KC's Stake in One Health: Greater Kansas City is positioned to be a world leader in One Health

By Ralph Richardson, Dean and CEO of K-State Olathe

One Health is a multidisciplinary health approach in which human health, animal health and the environment are intertwined and affect each other. The approach is gaining popularity with physicians, environmentalists and veterinarians around the world as it increases the scope of human and animal health research, which could lead to faster and more comprehensive treatment options for human and animal patients, makes our environment more safe and sustainable. New healthcare treatments will arise from the similarities physicians and veterinarians are seeing in many diseases that affect both humans and animals.

For example, chronic mitral valve disease in dogs is similar to the same disease affecting humans. The disease is a heart condition where the mitral valve — one of the four valves in the heart — deteriorates. As the valve deteriorates, more blood backflows through the valve and can lead to congestive heart failure. Researchers believe there is a link as to why about 70 percent of dogs and 70 percent of people affected by mitral valve disease are not affected from heart failure and do not die from the disease.

Many cancers in animals — especially dogs — are similar to those in humans, which means that the diagnosis, monitoring, treatment and response to treatment are also similar. Researchers at Kansas State University and elsewhere are seeing similar patterns in human and canine cancers such as osteosarcoma, melanoma, lung cancer and urogenital cancers. Osteosarcoma, for example, is both clinically and genetically almost identical in dogs and human pediatric patients.

Kansas State University researchers also completed a clinical trial that used stem cells in dogs to decrease pain from osteoarthritis, a disease which also affects humans. They found that stem cells effectively reduced canine pain and could potentially translate to therapies for people with arthritis.

In addition to finding treatments for these more traditional diseases, One Health research may also lead to new breakthroughs in emerging zoonotic diseases — diseases that are capable of being transmitted from animals and insects to humans and vice versa. Zoonotic pathogens such as Avian influenza strains, Zika virus, feline tularemia, canine brucellosis, and others are quickly becoming a worldwide threat to humans and animals as well as our food supply.

While human and animal health is a big focus of One Health, environmental health is the third and equally important pillar.

Environmental factors affect human and animal health. Changes in land use, terraforming and pollution to water with chemicals, pharmaceuticals and the naturally occurring elements in the Earth's soil have created new threats to human and animal health and can even help spread diseases. In this respect, environmental influences must be considered when developing new pharmaceuticals and treatments. As a nexus for animal and human health research, Greater Kansas City stands to benefit greatly from One Health. The region is home to more than 240 life sciences companies, which have more than 30,000 employees. Its scientists, companies and institutions regularly collaborate on animal and human health research. As One Health becomes more widely adopted by animal and human health companies, we anticipate their collaborations and research will open the floodgates to new marketable products and therapies.

So, where is Greater Kansas City at in terms of One Health collaboration, research and development?

We're beginning to see One Health become more prominent in the region.

On Nov. 3, more than 100 animal and human health researchers, environmental scientists, bioscience leaders and residents from Greater Kansas City and Manhattan, Kan., gathered at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation for Kansas City One Health Day — one of the more than 150 worldwide One Health Days events. The event spotlighted One Health research and featured several scientists discussing their work and how it translated to humans or animals and vice versa. Attendees participated in a mixer designed to spark new relationships and collaborations. A keynote about the Zika virus and the importance of controlling it capped the event. The event was a collaborative effort from K-State Olathe, the Kansas City Area Life Sciences Institute (KCALSI) and BioKansas.

In addition, Dr. Paige Adams and Dr. Sara Gragg, two of our faculty members at K-State Olathe, will be leading the campus' efforts in an upcoming master's of public health degree. Dr. Gragg has a unique background in food science and animal health, enabling her to specialize in foodborne pathogens that arise from meat producing animals. Dr. Adams studies of the immunopathogenesis of arboviruses as well as the development of vaccines and therapeutics for pathogenic viruses. I'm very excited to have them leading this academic program!

K-State Olathe is establishing research partnerships with the University of Kansas Medical Center for animal health research and we have several other One Health-related partnerships and projects that will be announced in 2017.

Greater Kansas City and the Animal Health Corridor have unlimited potential for new developments, products and opportunities in One Health. K-State Olathe is proud to help support the region's efforts in One Health research with our graduate-level academic programs, research and connecting the region to Kansas State University's world-class research facilities and expertise. I encourage you to watch Dr. Adams' One Health webinar at to learn more about how the One Health fields are connected.

The future is bright for Greater Kansas City!