...read the wave
Guest Writer - Gastautor - Gast Schrijver

Dr. Jose Feneque

Associate Veterinarian,
Crossroads Animal Hospital
Miami, Florida





There is a phrase that says, ďmedicine can cure men, but only veterinary medicine has the potential to cure humanityĒ. Today that phrase is becoming a reality of the world we are living in. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, veterinarians not only work hard to keep pets healthy, are playing important roles in saving human lives. As a member of this prestigious yet, underpaid profession, I am proud to say that veterinarians would soon be at the vanguard of both human and animal care. This can be contributed to government regulations, ethical concerns of our society and the efforts of pet owners across the world. Stem cell research, gene therapy, therapeutic cloning and even under certain circumstances nanotechnology are words that most politicians fear to discuss and some sectors of the religious community even abominate. Veterinarians, on the other hand, simply love and embrace these new modalities of technologies that represent new ways to diagnose and treat multiple disease conditions affecting animals and humans alike.

Through the last decades, controversial government regulations have been effectively delaying as well as stopping the use of new technologies in the field of human medicine. Regulatory agencies usually adopt an adversarial position against new therapies derived from the biotechnology and nanotechnology fields. They try to regulate individual devices and drugs and assume that new therapies are both unsafe and donít work until proven otherwise. These regulations are well known to create a bottleneck effect in the development of new therapies and to increase the approval time for the commercialization of new technologies. The moral quandaries and bioethical concerns about new frontiers of medical science represent another obstacle for their implementation as routine forms of therapies. Research and development of new medical technologies can be also considered a waste of time and money by some sectors in our government. But thanks to the entrepreneur spirit and the understanding that in our society different moral and ethical standards apply to the health care of pets, veterinarians are taking advantage of regulatory loopholes to bring these technologies into the field of veterinary medicine. After all, it may be unethical to save a human live using a treatment derivative from human stem cell research, but there may not be any opposition to animal stem cell research if it is used to save a beloved pet.

It is not a secret that veterinarians have always been a driving force in the world of medicine. Starting with their contributions on agriculture a couple of centuries ago, they progressed to be the first people performing certain medical procedures using reproductive technology. Artificial insemination, in vitro fertilization and cloning were introduced into the veterinary field long before the human medical field. In the first decade of the twenty-first century, veterinary medicine has become very sophisticated. The common general practitioner of the mid twentieth century performed spays and neuters, which were considered among the most elaborate procedures of that time. Since then, they have evolved into different specialties that have nothing to envy of the human medical profession. Today it is common to see pets being referred to cardiologists, ophthalmologists, and oncologists. According to the American Veterinary Medical Association there are approximately seven thousand or more veterinary specialists in the United States alone. Laser surgery, endoscopies and even magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) are becoming part of the standard of care in certain veterinary hospitals.

When it comes to technologies like gene therapy, tissue engineering or nanotechnology, there is no doubt their use on veterinary medicine will yield immediate insights for human medical research. For a long time, research on animal diseases has been used as models for the same or similar conditions affecting humans. Lets talk for example about Osteoarthritis. Osteoarthritis is a syndrome affecting the synovial joints that is characterized by pain and dysfunction, associated with degeneration or the articular cartilage and changes in the surrounding tissues. In severe cases this condition produces constant pain along with severe functional disability. Current therapy is for the most part palliative, aiming to reduce pain and inflammation while maintaining or improving joint function without altering the pathologic process in the tissues. In some cases analgesic and anti-inflammatory products do not provide relief of signs and are less than perfectly appealing because of side effects and cost. Research projects are underway to investigate the use of adult and embryonic stem cells as cartilage producing cells that may one day be used for transplantation. Adult stem cells can be obtained from bone marrow aspirations of healthy patients. Embryonic stem cells are taken from the inner cell mass of blastocysts (one of the stages of the embryo development) and grown into colonies called lines. Because during the process of collection of stem cells the embryo is destroyed, some sectors of society oppose to the procedure, likening it to abortion. Some fear that allowing the use of stem cells would create a market for human embryos, while others believe this can progress to the eventual creation of a human clone. Scientists had discovered that through manipulation of culture conditions, both types of stem cells could differentiate into multiple tissue-specific cells including cartilage and bone producing cells. There is some concern over the use of adult stem cells from aged animals as they may be less successful to produce cells that can differentiate into cartilage or bone. Embryonic cells however donít seem to have that same problem. Another area of investigation in Osteoarthritis is the use of gene therapy. Gene therapy is the modification of genetic material of living cells for a therapeutic process. The gene of interest can be delivered into cells through a viral agent or a nanopharmaceutical compound. Once into the cell, the transferred gene is meant to synthesize growth factors that would encourage the production of healthy cartilage by the body. To date, gene therapy experiments in articular cartilage have achieved expression of active proteins in cultured cartilage producing cells and after transplanted into live horses and rabbits. As we can appreciate, gene therapy holds tremendous promises for medical use in Osteoarthritis and other health conditions.

Another example of the contributions of veterinarians to the world of medicine is the research on Retinitis Pigmentosa, a condition that affects more than nine million Americans. This is an inherited condition commonly diagnosed during childhood and in young adults. It produces severe vision loss that can lead to blindness. Thanks to the use of gene therapy, veterinary researchers have been able to restore vision in dogs born with a severe form of this ocular condition. Other researchers have slowed vision loss by transplanting genetically engineered retinal cells into the eye. Genetically engineered tissues can eventually be considered as a safe source of donor tissue for the treatment of eyes and other organ conditions. In a country where every year approximately eighty-four thousand people are waiting for organ transplants, the use of tissue engineering looks very promising.

