Kansas City’s One Health Initiative Provides Hope for Human, Animal, and Environmental Health

At the turn of the century, coal miners brought canaries with them into the mines as sentinels to alert them to the presence of toxic gases. If the bird fell over, the miners knew to evacuate.  What is not often discussed is the flaw in this system.

The warning sign of the falling canary is only as good as the miner that is observing it.  What environmental risks and toxins are we exposed to today to which we are blind because we are not observing the sentinel?  A similar outcome could occur if the execution of the One Health initiative is not accomplished.  The data may be there, the warnings might be present, but if we don’t process and understand the data correctly, the affect might be lost.

Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute (KCALSI) partnered with Kansas State University and BioKansas to host Kansas City One Health Day (#OneHealthKC).  Keynote speaker, Dr. Wayne Carter, President and CEO of KCALSI provided an overview of One Health, the inextricable linkage between human health, animal health, and the environment. The event also featured a panel which included:

  • Moderator: Dennis Ridenour, President and CEO of BioKansas
  • Tom Curran, Executive Director and Chief Scientific Officer of the Children’s Research Institute, Children’s Mercy
  • Raelene Wouda, Assistant Professor of Oncology, Kansas State University College of Veterinary Medicine
  • Barbara Bichelmeyer, Provost and Executive Vice Chancellor, Interim Chancellor, University of Missouri – Kansas City
  • Kelly Ranallo, Founder and a Parent’s Perspective, RareKC
  • Laura Treml, Vice President of Drug Development, Aratana

The panel discussed our region’s growing One Health initiative. The One Health concept encourages the collaborative efforts of multiple disciplines working locally, nationally and globally to achieve optimal health for people, animals and the environment.  This connection becomes increasingly impactful as the human population expands, diverse cultures merge and environmental changes affect the planet. 

Dr. Carter shared that having a focused research approach is valuable, yet seeing the big picture when it comes to the correlation of interdisciplinary data, is the necessary next step. “Blinders or focus can be really good when we’re thinking about research, but sometimes we lose that broader perspective…that peripheral vision needed for One Health,” he said. The 240-mile Animal Health Corridor connecting Columbia, MO and Manhattan, KS serves as a differentiator allowing the region to stand out nationally.

“Sometimes we get in our own way when we promote border wars, instead of regionalism,” said Dr. Barbara Bichelmeyer.  Our region has a great opportunity to accelerate therapeutic research with a One Health approach and help dogs with naturally occurring cancer and benefit people at the same time. In the past, researchers had to create an illness model to test treatments. Using a One Health approach, researchers can study naturally occurring cancers in animals, treat the condition, and assess potential applications to human health. 

We must move out of disciplinary silos to advance the One Health initiative. By taking this approach, animal health, environmental research, and human health advancement would be treated and funded as crucial elements contributing to the common goal of finding cures.

Within our region, there is a great opportunity to attract a national spotlight with the 1Data platform, a project organized by Kansas State University and the University of Missouri – Kansas City.   1Data utilizes the strengths of our region to develop a platform to share human and animal health research within one database. The success of this project lies in the contribution and collection of data from the region and the cooperation in analyzing, interpreting, and applying the results.  Success will only be possible by compiling the source data.

As we work to enhance the lives of humans, animals, and the environment, it is crucial that we use all available data. This will help us see the opportunities the One Health initiative provides, keep an observational eye on our canary, and aim for the betterment of both the miner and the canary.

Dr. Carter concluded his presentation at #OneHealthKC with, “Why do we need one health? We need more… more interdisciplinary programs, more information sharing, and more therapeutics.”

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