For all species, One Health

While it’s been busy saving and extending the lives of billions of people, medicine has given scant attention to one of its own centuries-long afflictions —  a tendency to divide itself by the species of the patient.

For centuries, doctors worked mostly separately from veterinarians and plant experts on the causes, transmission and treatment of disease.

That’s what gives the University of Florida’s One Health initiative historic potential. One Health is a national movement to integrate the work of researchers in human, animal, environmental, and public health, but UF aims to become a global leader in it. Its efforts are getting a boost from $500,000 in state money earmarked to help UF rise to top-10 status in numerous fields.

The particular medical challenges targeted by UF One Health will be determined later. For now, UF intends to bring in the best scientists it can find and put them in an environment where they can make a strong team even better.

The best scientists will certainly be those who know the most about their field, demonstrate the greatest mastery of technique and devise the most insightful hypotheses to guide research. But these Renaissance men and women will have skill in forming relationships with people outside their species of focus. These will be people who know their limits – and who can push beyond those limits to attack a problem from multiple angles, whether it’s checking the spread of insect-borne disease or identifying the source of food contamination.

“Because we want to make the greatest possible impact, we can’t tell you what we’ll be working on until we know what we get the expertise in. This new braintrust could take us on any number of paths, and all of them lead to better health for both people and animals,” said James Lloyd, dean of the UF’s College of Veterinary Medicine.

Just as a cardiologist and a radiologist can do more together than separately in determining what’s causing your heart troubles, so can a medical researcher, a public health expert, and a veterinarian learn more by collaborating on zoonotic diseases.

The collaboration starts at the top. The deans of the College of Veterinary Medicine and the College of Public Health and Health Professions, the leadership of the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS), and the director of the Emerging Pathogens Institute must agree on which scientists can help propel UF to the top in One Health, regardless of which department, institute or college the newcomers work for.

The stakes are high. The increasing movement of people, animals, plants and goods present myriad opportunities for the movement of disease. The complex global food supply chain introduces worrying possibilities for contamination. Research indicates that climate change is driving the movement of species and the emergence of pathogens in previously unaffected areas. And bioterrorism presents the threat of a sudden and catastrophic public health calamity.

The new investment in bringing the fight to health threats is likely to go farther at UF than it would in most places because the backbone of collaboration is already here. UF is one of just a handful of research universities with colleges of medicine, public health, veterinary medicine, other health sciences and agriculture all on one campus. Throw in the Emerging Pathogens Institute and the Clinical and Translational Science Institute, and you’ve got an academic neighborhood where great minds can meet for lunch today instead of waiting for the next professional conference to talk face-to-face.

So UF was already working on collaboration before preeminence money came along. But the scientists likely to arrive this year will be hired with orders to make UF a go-to institution as medicine looks to heal itself.

For more information on UF’s preeminence initiatives, visit UF Rising.