As humans, we might feel lucky about the fate of our evolution. We live longer than many other animals, and our life span continues to increase thanks to a better diet, advances in medicine, and improved public health. But our efforts to defeat aging and the diseases that accompany it continue.
Cases of osteoarthritis (joint pain), for example, have multiplied since the middle of the 20th century. In developed countries, heart disease accounts for hundreds of thousands of deaths each year – about one death every three minutes.
The animal kingdom may be the right place to look for new ways to prevent and treat this condition. Our DNA may be very similar to chimpanzees and other animals, but some differences might help us open new ways to understand and treat diseases in the future.
And by using gene-editing techniques such as CRISPR, it is possible that one day we can use the knowledge we have gained from animals to deal with our disease – even though that possibility is still very far away.
Chimpanzees and heart disease
As humans evolve, our genetic makeup also changes, so our risk of clogged arteries increases. When this risk is combined with a large intake of red meat and other foods that increase the chance of heart disease, then we will face a big problem.
Recent research shows that the increased risk of cardiovascular disease is caused by the loss of certain genes in our body, this is different from other animals – including our closest cousin, a chimpanzee. The research also shows that mice that have been genetically altered – genetically mutated to humans – have twice the risk of having a heart attack than normal mice. In the future, we might use genetic engineering to reduce the risk of heart disease.
Naked mole-rat and cancer
Naked mole rats might not be pleasing to the eye, but these rodents are very interesting to scientists because they don’t have cancer. This mouse can also tell us about longevity. Given their size, they should live in the same period as their relatives (around four years), but they often live seven times longer.
This ugly rodent will one day be revealed by scientists, who may one day be able to help us in developing new therapies to defeat cancer and other diseases related to age.
Kangaroos and osteoarthritis
Osteoarthritis has many causes, but obesity, body posture is not ideal, and poor joint alignment is the main risk. Many primates and carnivorous animals have joint problems similar to humans. Great apes show the most similarity in joint disease with humans.
Kangaroos, on the other hand, can move jumps at the speed of 40 pills per hour with little risk of arthritis until old age. The unique cartilage structure in the knee allows them to withstand repeated stretches and loads due to landing.
The structure of the ligament also increases joint stability, which is important for maintaining good joint health. Research like this can help add materials that can be used for artificial knee implants in humans.
Cavefish and diabetes
“Diabetes is a global health problem and a leading cause of blindness, kidney failure, heart attacks, strokes, and amputations. Nearly one in ten adults is affected by this disease and the figure is already very high. The solution to this disease – if any – might come from blind fish in a Mexican cave.
This small fish eats algae and can eat as much as possible without being affected by problems. This is because of their unique way of adapting to survival, by not regulating their blood sugar. This means that symptoms that are usually seen in people with diabetes, such as having very varied blood glucose levels, don’t seem to be a problem for this fish. Scientists hope that by understanding more about this fish, one day we can find better treatments for this disease.
Zebra and boils
In a challenging environment, we become more aware of our mental health. But we often ignore how this can affect our physical health. In humans, information processing centers in the brain often connect difficult things that happen in our lives.
This means we are experiencing chronic stress for a long time. And this can cause inflammation of the stomach.
Animals, such as zebras, usually experience stress for shorter periods, such as when they search for food or try to avoid predators. They rarely experience long periods of stress.
But research has shown that prolonged stress experienced by animals, such as mice, can cause ulcers to grow. This is similar to boils in humans. This serves as a good reminder that our modern, demanding lifestyle is bad for all aspects of our health.
The relationship between animals and disease is not one-way. There are many examples when we use the understanding of human diseases to help animals, such as using our understanding of chlamydia to koalas, which can cause infertility, blindness, and death.