TGen One Health Collaborative connects human health to the health of animals and our environment
HUMANS AND ANIMALS have coexisted for millennia, though it’s only been a few centuries or so that scientists have given any thought to the nexus between the two in terms of health and sickness. Toss in the environment and you have a global ecosystem that, when scientists dig in, exposes the complexities of the world and the upside of gaining a better understanding of what it all means and how it all works together.
Dr. Calvin Schwabe coined the phrase One Medicine in 1964 to highlight the similarities between human and veterinary medicine. Forty years later, the Wildlife Conservation Society convened a group of human and animal health experts who developed 12 priorities, known as the Manhattan Principles, to combat health threats among animals and humans under the banner One World, One Health.
Three years after that the American Medical Association and the American Veterinary Medical Association passed a resolution promoting collaboration between human and veterinary medicine. Soon after, a number of medical professions joined the ranks of One Health proponents along with a number of Federal agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the U.S. National Environmental Health Association.
Fast forward to today and you find TGen North, the Pathogen and Microbiome Division of TGen in Flagstaff, Arizona, applying genomics to many of today’s leading One Health questions by adding a depth and breadth unfathomable less than a decade ago. Seeking to gain greater value from their genomic capabilities, TGen North recently partnered with the Flagstaff-based non-profit NARBHA Institute to advance human health through the recently launched TGen One Health Collaborative, an initiative that recognizes the interdependence of people, animals and plants in both the human-built and natural environments.
Sharing a Microbial Universe
Microbial pathogens — the bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites that can make you sick and even kill you — often know no particular biological boundaries.
Understanding that all living systems share the microbial universe, the TGen One Health Collaborative, funded through the NARBHA Institute, leverages the expertise of TGen North scientists to address today’s health challenges in a holistic manner.
These challenges include tracking the cause and source of disease outbreaks, antibiotic resistance, hospital-acquired infections, microbial evolution, pathogen dispersal, and emerging infections.
“Our One Health initiative seeks to understand the larger medical concerns of today through a comprehensive approach to studying human health, both in clinical medicine and public health,” says Dr. David Engelthaler, Director of TGen North and the TGen One Health Collaborative.
“Of course, to fully understand the impact requires examination of our relationship to the environment, including water systems, agriculture and natural ecosystems, and animals, whether pets, livestock, or wildlife,” he adds.
The NARBHA Institute — formerly known as the Northern Arizona Regional Behavioral Health Authority — has been a major community force in Northern Arizona for more than half a century. It changed its name in 2015 to reflect its expanded mission of promoting human health and wellness, and addressing chronic disease, hunger, homelessness, housing, work force development, and sustainable economic development.
“NARBHA is thrilled to be working with TGen on this important initiative. We know that health is not just about the human condition, but rather a complex set of interactions with the world around us. The TGen One Health Collaborative is an innovative strategy to be more holistic in our understanding of the health ecosystem,” says Mary Jo Gregory, NARBHA Institute President and Chief Executive Officer.
Into the Great Wide Open
Through the TGen One Health Collaborative, Dr. Engelthaler and his colleagues at TGen North are focusing on areas of increased health concern, such as antimicrobial resistance caused by the indiscriminant or inefficient use of antibiotics in healthcare facilities and agriculture. To gain a clearer picture of how this impacts health, they're devising systems to track antibiotic resistance in hospitals, communities, ranches, farms, grocery stores and various water sources.
“Coming from an epidemiology background, it's exciting to exploit our genomics capabilities to have an impact on our understanding of health and to really advance the One Health concept," says Dr. Engelthaler, “and perhaps most gratifying is that our work in a number of areas has direct application to the health of Arizona.”
Working closely with public health, veterinarians and wildlife professionals, TGen North researchers recently identified an infection known as Canine River Blindness (CRB) in wild coyote populations in northeastern Arizona’s Navajo and Apache counties. The parasitic worm known as Onchocerca lupi triggers CRB in wild and domestic dogs, and recently caused a handful of human infections. They’ve collaborated with other academic researchers and public health and mosquito experts to track the continual movement of the potentially deadly West Nile Virus throughout the Southwest — which since its spread to Arizona by birds and mosquitoes in 1999 has become endemic, infecting wildlife, domestic horses and humans. They also track the Valley Fever fungus in humans, dogs and in the air to help public health agencies better understand the connection between the fungus’ ecology and human exposure.
“A hallmark of TGen is collaboration,” says Dr. Engelthaler. “We know that, if we bring together the right teams with a diverse array of expertise, we can design studies and create the tools necessary to provide answers to many of today’s leading One Health questions.”
Learn more at: tgennorth.org