Part of the problem is a controversial decision made by the National Institutes of Health last year to close its National Center for Research Resources, which provided most of the funding for comparative medicine in the latter half of the 20th century.

Important research continues, however. Sherril Green, chair of Stanford’s Department of Comparative Medicine, pointed to her colleague, Joseph Garner, who has identified biomarkers to predict, and dietary interventions to prevent, compulsive hair-pulling in mice. Likewise, Tamas Horvath, chair of Yale’s comparative medicine program, cited his colleague, Jorge Galan, who studies the way Salmonella bacteria interact with host cells in mice to cause disease.

Liggitt, Green, Horvath, all vets, agreed with Cardiff that comparative medicine passed through its own dark ages in the last couple of decades—with many departments like theirs focusing on care for and maintenance of test animals rather than research—but all three were more optimistic about a renaissance.

There’s still a cultural divide between human and animal doctors, but zoonotic diseases, drug development, and food-safety concerns have pushed both sides toward greater collaboration. That will likely mean a shift from basic to translational research, and more partnerships between universities and the private sector. Throw in the old and ongoing debate about the ethics of animal research, and there’s a lot to cover.

Liggitt, Green, and Horvath are hopeful that Zoobiquity will help the general public become a bit more interested in comparative medicine. Maybe it’ll do the same for journalists once the book tour is over.

 

Curtis Brainard is the editor of The Observatory, CJR's online critique of science and environment reporting. Follow him on Twitter @cbrainard.