Animals helping humans, humans helping animals… One Health

Oscar cat leg implants

Anyone that has watched Bionic Vet will know the story of Oscar the cat that had his back legs chopped of by a combine harvester, and that Prof. Noel Fitzpatrick replaced them with some implanted metal legs. However did you know that this new “honeycomb” implant technology was being developed for human use as a replacement to fake limbs using the socket and strap method? In fact since Oscar the technology has been used in humans, one of the London bombing victims has the same type of implants for a new arm.

The only reason that Oscar got his implanted legs was because the doctors developing the implant could not get ethical permission to cut off the legs from research dogs to “test” their new dogs. Instead they turned to actual patients that had lost their legs through trauma – Oscar was the first cat to be used to test this new technology.

However even though developed in animals and widely used in humans now this new treatment technology is still very limited in its use in animals, with just one or two places in the UK providing it.

Now it could be claimed that this is pretty unfair. It happens all the time though, loads of the human medical advances are developed through veterinarians and animals. Yet sadly once the treatment is developed it then only occurs in the human world.

This is where the One Health concept has come from – animals and humans should work together for health sharing knowledge and breakthroughs in medicine. It is a concept that I am wholly behind, as sometimes there are simple fixes to problems that are just restricted to human use not because of anything special, but because of lack of knowledge.

In fact for rarer animals in zoo’s vets often call in human doctors to help with surgery – very common with primates – so getting this expertise however without the knowledge. Part of this is because of the high level of specialisation in human medicine – a surgeon will just specialise in a certain area whilst the specialisation in veterinary medicine is not so specific. This is something I love about veterinary medicine – the variety – however I do see the field evolving into a highly specialist referral system for more complex cases.

This is why I am so excited for Vet Festival and the One Health Live Concert next month at the University of Surrey. This is the future, and it is now.

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