Cancer is a condition associated with the uncontrolled growth of abnormal cells within the body. These cells may form tumors that can create a variety of painful and serious problems. A diagnosis of cancer is always equally frightening for both pet owners and humans alike, but with todayís medical treatment, nutrition and new technologies our opportunities to conquest this condition are better than those of a couple of decades ago. The experience of veterinary medicine indicates that there are certain factors that can influence the incidence of cancer in the pet population. Those factors include age, breed, gender and environment. One of the newest fields of research that could have a positive influence on the diagnosis and treatment of cancer is nanotechnology. Thanks to nanotechnology, a complete new set of tools for the diagnosis and treatment of cancer in the pet population will be available to veterinarians all around the world. For example, with the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) along with fluorescents nanoparticles researchers are able to visualize the lymphatic drainage of mice affected with breast cancer. This technique may have a very important application in the diagnosis and treatment of human breast cancer. According to the American Cancer Society, every year an estimate of approximately two hundred thousand women will be diagnosed with breast cancer that had already spread to other organs. Excluding skin cancer, breast cancer is the most common cancer among women. The use of nanoparticles could simplify exploratory surgeries by localizing tumors and affected lymph nodes more efficiently, making the surgical procedures in some cases less invasive. Recently there has been some concern about the potential toxic effects of nanoparticles in both human and animals. While the potential benefits or toxic effects of these nanostructures have yet to be determined with the use of more research studies, it is important to recall that the use of these nanostructures could also help with other health problems besides cancer. Nanoparticles could highlight cells or processes of interest in an animal, and could provide us with a lot of information about how the body works.

Unfortunately, most members of our government, along with the bio and nanotechnology industries and the general public, donít understand the full potential of veterinary medicine for the development and commercialization of these technologies. Because of their broad-based understanding of medicine, public health, environmental determination on health and population medicine, the veterinary profession can be a strong ally in forming public policy development. New technologies are always misunderstood and unfortunately the industry may be failing in explaining its potential. Bad publicity of new technologies is always the result of public misunderstanding of scientific information. The experience of the veterinary profession dealing with the media bias and negative publicity can be another asset that may prove useful for these industries. While veterinary medicine is considered one of the most trusted professions, it is not immune to the effects of negative publicity by the media. The most recent publicity crisis the profession has been dealing with in recent years had to do with the use of vaccines in companion animals and the pressure of some animal right activists groups in regards to the treatment of farm and laboratory animals. How the profession deals with those issues can prove very useful for the bio and nanotechnology industries; after all veterinarians and the industry may be sharing the same objective, which is to improve the health and longevity of both humans and animals. Usually negative publicity comes from people who are off based and infused with emotions. The veterinary profession knows that emotions grab headlines. They also know that the use of good science, common sense, showing compassion and being honest have proven to be the best weapons against a bad publicity crisis. We just need to remember that perception is everything, and if the industry can develop an educational program based on those four points, then the general public is going to look at the opponents of the use of these technologies as a sector that is off beat and in some cases aggressive.

Once the use of new technologies becomes widely spread in veterinary medicine it will yield immediately new and useful insights for human medicine. Soon veterinary medicine would be in the position to offer medical marvels that may transform the legal, ethical and regulatory sectors of the medical field. We canít finish this article without discussing the enormous influence pet lovers can have in the bio and nanotechnology markets. Pet owners across the United States spend approximately nineteen million dollars per year on veterinary care and that amount is expected to increase in the years to come. In the beginning, the applications of these technologies are going to be expensive. Some people may even be reluctant or not able to pay thousands of dollars to save the lives of their pets. But we canít forget about those hundreds of thousands of pet lovers who would do anything to save the lives of their cherished companions. The very effectiveness of these technologies and the influence of pet lovers demanding services based on bio or nanotechnology will slowly, but inevitably, undermine the religious, moral and ethical arguments against the use of therapies derived from research on stem cells, gene therapy and nanotechnology. Once you have a healthier pet population with an increased longevity rate, the demand for the same kind of therapies in the human medical field is going to increase dramatically. Pet lovers across the world can be an important ally to the industry in the fight to overturn those government regulations that are restricting the use of new technologies and depriving us from their potential benefits. There is much to be learned about how to make these technologies useful against health conditions affecting the human and animal population, in the mean time, their applications in the veterinary field can serve as a guideline to deal with them in the future of human medicine.



Dr. Jose Feneque, DVM, received his Bachelor of Science degree in Animal Industry at the University of Puerto Rico in 1991 and his Doctorate in Veterinary Medicine at the University of Georgia in 1996.

He practices as an associate veterinarian at Crossroads Animal Hospital in Miami, Florida and is a member of the Science Advisory Board for the Nanotechnology Development Corporation.

His special interests include the veterinary applications of nanotechnology, veterinary pediatrics, soft tissue surgery and internal medicine.

He can be contacted by phone at (305) 279- 2000 or via email at jfeneque@nanotechnologydevelopment.com.


Copyright © 2004 Jose Feneque

Dr. Jose Feneque DVM


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