'Zoobiquity' conference at Penn Vet highlights human-animal similarities

Both gorillas and humans suffer from heart disease. Osteosarcoma is the most common type of bone cancer in children as well as in dogs. And anxiety can instigate hair pulling in people and feather-pulling in birds.

These are just a few examples of health conditions that cross species lines. Veterinarians have long been aware of these interspecies similarities, but many human medical practitioners are just beginning to appreciate them. “Zoobiquity,” a conference that will be held at Penn on Saturday, April 2, aims to raise attention and increase understanding of how veterinary and medical professionals can work together and learn from one another to improve the health of all species.

The Zoobiquity conference stemmed from a book of the same name by cardiologist Barbara Natterson-Horowitz and science writer Kathryn Bowers that argues for increased collaboration among medical and veterinary health care workers. Accordingly, the conference encourages participation across disciplines. The Perelman School of Medicine, the School of Veterinary Medicine, and the School of Nursing are conference partners; each school has faculty presenting.

“There are so many remarkable interactions that can develop at Penn because we have so many great health schools on one campus,” says Penn Vet Dean Joan Hendricks, who will be speaking at the conference in a joint presentation with Penn Medicine’s Sigrid Veasey about sleep apnea. “The whole conference is put together so the audience can have that ‘Aha!’ experience and see the benefits of joint research across veterinary and human medicine.”

The morning sessions of the conference, to be held at the Smilow Center for Translational Research, 3400 Civic Center Blvd., will involve presentations on conditions that affect both humans and animals. In addition to Hendricks’ and Veasey’s discussion, Nicola Mason of Penn Vet and Kristy Weber of Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center will explain the similarities in how osteosarcoma affects both children and dogs, and how research in dogs is informing human therapies. Penn Medicine’s Elizabeth Grice and Penn Vet’s Charles Bradley will also share their research on atopic dermatitis, a skin disease, which correlates closely between humans and dogs.

In the afternoon, attendees will have the choice of going on rounds at Penn Vet’s Ryan Hospital or New Bolton Center, or at the Philadelphia Zoo—in each case, learning about how a veterinary condition may shed light on a human one. Ryan Hospital cases will examine aggressive behavior and cleft palates, while those at New Bolton will focus on atrial fibrillation and obesity. At the zoo, cases will showcase studies of cardiac conditions, enteritis, and behavior changes in response to novel environments.

Registration is open to 240 health care professionals and 70 students.

For more information, visit the Zoobiquity 2016 website. Penn Medicine faculty and staff can input code PENNMED50 for $50 off registration.

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