Mathematical Biology for Understanding Emerging Infectious Diseases at the Human-Animal-Environment Interface: a “One Health” Approach (16w5041)

Arriving in Banff, Alberta Sunday, November 20 and departing Friday November 25, 2016


(University of Toronto)

Jianhong Wu (York Institute for Health Research, York University)

(University of Guelph)


This workshop will bring together methodological experts in mathematics, statistics, computational biology, and computer science with human and veterinary medicine practitioners, industry partners and government officials to begin to develop a computational framework for modeling pathogens at the human-animal-environment interface in a meaningful way.

There are three main themes related to infectious diseases that this workshop will address. Each of the theme areas yield a variety of control challenges for human and veterinary health as a result of the complex host-pathogen-environment interactions responsible for the emergence and spread of these pathogens and therefore pose a particular challenge to public health, veterinary, and regulatory decision-makers. These systems involve the presence of alternate hosts, and/or have an environmental reservoir that allows the pathogen to exist independent of the host. As a result, these systems demonstrate non-linear behaviour that makes many aspects of their dynamics difficult to predict and makes optimal decisions regarding interventions and control measures difficult. Mathematical biology, specifically, disease transmission models allow researchers to test hypotheses that are difficult to test in the field. Using a systems approach to develop models that integrate human, animal and environmental health will enable us to begin to fill the significant gaps that can be found in the disease modeling literature related to diseases at the human-animal-environment interface.

A significant barrier to the development of complex models to address disease transmission at the human-animal-environment interface is the perceived lack of data available to appropriately parameterize such models. Data access and privacy concerns related to the use of data from various agricultural commodity groups (who are the main data holders) remains a stumbling block but not an insurmountable obstacle. This workshop will reach out to representatives from groups whose goals align with the outcomes of the research projects being pursued such as PHAC, CFIA, OMAFRA, and livestock commodity groups. A significant aspect of this workshop will involve the integration of industry data holders within working groups of academic and government partners. Working with end-users such as commodity groups from the beginning of these research projects is critical for encouraging uptake of new research outcomes and findings as well as for data sharing. Human public health officials have benefited greatly from the use of mathematical models to help inform evidence-based decision-making however, this relationship has only been possible because of significant outreach from the mathematical biology community to medical and public health professionals (including several past BIRS workshops focused on human public health). This relationship has allowed for more meaningful collaboration between methodological experts, data holders and decision-makers. This relationship is one that does not currently exist within the agricultural and veterinary communities. This workshop will be an important first step for bringing experts and stakeholders together to discuss research questions of interest to veterinary and industry partners and to identify how mathematical biology can contribute to important disease surveillance and control activities for diseases that have both human and animal hosts and which have important relationships with environmental and climate factors. This workshop will achieve the following specific objectives:

1) Bring together subject matters experts from across a wide range of disciplines who can contribute to the development of a strong conceptual framework for the use of mathematical biology to address research questions at the intersection of human, animal and environmental health.

2) Build trust and collaborative partnerships with industry partners and livestock commodity groups.

3) Develop a deeper understanding of the existing livestock and human health data sources and engage in meaningful discussions about the use of different data sources for informing model development.

4) Develop a better understanding of industry concerns regarding privacy and perceived economic implications of data sharing.

5) Identify data requirements, and potential data partners required for the development of models within each of the three focus areas.

Workshop Organization

The workshop will begin with an introduction to mathematical biology and disease modeling as well as specific examples of instances where models have informed evidence-based decision-making within. This is a critical knowledge translation step in order to develop a common vocabulary and engage our non-mathematical partners for whom this may be the first time that they are involved in an interdisciplinary workshop such as this. In addition, our plan to include both formal presentations and small, focused working groups will permit students and other HQP to participate in a truly unique opportunity to contribute to small group discussions and brainstorming sessions with leaders in their field from across North America and abroad. The interdisciplinary nature of disease modeling highlights the need for HQP to forge links between academia, government and industry as a way to apply their training to real world problems. This workshop will provide such an opportunity for training a new generation of Canadian modelers in mathematical biology. This interdisciplinary approach to applied problems provides a broad understanding of the mechanisms underlying the complexity that sits at the interface of various disciplines; the ability to view problems from different angles; the skills to link fundamental research to application, and the creativity to develop novel tools and methodologies that encompass the foundations of the involved disciplines, yet are deeper and richer than each of them alone.

After the introductory session to lay the foundation, the first three workshop days will be dedicated to the three themes of the workshop, emerging infectious diseases (EID) and zoonoses, food-animal associated diseases, and production limiting diseases of animals. Each of the three days will follow a similar format with the morning sessions comprised of presentations by industry participants, commodity groups, and/or government participants, outlining the nature of the policy, health and regulatory problems that they are tasked with addressing. The second half of the morning sessions will be focused on having academic participants present work in progress or completed work that represents an example of a methodology or framework that could applied to address the theme of the day. Afternoon sessions on each of these first three days will be interactive and hands-on with participants breaking into three smaller, interdisciplinary groups. Each group will choose a specific host-pathogen system (list provided to the groups in advance to ensure groups are balanced according to expertise) relevant to the theme of the day and will identify a specific research question that could be addressed as well as a plan outlining the type of data inputs (and potentially identifying data holders) that would need to be available in order to pursue the research topic. Groups will return at the end of the day to present their ideas and have the other groups contribute additional suggestions regarding data, data sources and ideas. This workshop structure will continue for each of the days with day 2 focused on food-animal associated diseases and day 3 focused on production limiting diseases.

Day 4 will focus on environmental and climate aspects of disease transmission at the human-animal-environment interface. Morning sessions will once again be comprised of presentations from workshop participants on the ways that environmental factors contribute to disease burden as well as ways to incorporate environmental variability into disease transmission models. The afternoon sessions on Day 4 will be facilitated by the organizers and focused on discussions among the entire group. The focus of these discussions will be on: 1) developing an understanding of commodity group data holdings including concerns and potential privacy concerns, 2) other sources of data and parameter estimates, 3) strategies for developing models at the human-animal-environment interface (e.g. developing new features for existing models vs. the development of entirely new models). The final morning of the meeting on Day 5, small breakout groups will be tasked with discussing the prospects and potential for “One Health” models to transform the landscape of using mathematical biology to help to better understand the complex dynamics of infectious diseases occurring at the interface. Breakout groups will report back to the entire group on their final thoughts and a final discussion will be facilitated regarding next steps to support the creation of at least three working groups that will continue to build upon specific topics within the three main themes of emerging infectious diseases and zoonoses, food-animal associated diseases, and production. Lastly, participants will be encouraged to identify key areas of uncertainty or data gaps for which specific data needs to be collected and to form interdisciplinary teams to craft future funding proposals aimed at collecting the necessary data after the completion of the workshop.

The workshop program and outcomes will link models with practical applications by addressing questions of critical public health and veterinary health importance. The proposed participants all have a demonstrated track record of generating outcomes that provide new knowledge that is relevant to policy and which benefit society by protecting human and animal health. In addition, the interdisciplinary nature of this research requires that we develop extensive collaborative networks with academic, industry and government colleagues. Participants from the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC), the Ontario Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs (OMAFRA), and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency (CFIA) will be an important asset to the proposed workshop program. Models are a novel way to address our research questions and present rich opportunities for the natural sciences and engineering. We expect this research to contribute to debates on optimal disease control strategy and play an important role in developing a more detailed understanding of complex, “One Health” problems.