OLATHE, Kan. – Kansas State University’s campus here is ready to expand its role in local medical research and in area health initiatives, the founding dean said as he prepares to step down.
“Not many people get the opportunity to be involved in starting a new campus,” said Dan Richardson, who announced his retirement in November. “To be part of that not only is a privilege, but there is accountability with that. Hopefully, we have achieved some of that accountability, and the biggest piece is building toward the future.”
Two key building blocks, he said, will be working with Dr. Roy Jensen and his staff at the University of Kansas Cancer Center, and establishing an inner-city presence through the campus’ new horticulture master’s degree program, which has an emphasis in urban food systems.
Richardson’s exit, set for June, will come more than five years after he left his position as a vice president with Hill’s Pet Nutrition in Topeka to become chief executive of the 38-acre K-State Olathe campus.
His arrival, in December 2007, came about two years before the university broke ground on the 108,000-square-foot International Animal Health and Food Safety Institute. The $28 million facility, which opened in April 2011, is the first building on the campus — and the only one to date.
Cancer research partnership
K-State’s One Health Kansas initiative revolves around learning from commonalities between the health of animals and humans. It specializes in areas known as “comparative medicine” and “translational research” — which, for example, include research on flus and cancers that occur in both populations.
One Health Kansas has a representative at the Olathe campus, but Richardson said the university’s presence in the Kansas City area is also a “leverage point” for K-State expertise in many other areas.
“If you think about looking forward with comparative medicine and translational research,” he said, “you are talking about biology, you are talking about engineering, you are talk about chemistry, you are talking about physics, you are talking about epidemiology and statistics – it’s bringing the collective resources of K-State to bear on a joint venture, if you will.”
K-State is renowned for its College of Veterinary Medicine, headed by Richardson’s brother, Ralph.
Part of the Olathe campus’ strength, said Ralph Richardson, is its proximity to the expertise and resources of a large metropolitan area. He said the campus is an “open door” to fruitful discussions and collaborations.
“It wouldn’t be too far-fetched,” he said, “to see a clinical trials center where the area veterinarians cooperate with the medical schools who study a particular disease entity of common interests to the medical world and the veterinary world.”
Jensen said one of those crossover areas is sarcomas, cancers that form in either bones or soft tissues. They commonly develop in the arms and legs, according to the American Cancer Society.
The KU Cancer Center is forming a team around drug development and discovery for sarcomas, Jensen said.
“Sarcomas are fairly common in dogs, in particular,” he said, “and so there is no reason why these agents being developed for humans couldn’t also be tried in companion animals – that’s the biggest opportunity I see.”
Part of the urban food systems master’s programs addresses the workforce development mission of the Olathe campus. One target audience, Richardson said, will be workers in life science industries who want enhance their career opportunities.
According to the program overview, graduates will be prepared to work in city government, nonprofit organizations or as field workers that can assist localities with community gardens, urban farming, and farmers markets.
Students and faculty will also provide education and training to farmers and processors in areas such as safely storing and transporting their products. Program participants will also teach K-12 students about topics like food safety and the tie between good health and good nutrition.
As part of the program, the Olathe campus will house a food safety specialist, a shared position between K-State Research and Extension and the University of Missouri Extension.
Urban students, Richardson said, could benefit from learning about agriculture.
“Not that you can grow a McDonald’s hamburger,” he said. “But you can teach a kid: You know what’s in a McDonald’s hamburger? You’ve got beef, you’ve got flour, you’ve got vegetables. So, let’s look at what’s in there, and how could we eat maybe more healthy, with less sodium, less fat, less saturated fats, things like that?”