We spoke to four experts from One Health about how the Data Driven Innovation (DDI) initiative has supported its advancement, the need for early warning systems, how data is critical to problem solving and how they are increasingly on the agenda of policy makers. around the world.
One Health is based on an appreciation of the interconnected nature of humans, animals and the environment and that for all of these spheres to be healthy it is essential that the dependence they have on each other is recognized.
Data has a key role to play in understanding how these worlds are connected through data modeling of future and current scenarios, while genome processing helps understand which human genes are vulnerable to infection.
The DDI Initiative has funded a number of projects related to One Health and has helped fund the Scottish Covid-19 Response Consortium (SCRC), which is developing new models to inform pandemic control.
Lisa Boden, Chair of Population Medicine and Veterinary Public Health Policy at the University of Edinburgh, says: “DDI has enabled investments in systems to improve data sharing and make data pipelines available for model development.
“DDI funds allow us to innovate in terms of data collection, data use, data sharing and creation of new datasets that allow us not only to cope with the current pandemic, but also to prepare for the next health emergency event.
“This infrastructure has made it possible to develop models capable of responding to disease epidemics, whether in the human, animal or plant world. It would have been difficult to have this capability without DDI.
One Health advocates have long predicted a Covid-19-wide pandemic, according to Professor Geoff Simm, director of the Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security. He believes the biggest lesson from the pandemic is understanding that better early warning systems are needed.
He explains, “People working at One Health have been saying for decades that there was going to be a massive pandemic, and one of the biggest lessons from Covid has been to understand that we need to have better surveillance and a better mechanism for it. emergency response that could contain an outbreak in its early stages or before it emerges.
Professor Ross Fitzgerald, president of molecular bacteriology at the University of Edinburgh and director of the university’s Edinburgh Infectious Disease Network, also said early warning systems would be essential in isolating future pandemics.
He observes: “The surveillance is going to be massive in the future to look ahead and determine where the next pandemic will come from so that we can prepare for it.
“Rather than waiting for new viruses to be discovered only when they have been established in humans, monitoring the environment, including humans, animals and wildlife, will help identify problems before they are found. that they do not take off. “
The SCRC provides a mechanism not only to deal with the current pandemic, but also to provide modeling that could help deal with future epidemics.
The consortium is a collective of epidemiologists, mathematical modelers, data scientists, software developers and other scientists and is supported by a number of organizations including the Universities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, and Biomathematics and Statistics Scotland.
It fuels the Royal Society’s rapid assistance in pandemic modeling, which seeks to understand the transmission of Covid by adapting large-scale animal disease models developed under EPIC – the center of expertise on animal disease outbreaks at the University of Edinburgh.
Boden says: “Covid has experienced great collaboration in Edinburgh and beyond the veterinary sector. The SCRC, to which the DDI initiative contributed, is important not only in the response to Covid-19, but also in preparing for a future pandemic. “
DATA AND A HEALTH PROBLEMS
One Health, with a focus on humans, animals, and the environment, dramatically increased the number of data points involved in traditional research that would only focus on a single strand.
Traditional mathematical models, however, are now combined with machine learning tools to allow One Health researchers to quickly scan through large volumes of data and identify trends and key factors shaping the disease.
Professor Rowland Kao, Chair of Veterinary Epidemiology and Data Science at the University of Edinburgh, says: “The more complex a problem, the more multidimensional it is, and the more multidimensional it is, the more important it is to have different sets of data that come from different directions.
“If you try to understand a multidimensional problem by looking at only one dimension, what can you really understand?
“If I have an infectious disease and I can only see what is going on in the human population and I cannot see what is going on in other areas, then what can I understand to help resolve this issue ? “
Fitzgerald says that genome sequencing of the pathogen and the human host will be essential in controlling infections caused by future pandemics.
He adds: “Genome sequencing generates large amounts of data to help us understand how viruses spread and cause disease. It can also indicate which human genes promote susceptibility to infections, which helps us identify new or reused drugs to treat infections.
“Over two million SARS Cov2 virus sequences have now been generated in almost every country in the world in what has been a global effort, and we also have host side sequences with 100,000 different human genome sequences. “
One Health needs government support if its goal is to anchor itself in future responses to pandemics and there are signs internationally and nationally that it is firmly on the political agenda.
Boden says: “There is huge support for this at the international level through intergovernmental organizations such as the World Health Organization, the Food and Agriculture Organization and the World Health Organization. animal health.
“All of these organizations have embraced One Health as a concept and are implementing its principles.
“Scotland has established four centers of expertise around water, climate change, animal disease outbreaks and plant health that attempt to solve problems from different angles and through a One Health approach. . “
The World Academy of Agriculture and Food Security focuses on the challenges of feeding the world’s people and protecting the world’s natural systems through a One Health approach
The organization brings together experts not only from the fields of data and science, but also the arts, humanities and social sciences from the University of Edinburgh and its partner institutions to support decision-making in the public and private sectors. .
Boden says, “The Global Academy is an innovative frontier organization that brings together interdisciplinary networks of people working on food security as it relates to One Health and Planetary Health in a single space to respond to global challenges, especially regarding concerns hunger and life. on earth.
“The organization allows us to mobilize knowledge across different borders in Scotland but also internationally in food production.
“There is a wide variety of projects underway that explore all aspects of food systems, from production – animal diseases and soil health – to consumption. “
Geoff Simm, director of the Global Academy, believes that protecting habitat and the way we produce our food is critical to managing future health emergencies.
He says, “Some diseases have always moved between other animals and humans and always will, but as we reduce the habitat of wildlife and come into contact with them more often, we increase the number of wildlife. risk of disease transmission. “
And he adds, “The way we grow and produce food is tied to managing the risk of future pandemics. “