UW-Madison: Veterinarians, physicians to jointly explore links between animal and human health

CONTACT: Lauren Trepanier, 608-287-4660, [email protected]

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MADISON – A physician, a veterinarian and a PhD researcher walk into a conference. At the event’s conclusion, the medical doctor says: “I had no idea there were veterinary cardiologists like there are human cardiologists.”

This interaction occurred at a translational health summit coordinated by the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Veterinary Medicine in 2018 on the topic of inherited cardiomyopathies – diseases of the heart muscle – in people, cats and dogs. Now, the SVM has been awarded a five-year, $3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health to further bolster efforts to bring physicians and veterinarians together in support of human and animal health.

“Our goal is to leverage the skills of veterinary specialists and bring them into research teams, helping physicians and PhD researchers see that many of the diseases they study also occur in animals, and what veterinarians know about these diseases in animals can help advance treatment in people,” says Lauren Trepanier, professor and assistant dean for clinical and translational research in the SVM.

The grant will also help support the development of graduate veterinarians into skilled clinician-scientists and address gaps in knowledge of human and animal diseases.

Trepanier is principal investigator on the Translational Research Workforce Training grant, in coordination with Professor Christine Sorkness at the UW-Madison School of Pharmacy and partners in the Clinical and Translational Science Award One Health Alliance: Robert Rebhun at the University of California, Davis; Amara Estrada at the University of Florida; and Eva Furrow at the University of Minnesota.

The program aims to address several current shortfalls that have led to missed opportunities for veterinary clinicians and the field of translational medicine, Trepanier says. These include an inadequate number of research fellowships for veterinarians after residency training, a shortage of clinician-scientist role models and research mentors, and a lack of communication between veterinary and physician scientists regarding shared diseases across different species.

Because of their familiarity with the comparative aspects of disease, veterinarians are uniquely positioned to contribute expertise to translational research teams, Trepanier says.

“Veterinarians often understand similarities and differences between animal and human diseases because we go to the human medical literature all the time on the clinic floor. If we’re treating a disease in an animal and there’s no veterinary study, we look at a human study,” she says. “What we want physicians to do is look to veterinary medicine and see that there may be a disease that’s just like the disease in humans.”

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