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College Leads in ‘One Health’ Research to Investigate the Health Connections Between Humans, Animals, and the Environment

one health graphic and photo of mountain stream

The emerging field of One Health builds from the knowledge that human health is deeply interconnected with environmental health and animal health, and uses this research perspective to solve complex health problems both locally and globally.

The more we understand about human health, the more we see that it is deeply intertwined with the health of animals and the environment. This new field of research, called One Health, recognizes that the health of all living things is woven together as one. One Health research looks at human health in the context of these deep connections between people and the natural world.

One Health researchers study a range of critical problems, such as water quality, pollutants in the environment, and the transfer of diseases from animals to humans (called “zoonotic diseases”). Using this comprehensive approach, researchers can understand how the environment impacts human health and find solutions to fight disease and other negative health effects. The COVID-19 pandemic, which has a zoonotic origin, presents a timely example of how we are all globally connected to each other and the environment.

One Health Research Initiative

Frank von Hippel, PhD

Frank von Hippel, PhD

At the Zuckerman College of Public health, we have always understood public health in the context of social and environmental factors. The new public health focus on One Health affirms and enhances this approach. Our faculty, especially in the field of exposure science, have been conducting research that investigates the impacts of environmental pollution on human health for many years, working with tribes, farmworkers, firefighters, and many others in Arizona and globally.

Building on this experience and success, the college launched its new One Health Research Initiative (OHRI) last year and recruited Frank von Hippel, PhD, to the Department of Community, Environment and Policy, to lead the OHRI. Frank brings a wealth of experience in One Health research. He leads research projects that explore the nexus of ecotoxicology, mechanisms of toxicity, and health disparities. Frank often uses locally occurring wildlife as models for human exposure and disease to track contaminants, and he consistently focuses on health disparities experienced by vulnerable populations. To engage impacted communities with the research and the outcomes, Frank employs a Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) approach that brings community members into the process from start to finish.

“My research combines contaminant chemistry, molecular biology, physiology, ecology, and public health. I’m often looking at contaminants in the environment, understanding where they occur, and how they impact the health of humans and the ecosystem,” said von Hippel, “I work closely with the communities affected by contaminants, so they become involved in the research, understand the science, and advocate for change to mitigate the harm they experience.”

Frank’s research has been widely covered in the press, including The New York Times, National Public Radio, The Economist, the BBC, and many other media outlets. He hosts the Science History Podcast, and loves to write about science for both technical and general audiences. His book The Chemical Age, published in September 2020 by The University of Chicago Press, charts the history of how humans invented pesticides to prevent famine and pandemics, and how those same chemicals then resulted in unintended consequences when they harmed ecosystems and human health – a complex and compelling story that confronts many contemporary public health problems.

One Health often focuses on local environmental challenges, and at the same time this lens brings a global perspective on health. For example, researchers study the health repercussions of climate change, and how shifts in temperature (often accompanied by droughts or floods) impact broader health outcomes. Humans depend on the cycles that sustain life on earth – the water cycle, the carbon cycle, the energy cycle. Along with all other living things, we need clean water, clean air, and healthy ecosystems to thrive. One Health research brings this global interwoven perspective, and researchers investigate the web of connections so that we can cultivate a healthy environment that will guide us towards a bright future for all human communities.

One Health Research Projects Around the World

Frank von Hippel’s research expertise has taken him to many corners of the world to study how pollutants impact the environment and the people who live there. Using a CBPR approach, Frank engages with the local community to participate in the research on chemicals that affect community health, thereby connecting the people with the science and working collaboratively to chart a course to healing. In addition, students are involved in all of these research projects, a priority for all research projects in the college so we engage and train the next generation of public health researchers in One Health.

St. Lawrence Island, Alaska
Working with the Yupik Tribe on St. Lawrence Island in the Bering Sea, Frank and his team of community members and scientists investigate health impacts due to environmental contaminants from US military installations dating from the Cold War. With NIH funding, the team works collaboratively to identify risks, mitigate exposure, and conduct health interventions.

Unalaska Island, Alaska
Working with the Qawalangin Tribe on Unalaska Island in the Aleutians, Frank and his team of community members and scientists research the migration of contaminants from decommissioned military sites into local ecosystems and subsistence foods. Pending NSF funding will support community-centered solutions to sustainably manage public health risks of human exposure to pollutants.

Yuma County, Arizona
Working with the Yuma Regional Medical Center, the Regional Center for Border Health, and the farmworker advocacy organization Campesinos Sin Fronteras, Frank and his CBPR team aim to identify and mitigate health disparities among migrant and seasonal farmworkers along the US-Mexico border. Flinn Foundation funding has set the stage for an NIH research funding proposal.

