The Canary Database project is a result of collaboration between human
health and animal health professionals to explore the linkages between
animal disease events and human environmental health risks.
The project began in 2000, in response to a number of
developments, including a 1991 National Academy
of Sciences report
recommending the use of animal sentinel data for human environmental
risk assessment, reports of "endocrine disruption" in wildlife
populations possibly due to chemical exposures, and the outbreak of West
Nile Virus in the Western Hemisphere showing the relationship between
wild bird mortality and human risk.
These developments pointed out the need for greater communication between
human health professionals and animal health experts. Discussions between
Occupational and Environmental Medicine Program,
a veterinarian also trained in public health, and
the USGS National Wildlife Health
led to a pilot effort to search the biomedical literature and find
evidence of successful animal sentinel models (see Rabinowitz PM,
Cullen MR, Lake HR. 1999. "Wildlife as sentinels for human health
hazards: A review of study designs." J Environ Med 1:217-23).
As useful studies were located, they were added to a database and
to be made available to the
scientific community. Staff from the
Yale Center for Medical
Informatics helped with the creation of the website and database
structure. A systematic review of the medical literature highlighted the
need for an evidence-based approach to animal sentinel data.
With support from the National Library of Medicine's Information System
Grant program in 2003, the project has been able to expand and
accelerate activities, thanks to work by veterinarians, librarians,
public health professionals and students, and many
others. A national advisory board has guided the efforts, including a
recent strategic planning meeting in June, 2005. The project has been
presented at local, regional and national meetings. Current activities
include evidence-based reviews of
animals as sentinels of biological and chemical terrorism agents.
For more information about the people behind the Canary Database,
see the Project Team page.