Building bridges for dog and man
Medical research has long been stranded on a set of islands. On one island lived the bench researcher in pursuit of the secrets
of pure science. On another lived the clinical researcher who waited years, even decades, for pure research to reach the application
phase. And, of course, the veterinary researchers lived on their own islands, apart from their human medicine counterparts.
Since money is almost as critical to research as ideas, all of those islands were fighting for pieces of the same pie.
10 ways researchers are studying diseases in dogs and humans
Today, that's changing. Bridges between islands are under construction in labs like Cook's at Missouri. Bench research is
reaching clinical researchers more quickly. And veterinary medicine is reaching out to human medicine even as human medicine
reaches out to veterinary medicine. "I know this is a cliché and I apologize," Cook says of the translational research paradigm,
"but this is simply a win-win proposition for everybody."
For example, veterinary researchers have long been cramped by an economic ceiling on their efforts. To win funding for a project,
they must demonstrate the potential for human application.
"It's just a dead, straight-on fact that funding is going to go toward human medicine," Cook explains. "What's cool is that
we can leverage that funding to help canine patients. It's there for the humans, we test it in the dogs, but we can also apply
it safely and effectively to the dogs. We're healing the species that we've developed this product through."
Cook adds that some major human medical firms are now investing in veterinary applications as a result of the research. In
fact, he says, Arthrex now has a veterinary division based on some of the research originating in his lab and honed in the
clinic. "They've seen what it can do in the marketplace in the real world on the veterinary side," Cook says.
At Missouri, the veterinary side and the medical side have grown closer across the past decade. Cook says one reason is simple
proximity; it's just an eight-minute walk across campus from the veterinary building to the medical facility. His team includes
engineers, veterinarians, molecular biologists and medical doctors. Interaction between the veterinary side and the medical
side happens weekly if not daily. The new department chair in orthopedic surgery, James P. Stannard, MD, he says, clearly
understands how research on the veterinary side can make the university "the best in the world" on the human side.
The bridge between veterinary medicine and human medicine being built at Missouri began with a plan Cook sketched out with
Keith Kenter, MD, in 1995 on a napkin at Buckingham's Smokehouse Bar-B-Q in Columbia. Kenter was a medical doctor at roughly
the same stage in his career as Cook. Kenter has since moved to the University of Cincinnati, but their napkin-based plan
to combine veterinary research with human applications has grown from a lab "the size of a closet" in 1998 to a multimillion-dollar
operation. "It grew quicker and bigger than I ever imagined," Cook says. "We found passionate people who are team players
and—we always say—teams defeat individuals."
Cook says a typical research question starts with a question: "What can't you tell a patient today?" "The answer might be
that I can't replace their joints with biological tissues," Cook says. "I can't tell a patient he or she can go back to full
function. Once we know the question, we put the science behind it."
Then the research goes from the laboratory through an animal model for safety and testing. Most of the time, for Cook's lab,
the animal model is a dog. Then, via a long pathway with the FDA, researchers progress to human clinical testing and use.
But in the meantime, canine patients directly benefit through clinical application.