Exposure Biology and the Exposome
David Balshaw, Ph.D.
Exposure, Response, and Technology Branch
NIEHS Exposome Webinar Series
This series of webinars will include presentations and interactive discussions on research efforts in exposure science and the exposome. For up-to-date information, go to the NIEHS Exposure Science and the Exposome Webinar Series home page.
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Complex environmental exposures from a variety of sources can affect a person’s health and cause disease. Environmental exposures come from both external and internal sources. For example, external influences include chemicals, radiation, infectious agents, and lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise. Internal sources include metabolism, hormones, and the microbiome, which is all the microorganisms naturally in and on the body. The totality of the exposures that a person experiences from conception to death and the associated biological response is referred to as the exposome, a concept that has become increasingly important for discovering the environmental causes of disease.
A better understanding of how the complex nature of a person’s environment contributes to their health requires sustained development of technology to measure exposures, such as better biomarkers, new sensors and detectors, and remote detection of exposures. Scientists are developing ways to screen compounds for toxicity, creating advanced computer models that can be used to predict toxicity, and working on more sensitive ways to analyze how the body responds to exposures. Large amounts of exposure data can now be measured, which means that new computational tools are needed to manage and analyze this important data.
From 2006-2011, NIEHS and other NIH institutes coordinated research on exposure biology and genetics through the Genes, Environment, and Health Initiative. As part of this effort, NIEHS oversaw the establishment of the Exposure Biology Program, which funded the development of wearable and field deployable sensor systems for measuring chemical exposures, dietary intake, physical activity, psychosocial stress, and the use of substances of abuse. In parallel, the Exposure Biology Program supported work to identify biomarkers that show biological response to these stressors. NIEHS remains committed to advancing exposure science and supports many promising research efforts in this area through investigator-initiated research, Small Business Programs, and the Superfund Research Program.
In 2012, NIEHS implemented a new Strategic Plan, which includes a major goal to promote exposome research and create a blueprint for incorporating exposure science into human health studies. The Institute is working to transform exposure science by improving the characterization of environmental exposures, defining and disseminating the concept of the exposome, and creating the necessary tools, technologies, and research capacity. In 2013, NIEHS funded the HERCULES Center at Emory University, which is conducting exposome-focused research and also developing new tools and technology for assessing the exposome. As a leader in the environmental health sciences, NIEHS has been at the forefront of the exposome efforts and is continually committed to engaging the scientific community in the endeavor to clearly define the exposome and creating research opportunities to explore it.
Additional Exposome Efforts
Federal exposome efforts include:
- Exposome and Exposomics - NIOSH Workplace Safety and Health Topics
- Investigating the Human Exposome – U.S. Environmental Protection agency (EPA)
- The National Children's Study
International exposome efforts include:
Daniel T. Shaughnessy, Ph.D.
Health Scientist Administrator
Jennifer B. Collins
Kimberly McAllister, Ph.D.
Health Scientist Administrator