Han Leads Research Initiative Selected for One Health Grand Challenge

COLLEGE STATION, Texas – A research initiative lead by Dr. Arum Han from the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at Texas A&M University is one of the four university-wide initiatives selected for the One Health Grand Challenge.

The One Health Grand Challenge was offered as an opportunity for the Texas A&M schools and colleges to plan and implement a transdisciplinary, collaborative approach to help improve the lives of all species-humans and animals-by addressing health and their connections between natural and man-made environments.

The One Health Grand Challenge identified four major One Health research themes and implementing a plan to bring together teams to propose research initiatives under these themes.

Han’s team has faculty from the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences (CVM), Dwight Look College of Engineering (ENG), Texas A&M Health Science Center (TAMHSC), and Texas A&M AgriLife. They included Jane Welsh (CVM), Allison C. Rice-Ficht (TAMHSC), Arul Jayaraman (ENG), Paul de Figueiredo (TAMHSC/AgriLife), Jianrong Li (CVM), Thomas Ficht (CVM), Robert C. Alaniz (TAMHSC), Byung-Jun Yoon (ENG), Michael Pishko (ENG), Michael Criscitiello (CVM), Garry Adams (CVM), Melissa Grunlan (ENG), Evelyn Tiffany-Castiglioni (CVM), Won-Bo Shim (AgriLife), Yoonsuck Choe (ENG), Michael Polymenis (AgriLife), Timothy P. Devarenne (AgriLife), and Wonmuck Hwang (ENG).

The title of their initiative is “Miniature Tissues and Organs for Detection and Prevention of Diseases,” and focuses on development of next-generation biologics through microphysiological systems. It was selected for the One Health Accessible & Affordable Quality Health Care theme.

“I believe that multidisciplinary collaboration is key in addressing challenges in this new One Health paradigm,” said Han, “and I hope that engineering technologies can make significant contributions towards solving these grand challenges of societal importance.”

The vision of this Microphysiological Systems initiative is to create a world where human, animal, and plant diseases can be readily detected, disease mechanisms can be accurately and quickly deciphered, emerging threats can be predicted, and new therapeutics and vaccines can be rapidly developed, all at low cost, thus ultimately providing accessible and affordable healthcare.

The technological innovations at the core of this initiative are in developing in vitro microsystems that closely mimic the physiology of whole organisms, and in developing lab-on-a-chip systems that are high throughput, accurate, flexible, and low cost. Systems that mimic (or reproduce) human physiological systems (e.g., organ-on-a-chip) aim to overcome the limitations of currently used in vitro models and animal models. Lab-on-a-chip systems can accelerate assays and significantly lower costs. Combined together, the team is hoping to provide a new paradigm for improving our capabilities to provide accessible and affordable healthcare. The initial focus areas of this initiative will be neurodegenerative diseases, immune systems, and the human microbiome; however, the team is hoping that the developed systems and their applications can be more broadly expanded and adapted to solving other health problems of high societal importance.

“The proposal submitted by Dr. Han and his team of investigators holds great promise in radically changing how we examine organ systems and perform diagnostics in multiple species,” said Dr. Michael Chaddock, assistant dean for One Health and Strategic Initiatives at the CVM. “Interdisciplinary approaches such as this-that advance knowledge, that will improve global health-is at the very core of the definition of One Health.”

The One Health Initiative was started at Texas A&M in 2011 to be a collaborative effort of multiple disciplines working locally, nationally, and globally to attain sustainable optimal health for the ecosystem. It’s driven by agents of change which include, but are not limited to, population growth; nutritional, agricultural and trade practices; globalization; shift in land use; accelerated urbanization; deforestation; encroachment on wildlife; and climate change.

“This research program represents well what the One Health Grand Challenge at Texas A&M University is all about,” said Dr. Eleanor M. Green, the Carl B. King Dean of Veterinary Medicine at the CVM. “Facilitated by Dr. Michael Chaddock, investigators came together from across campus to form the research team dedicated to finding extraordinary solutions for diseases of importance to Texas and beyond. Equally impressive is the funding of this project, which was also a team approach. Dr. Glen Laine, vice president for research at Texas A&M, matched voluntary contributions from the involved colleges to fully fund this challenge proposal.”

The initiative is dedicated to the discovery, development, communication, and application of knowledge in a wide range of academic and professional fields providing the highest quality undergraduate, graduate and professional programs to prepare students to assume roles in leadership, responsibility and service to society. It builds on the strength of the university and the state of Texas from discovery to application and commercialization allowing for the discovery, learning, and applied research to meet societal needs.

“We have a tremendous amount of expertise and human capital at Texas A&M and we are ideally suited to address many of society’s greatest health challenges,” said Dr. M. Katherine Banks, vice chancellor and dean of engineering. “Innovation thrives when we bring great scholars together and it is exciting to imagine the possible advances that will come from their multidisciplinary approach to problem solving.”

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