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Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz, author of Zoobiquity, is a cardiologist and professor at UCLA.

Zoobiquity author at U of S One Health event

For the past decade, Dr. Barbara Natterson-Horowitz has taken a leading role in living, practising and teaching the concept of One Health – and her curiosity and expertise continue to contribute to this expanding global initiative.

Natterson-Horowitz – a cardiologist and faculty member at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) – is one of the high-profile speakers that will attend the University of Saskatchewan's (U of S) third annual One Health Leadership Experience from August 22-24.

"I think it's great to see what is happening in Canada in terms of One Health. The Leadership Experience seemed like exactly the right thing at the right time," says Natterson-Horowitz.She first became interested in One Health when the chief veterinarian at the Los Angeles Zoo contacted her. He was looking for a cardiology consultation for some of the zoo's primates.

"I was the lucky cardiologist who got to help out at my local zoo," says Natterson-Horowitz.

The initial invitation to the zoo, which resulted in many more visits, turned out to be a life-altering experience for Natterson-Horowitz. This opportunity gave her the chance to interact with the veterinarians and listen to them discuss differential diagnoses and treatment plans. She ultimately came to the realization that human medicine and veterinary medicine are not all that different.

"It was then that I realized that these two fields – which are really one field – had so little contact with each other," notes Natterson-Horowitz.

"For me, that was the spark."

Since then, Natterson-Horowitz has been searching for similarities between human and animal health.

After spending time with veterinarians and dedicating her evenings to research, she was surprised to discover that animals suffer from many of the same ailments that humans do – breast cancer, kidney failure, behavioural issues, obstetrical challenges. The only difference was that the veterinary field generally had more knowledge and published research literature about certain conditions and possible treatments.

In some instances, she found that veterinary medicine had reported medical conditions almost a decade before human medicine – a gap that could be closed if health care professionals work together.

"I wanted to know if I could personally push One Health beyond the traditional topics of zoonosis, and be broader. Make it specifically appeal to medical students and physicians – people who are on the other side of the equation."

And Natterson-Horowitz has done just that.

She genuinely believes that collaborative health care will result in better knowledge, treatments and patient outcomes, regardless of species. Moreover, she believes that the medical profession has the potential to benefit from veterinary practice in a number of ways.

"From day one, veterinary students learn from a comparative perspective. They learn about how one disease can manifest in different species under different environmental conditions. In comparison, human medicine teaches a relatively narrower approach," explains Natterson-Horowitz.

In addition to taking a more comparative approach, she also suggests that veterinarians generally place a greater emphasis on quality of life as well as a more holistic thought process – often considering the environment and not just the patient. These are characteristics that Natterson-Horowitz believes would create better physicians.

"I definitely think I've become a better physician and teacher of medical students, having spent time with veterinarians and learning about other species."

She goes on to add that this expanded, broader way of thinking about problems should not be by accident. Instead, it should be integrated into the way medical students learn.

In fact, she suggests that this method of thinking could lead to innovative and successful treatment for human patients.

Natterson-Horowitz uses the example of single ventricle heart defects — rare congenital defects in babies that are difficult to manage — to illustrate the powerful outcome of combining veterinary and human medicine. During a visit to the zoo, she and one of her colleagues in human cardiac medicine met the zoo's veterinarian who brought a snake with a single ventricle for them to examine.

"As we are looking at this snake with a single ventricle, with the blood flowing perfectly, [the cardiac fellow] says, ‘Wouldn't it be interesting to model how a snake perfectly uses one ventricle to model how we use resynchronization therapy in a baby with a congenital single ventricle?'"

Over the years, there have been many things that Natterson-Horowitz has found fascinating. However, she continues to find information that further links the two medical practices and surprises everyone — including herself.

"The fact that cancer is not unique to our modern times and not unique to our species is, on one hand, obvious. But on the other hand, it continues to surprise patients and physicians every time I give a lecture," she says.

After accumulating a sizable amount of questions (and answers), Natterson-Horowitz decided to turn her discoveries into a book. Zoobiquity: The Astonishing Connection Between Human and Animal Health was published in 2012 and was an instant success that continues to attract international attention.

Zoobiquity (zoo: animal; ubiquity: everywhere), the New York Times bestselling book, has been transformed into an international conference. The annual event provides practitioners from all areas of health care with an opportunity to interact and discuss similarities between human and animal medicine – gaining perspective from one another.

"By definition, One Health needs to be inclusive," adds Natterson-Horowitz.

In her involvement with One Health initiatives and conferences, Natterson-Horowitz continually encourages more medical professions to join. Her newest recruits include dentists, ophthalmologists, evolutionary biologists and ecologists — professional groups that also play a key role in understanding the human-animal connection.

The One Health Leadership Experience will include first- and second-year students enrolled in health science colleges and schools at the U of S. Students and faculty of the University of Regina's Faculty of Social Work, which has a satellite campus in Saskatoon, have also been invited to participate.

Besides attending the One Health conference, Natterson-Horowitz and her Zoobiquity co-author Kathryn Bowers will learn more about some of the wildlife research being done at the U of S — taking a couple of day trips to see bison and other wildlife species in Saskatchewan.

The pair will also give a public reading at Saskatoon's McNally Robinson at 7 p.m. on Thursday, August 21.

"We love meeting with students, and we're really interested to see what's going on [in Canada] right now with One Health," says Natterson-Horowitz.

 

Sarah Figley is a second-year veterinary student from Saskatoon, Sask., and is the WCVM's research communications intern for the summer of 2014.

 
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