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Your Environment. Your Health.

NIEHS Workshop Addresses Challenges for Determining Health Effects of Mixtures

Workshop participants engage in discussion during the meeting. From left: Gennings, Webster, and Brent Coull, Ph.D., a Harvard University professor of biostatistics.
Workshop participants engage in discussion during the meeting. From left: Gennings, Webster, and Brent Coull, Ph.D., a Harvard University professor of biostatistics.
(Photo courtesy of Steve McCaw)

An NIEHS workshop in July, Statistical Approaches for Assessing Health Effects of Environmental Chemical Mixtures in Epidemiology Studies, brought together experts in the fields of epidemiology, biostatistics, and toxicology to identify, develop, refine, and disseminate methods for quantifying the health effects of environmental chemical mixtures. The goals of this workshop are also critical to the NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP), which provides support for research that must address risk from the multiple contaminants found at hazardous waste sites.

Prior to the workshop, participants were asked to work in multidisciplinary teams to develop simulated mixtures databases to test statistical approaches. They were then provided data sets containing human health data and relevant mixtures and asked to analyze the data sets using their specific approach. The different approaches for assessing health effects of mixtures were then presented at the workshop.

The SRP became involved in the workshop because of the need to develop the data sets sent to participants for analysis before the meeting. Boston University SRP Center grantee Tom Webster, D.Sc., and Chris Gennings, Ph.D., professor at Mt. Sinai School of Medicine, were both on the workshop planning committee and took up to the challenge. With supplemental SRP funding, they developed the data sets for the workshop and made them publicly available for future users.

This interactive workshop led to discussions about the benefits and drawback of each of the statistical approaches brought to the meeting. Researchers put their expertise to the test to help determine the best approaches to disentangle the combined biological effects of exposure to mixtures from epidemiology, statistics, and toxicology points of view.

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