Review by the vice-dean in charge of research affairs

Strong emphasis on One Health

During 2017, the Faculty contributed heavily to One Health, its new research focus. Historically, research in Finnish veterinary medicine has usually focused on several areas, excellently highlighting the multidisciplinary nature of the scientific field. What does One Health actually mean, and why should it receive emphasis right now?

The concept of One Health is linked with interaction between animals and humans. To a large extent, humans share with animals the same genome, physiology, bacteria, parasites, diseases and, indeed, surroundings. The social welfare and health care reform will reshape health care in Finnish society, including animal health care. Societal decisions, be they concerned with models of regional government or privatisation, have a clear indirect impact on the health and welfare of animals, which will in turn reflect on human health and welfare.

In the field of animal health care, Finland is known as a pioneer in the registration and utilisation of health-related data on the population level. Dairy cattle health data on the level of individual animals and herds from as far back as the 1980s are a good example. They have been long used for breeding for health, as well as for studying the health and welfare of dairy cattle.

In recent years, including 2017, a particularly strong year for research in veterinary medicine, the reliability of modelling spontaneous diseases occurring in natural populations has been proven. In addition to benefiting canine populations, modelling the heritability of canine hereditary diseases has contributed to modelling similar health-related phenomena also in other species, particularly humans.

Finnish veterinary medicine is also known for its achievements in research focused on food safety. In the future, the Faculty’s strong expertise in wet lab activities and research related to the molecular epidemiology of microbes will be applied to research on food safety control and risk management.

Research groups that have already shown their mettle on the international level, as well as those on the rise, are presently able to utilise the extensive digitalisation of datasets connected with animal health and welfare, as well as food safety, now being opened for research use. The Faculty’s research activities are thriving. Datasets related to the health and welfare of small animals are already very uniform, while the digitalisation of datasets related to production animal health and welfare, as well as food safety, and the opening of these datasets for utilisation, are well advanced and in their final stages.

In more ways than one, this is an opportune moment to elevate the University of Helsinki among the leading universities in One Health research, with researchers of veterinary medicine in the lead. Many rising research groups with great potential will benefit from contributions to One Health. This is not only a matter of resources, but also of improving the utilisation of new datasets in research.

The research conducted by top-level and rising research groups is based on strong data. Opportunities related to digitising such datasets and making them openly available have a critical role in laying the foundation for a strong scientific community in the field of veterinary medicine. This community has extensively networked with other active parties in One Health, resulting in excellent examples of how contributions to One Health provide great returns on investment.

 

Olli Peltoniemi
Vice-dean in charge of research affairs
Faculty of Veterinary Medicine
University of Helsinki