When we contemplate the most urgent global health challenges, there are no shortage of contenders.
There’s antimicrobial resistance – in which bacteria is becoming resistant to the arsenal of antibiotics and drugs we use to treat infection and disease.
There’s the impact of environmental change, whether from pollution or poor air quality, or the growing risk of food insecurity.
Then there are the many emerging diseases that threaten human health in ways we might not have anticipated a few decades ago.
These include avian influenza, again on the rise in China, Ebola, the Hendra virus that passes from horses to humans, and Zika, which is having devastating effects in much of the developing world.
Traditionally, these challenges have been dealt with in isolation by researchers with expertise in specific disciplines.
Human health researchers explore one part of the problem of animal-borne disease, while veterinary researchers look at another.
An environmental scientist might tackle soil quality issues from a prevention perspective, but an agricultural scientist might see the issue as being fundamental to a shortage of feedstock.
Usually, these experts in environmental health, animal health and human health will not interact – until now.
Murdoch University is leading the way in bringing what is known as the One Health initiative to Western Australia, recognising the same core global challenges can affect every part of the ecosystem: our land, animals and people.
The initiative is designed to forge equal, inclusive collaborations between experts in these three broad disciplines, whether they are physicians, veterinarians, dentists, nurses or environmental scientists.
It is an agenda we first advanced in 2014, and we have been practicing this approach by bringing together expertise in fields such as veterinary and human medicine, molecular biology, microbiology, epidemiology, bioinformatics, genomics and public health policy.
In 2017, we will take the next big step in this journey, through the launch of the Murdoch Knowledge and Health Precinct, part of a redevelopment of our campus, which will enable us to expand our One Health approach to global problems.
One Health embodies Murdoch University’s approach to innovation.
It is a practical and bold initiative. It challenges our researchers to work as part of new innovation eco-systems. It requires them to collaborate, to be open to new approaches and methodologies and to develop deep partnerships with industry.
Australia continues to be ranked near the bottom in the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) nations for collaboration between industry and public researchers.
To be truly innovative, Australian universities must be more porous. Academics must embrace opportunities to collaborate with industry partners and embed researchers in commercial environments.
We must develop research commercialisation skills and strengthen research-industry engagement across multiple fields. We must align our policies, incentives and “innovation initiatives” to support and encourage this mindset.
Murdoch University’s investment in establishing a Knowledge and Health Precinct demonstrates our commitment to proactively align our academic structures to achieve the innovative global outcomes we seek. And our campus is ideally situated to forge partnerships under the One Health initiative.
Located in Perth’s growing southern corridor, we are close to the Fiona Stanley and St John of God hospitals, PathWest South, Harry Perkins Institute for Medical Research South, Centre for Immunology and Infectious Diseases and WA Centre for Thrombosis and Haemostasis.
Murdoch is also home to the Murdoch Animal Hospital, State Agricultural Biotechnology Centre and the Advanced Mass Spectrometry Facility.
Any one of these institutions is a formidable research body, but working in collaboration, with multidisciplinary researchers clustered in one place, the opportunity for transformational, translational research is enormous.
We will be launching our plans for the Health and Knowledge Precinct in the next few months, and hope to begin work in 2018 on a world-class development that will bring together the expertise of individuals from diverse disciplines, fields and industries.
It is already predicted by the state government that our immediate area will be home to 35,000 employees, 22,000 residents and 44,000 students when complete – making it one of the most important employment and residential nodes in Western Australia.
Add to that mix our focus on world-class, multi-disciplinary research, and Murdoch’s Knowledge and Health Precinct will lead the way in practical innovation which finds solutions to our many local and global challenges.
This blog contains issues Eeva discussed as part of the State of the Nation 2017 panel session titled, Innovation and collaboration: what matters and what can be done? Watch the panel session below.