September 6, 2023

DNA/human abstract

In a two-part installment of the Environmental Health Chat podcast series, researchers from the NIEHS-funded HERCULES Exposome Research Center discuss the exposome, a growing area of research that aims to assess all the environmental factors a person is exposed to throughout their life and how those exposures affect health.

“We know as humans that we experience thousands, potentially millions, of exposures across our lifetime – pesticides, flame retardants, drugs, commercial products – many, many different classes of compounds that we are routinely exposed to in our day-to-day life,” said podcast guest and HERCULES Center member, Douglas Walker, Ph.D.

In the first episode, Walker talks about challenges and opportunities to studying the exposome and describes his own research to develop exposomic approaches to analyze exposures to microplastics and nanoplastics. He also reminds us that a person’s exposome is made up of more than the chemicals they are exposed to.

“When we are discussing the exposome, we're not just referring to the chemical exposome, but also many other factors that can affect your health, for example, stress or socioeconomic factors, dietary factors, and many others,” he said.

In part two, Melanie Pearson, Ph.D., who leads the HERCULES Community Engagement Core, talks about how incorporating community perspectives could help researchers better understand the exposures people encounter throughout life. She describes the Center’s efforts to engage Atlanta residents around the concept of the exposome to help them identify and address environmental health concerns in their communities.

“The exposome to me, in some ways, is operationalizing environmental justice,” said Pearson. “My part of that is to bring it [exposome research] back to those affected communities so they can be the ones to drive the change,” she said.