Clinical Connections  –  Summer 2021

Lecturer in Comparative Pathology Dr Alejandro Suarez Bonnet, an RCVS and American Specialist in Veterinary Pathology, talks about his expertise in histopathological diagnosis of domestic, wildlife and laboratory animals, which supports the service offered by the RVC Pathology and Diagnostic Laboratories team as well as his consultancy role in experimental and diagnostic pathology at The Francis Crick Institute.  

The first time I heard the term “One Health” was around 20 years ago when I started my veterinary degree. It sounded intriguing to know that diseases in wildlife, for example marine mammals such as cetaceans (whales and dolphins), could give us information on the health status of our oceans and ultimately the environment. At the end of the day, who stops to think, “Is environmental pollution causing cancer and other diseases in whales and dolphins?”

With time, I became interested in the comparative aspect of diseases between all species, domestic and non-domestic, and realised that both veterinary medicine and human medicine should work more closely together for the advancement of health science and for the benefit of all species, including humans, or in other words “One Pathology”.

A pilot whale (Globicephala macrorhynchus) prior to post-mortem examination.

Comparative pathology of domestic, wildlife and laboratory animals has always been at the centre of my clinical and research activity, and recently the RVC team has published several articles highlighting similarities between the pathology of domestic, wildlife and laboratory animals. As an example, we have demonstrated that mucocutaneous squamous cell carcinomas, a type of skin cancer, very frequent in horses and triggered by viral infection with an equine papillomavirus, mimics skin cancer in humans. We are currently undertaking further collaboration with researchers and diagnosticians from the University of California, Davis, a specialist equine referral hospital in Kent and an NHS Consultant Eye Pathologist.

One recent area of research in which the RVC and The Francis Crick Institute have collaborated is in understanding the genetic signature of tuberculosis-infected mice, which is a leading cause of death in humans but also occurs in almost all species, from dogs to cattle and monkeys. This high-impact factor research in collaboration with Professor Anne O’Garra’s group highlights the role of veterinary pathologists in human medical research.

Naturally occurring cancers in companion animals are very common and an accurate diagnosis is essential for the clinical decision-making processes. Pet owners seek the most advanced techniques and treatments for their pets, which are frequently considered as another family member. That is why our group engages with research projects that use diagnostic samples submitted to the RVC’s Diagnostic Pathology Service to improve our knowledge of cancer in animals, so we can provide an accurate diagnosis and, when possible, prognostic information that helps oncologists, other specialists and general practitioners to give better treatment to patients.

Furthermore, because animals, domestic and non-domestic, are subject to the same environmental and nutritional factors, studying naturally occurring tumours in animals generates an incredible opportunity to help humans as well as other species. In fact, animals may benefit first from breakthroughs in cancer treatments, as has occurred in the treatment of bone tumours and skin tumours – such as melanomas.

The RVC’s Diagnostic Pathology Service is keen to receive histopathological samples, biopsies or tissues obtained at the time of post-mortem examination, from all species, domestic, laboratory, wildlife and zoo animals from practising veterinary surgeons, These are essential for the training of our anatomic pathology residents. Our turnaround time for all routine samples is 48 hours from receipt of the specimen into the laboratory, and the report contains a full ‘board-style’ histological description, diagnosis and comment, which is tailored specifically to the case. My colleagues and I are always keen to follow up cases over the phone or by email.

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