Cocopah Indian Tribe, Arizona
Working with the Cocopah Tribe, Frank and his team are developing a community-engaged approach to examine health effects from pollution that originates with intensive industrial agriculture conducted in Yuma County. A new grant from the Flinn Foundation will support this vital research.

Lake Atitlán, Guatemala
Working with Mayan communities in the Lake Atitlán watershed in Guatemala, Frank leads a collaborative team including fellow MEZCOPH professor Paloma Beamer, PhD, that investigates neonatal exposure to pesticides and toxic metals, funded by the UArizona’s Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center.

Groote Island, Australia
Working with the Anindilyakwa Tribe on Groote Island, Australia, Frank pursues research to analyze the health effects of manganese exposure among culturally and ecologically significant wildlife species due to the large manganese mine on the island. This project has been funded by the Australian Research Council and the Anindilyakwa Land Council.

Frank and colleagues are developing research projects in collaboration with subsistence fishermen and banana plantation workers in Ecuador. These projects will investigate contaminant exposures among animals and subsistence fishermen in mangrove forests and exposures to pesticides among banana plantation workers.

The OHRI will facilitate the research of many faculty in the Zuckerman College of Public Health who already work on One Health research projects. All our faculty involve students in their research projects so that students gain the knowledge and experience they need to lead future public health research. Our faculty who conduct One Health research include::

Mona Arora, PhD, MsPH
Leila Barraza, JD, MPH
Paloma Beamer, PHD
Heidi Brown, PHD, MPH
Stephanie Russo Carroll, DrPH, MPH
Katherine Ellingson, PhD
Kacey Ernst, PhD, MPH
Stephanie Griffin, PhD, CIH
Aminata Kilungo, PhD
Kristen Pogreba-Brown, PhD, MPH
Kelly Reynolds, PhD, MSPH
Jonathan Sexton, PhD, MS
Marc Verhougstraete, PhD

The research being conducted, funded by federal, state, and local grants, covers a wide variety of public health topics, including:

  • Animal health and stewardship
  • Antibiotic resistance
  • Climate change impacts
  • Community engaged scholarship
  • Disease surveillance
  • Ecotoxicology
  • Environmentally acquired illness
  • Environmental justice
  • Farmworker health
  • Food and food production safety
  • Human/animal bonds for emotional health and support
  • Infection prevention
  • Microbiome health
  • Public service worker training
  • Water quality and security
  • Zoonotic disease
person in a barn

Among these many One Health research areas, the college has considerable experience in research on water quality and diseases transmitted through water. More than a quarter of waterborne disease outbreaks in the United States are attributed to bacteria and parasites, many of which are transmitted by animal hosts. Researchers in the college work collaboratively on several projects developed to assess the risks of waterborne disease using a One Health approach.

Within the college, the Environment, Exposure Sciences & Risk Assessment Center (ESRAC) pursues interdisciplinary research on water risks and many other environmental public health topics related to One Health. Funded by the UArizona’s Water, Environmental, and Energy Solutions (WEES) program, ESRAC brings together researchers from public health and other disciplines to find answers. Among ESRAC’s many projects, researchers monitor and evaluate emerging contaminants in Southern Arizona and work collaboratively to develop consumer outreach and risk communication tools, a program co-funded by Tucson Water, The National Science Foundation Water & Environmental Technology (WET) Center, and the Water Quality Research Foundation.

ESRAC researchers are also working on methods to rapidly detect human and animal pathogens using smartphone technology and other real-time monitoring tools. These methods will be optimized to monitor hazardous microbial exposures in domestic livestock operations and a variety of human/animal interfaces. Rapid pathogen detection tools can significantly improve outbreak response times and help to evaluate mitigation strategies that are implemented to minimize human and animal exposures. These same technologies can be used to track the origin of specific strains of harmful organisms that mutate over time.

“Our college has been pursuing One Health research for many years, and we continue to lead the way,” says Iman Hakim, MD, PhD, MPH, Dean of the Zuckerman College of Public Health. “This is a powerful strategic approach that enables us to understand how environmental health, animal health, and human health all connect as one. And we must use this approach to help vulnerable communities as they increasingly face health problems related to pollution and climate change. Working with communities to solve these One Health problems will guide us to the future of public health.”

Our One Health research in the Zuckerman College of Public Health aims to increase our knowledge about the intricate relationships between the environment, animals, and humans. The more we know, the better we will be able to apply strategies and programs that will nurture a healthier world for all living creatures. Our collaborative One Health method brings researchers and communities together to identify complex health problems and find solutions. Together, the One Health framework will provide the knowledge we need to nurture a healthier world for all our diverse communities, here in Arizona and around the world.

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