The big question: Why did it take so long to join forces?
Today, the synergies between veterinary medicine and human medicine seem obvious. Several products of Cook's lab are already
approved for humans. When the FDA approves living tissue joint replacements, which Cook says will likely take about seven
years, the connections will be even more evident to the lay public. And, he says, the evidence most persuasive so far to the
FDA has been his videos of Buddy running in the field. So why has it taken this long to build bridges between the veterinary
and human research islands?
"The first-blush answer is that we didn't realize that it was one medicine, one health," Cook says. "When you just look at
a cow and a human you automatically see there are differences—four stomachs in a cow comes immediately to mind. I think our
tendency has been to look at the differences first instead of the similarities. And to stop there."
But canine knees, hips and elbows, it turns out, are excellent models for human joints. Cook finds another set of images on
the silver Mac then turns the screen around. The first image is a pair of still images of two open knee joints. The second
is a pair of videos of orthoscopic meniscus repair. "I tell people, one of these is a dog and one of these is a human. If
I was mean, I'd make the audience tell me which one is which. This is the human knee," he says, pointing to the image of the
right. "This is the dog knee. You can see they are almost identical." The arthroscopic videos, he says, are even more difficult
to distinguish, so much so that even some orthopedists can't tell the difference.
So the problems in dogs are the same and the treatments are the same, Dr. Cook says. Even the rehabilitation procedures have
turned out to be the same. These similarities are more obvious, he says, where working dogs and canine athletes are concerned.
With 2.5 million registered agility dogs, mobility problems have become more obvious, paralleling mobility problems in human
athletes. Owners notice subtleties: The dog ticks the bar when he used to clear 20-inch jumps easily or refuses the A-frame
twice before he agrees.
"It's funny that it has taken so long," Cook says, "because we've anthropomorphized everything else about dogs, everything
from diet to emotions to car seats. Everything but the medical parts."
He says the wide distribution of information made available by the Internet has also hastened bridge building, each side becoming
more aware of what the other is investigating. And financial pressures also play a key role as medical firms and granting
institutions seek ways to maximize research dollars by pushing harder for clinical applications of pure science.
"I think what's cool about it is the reaching out, the bridging, is coming from both sides today," he says. "It's not veterinarians
going over and begging at the doors of the MDs. Or vice versa. Not MDs coming in saying, 'Please work with us, please do animal
models.' It's really the realization that what we are doing is very similar."
Have cultural differences between veterinarians and medical doctors also stood in the way?
"I think 'cultural' is probably the most polite way to put it," Cook says. "I think there was the veterinarian feeling inferior
at times and the MDs maybe perpetuating that. But I think that's starting to bridge, too. If you had to go span the gap by
yourself, it would be intimidating. I've been blessed at Missouri. People have respected me sometimes more than I deserve."
Walking down the hall to his biologic lab with the long, sure strides of a man who was once a professional water skier, Cook
describes the similarities between dog and man and the realization of what a good research model the dog is for human orthopedic
medicine. As he turns the corner, he finishes the thought.
"When I'm under the drape, I don't care whether it's a four-legger or a two-legger," he says. "I want to fix what's wrong.
And, I want to fix it better."
John Lofflin is a freelance writer in Kansas City, Mo., with extensive experience writing about the veterinary profession.