usual oral medicine for Type 2 diabetes stopped working in about half of the young patients within a few years. Doctors also had to add daily shots of insulin to control their blood sugar. Researchers said that they were shocked by how poorly the oral drugs performed because they work much better in adults.

“It’s frightening how severe this metabolic disease is in children,” Dr. David M. Nathan, an author of the study and director of the diabetes center at Massachusetts General Hospital, told the New York Times. “It’s really got a hold on them, and it’s hard to turn around.”

While researchers say aggressive forms of treatment can lower the risks, doctors are still unclear as to why it is so much harder to control in children and teenagers. Researchers say rapid growth and intense hormonal changes are likely factors in how diabetes effects teens.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


More Diversity Needed When Searching for Disease Genes

Comstock/Thinkstock(STANFORD, Calif.) -- It seems that a study is published almost every week that reports new gene variations associated with a particular disease such as a type of cancer, type 2 diabetes or autism.  But the Stanford University authors of an opinion piece, published in Nature present a potential problem:  96 percent of participants included in over 1,000 such studies are of European descent.  

Because considerable genetic differences can exist between people of differing descent, focusing on only one human population means that the benefits of personalized medicine and genetic understanding of disease are not likely to benefit many people who are most in need.  

The authors argue that "a biased picture will emerge of which [genetic] variants are important, and genomic medicine will largely benefit a privileged few." 

Therefore, they propose that scientific reviewers and granting bodies "must demand racial and ethnic diversity in genome studies" and that global genomic projects be supported by governments as well as non-profits.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


How Climate Change May Make Killer Diseases Worse

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Malaria already kills a million people a year and now, researchers fear, climate change could make the problem even worse.

Working with the Kenya Meteorological Department, Madeleine Thomson, a senior research scientist for the International Research Institute for Climate and Society, has found that temperatures have increased significantly since the 1980s in the Kenyan Highlands.

Thomson, who has been working in Africa for the past 25 years, has looked at the possibility of increased risk of malaria from a rise in global temperatures for the past 10.

"Malaria is an appalling disease, particularly for those that don't have immunity, such as foreigners, young children and pregnant women and also the people who live in the highlands who normally don't get malaria," Thomson said.

"When I visited Tigre, a mountainous region in Ethiopia, I met people with malaria in the highlands and they were trying to understand what was going on," Thompson said. "We know that the rises in temperature that have been recorded at this site can significantly increase malaria. And it's the combination of climate change, drug resistant malaria and poor health conditions that can completely devastate an area."

Around the world, climate change is impacting human health -- from recent floods in India, Nepal and Bangladesh that have caused widespread waterborne disease that the U.N. attributes to global warming, to malaria-infected mosquitoes migrating to increasingly high elevations in the mountains of Africa.

"Climate change will touch the pillars of our health, food, water and shelter," Dr. Maria Neira, director of public health and environment for the World Health Organization, told ABC News. "In Asia, there are more people at risk of dengue fever due to global warming. In Mount Kenya, mosquitoes are being found at higher and higher elevations."

Others agree with her that the malaria could become an even bigger problem as the climate changes.

"As temperatures have been increasing, the mosquitoes that are transmitting the disease have better conditions to breed, reproduce, and transmit the disease," Neira said. "Vector-borne diseases are expanding their reach and death tolls."

As warming likely causes seawater level to rises, underground freshwater aquifers likely will get contaminated. Drought likely will continue to impact fresh water supplies for millions of people around the world, and more people will be forced to move.

Since 2008, Los Angeles, which gets a portion of its drinking water from the Colorado River, has faced long-term drought because of global warming. The river suffers from low volume and rising water temperatures. The shrinking river has raised health concerns for the 30 million people in seven states who depend on it for their water supply.

For humans to survive, they need fresh water. According to the U.N. high commissioner for refugees, Antonio Guterres, climate change could become the biggest driver of human displacement.

"Displacement causes conflict, creates a lot of health stress on the people who are displaced and the people taking in the refugees," Solomon said. "It can encourage the spread of disease from one part of the world to another. As people move, they can carry diseases with them."

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio´╗┐


New Test Finds 580 Fatal Diseases Before Conception

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(SANTA FE , N.M.) -- A new DNA test has been developed to detect parents who are carriers of 580 of the most severe inherited childhood diseases, including Batton, muscular dystrophy, and immune deficiencies like the "Bubble Boy" syndrome and Pompe disease, described in the 2010 film Extraordinary Measures.

The test, which was announced in the journal Science in Translational Medicine, uses genetic sequencing to identify recessive mutations before a couple decides to become parents.

The average person carries at least two-to-three gene mutations that can cause diseases.  When both have the same mutation, the chance of having an affected child is one-in-four; the risk of having a child who is a carrier is two-in-four; and the odds of having a normal child is one-in-four.

The carrier screening test is cheap -- less than $400 for hundreds of conditions -- and could be marketed in the near future, according to Dr. Stephen Kingsmore, now a physician-researcher at Children's Mercy Hospital in Kansas City, Missouri, where clinical work will be done.

"The long-term impact could be phenomenal," said Kingsmore, who headed up the research at the National Center for Genome Resources in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The test will likely be a blood test and later a simple swab of the cheek.  Egg and sperm banks may be the first industry to adopt the testing to screen potential donors. ´╗┐

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio