Comparative Medicine

Session Date: 
Mar 23, 2019

Long-term studies of disease incidence and pathophysiology in captive non-human primates have shed much light on human ailments.  Much less attention has been paid to disease states that appear distinctly human and are not explained by anatomical differences. Ongoing comparative biomedical studies of  humans and other living hominids (particularly chimpanzees, and the other "great apes”) have revealed many surprising examples of such disease differences. Conversely, there appear to be some conditions apparently uncommon in humans, but prominent in other hominids. Examples of apparent differences include heart disease, carcinomas, chronic viral infections, autoimmune diseases, neurodegenerative conditions and female reproductive diseases. Given the close genetic similarity of all these species, it is worth continuing to investigate these differences, with the goal of better understanding the pathological processes involved, for the benefit of both humans and other hominids. Studies of ancient DNA may also tell us more about the unusual human disease propensities. This talk will present a brief summary of available information on this topic, mentioning genetic and molecular explanations to date, and their relevance to anthropogeny.  While mechanistic explanations remain unclear in most instances, major ethical and practical issues are also going to limit further understanding of disease differences between humans and  our closest living evolutionary cousins. 

File 2019_03_23_09_Varki-Web.mp481.09 MB