As many of you know, Bill Suk was selected to receive a prestigious Fulbright award to increase environmental health capacity in South and Southeast Asia. In his absence, I am serving as the Chief of the Hazardous Substances Research Branch and Director of the Superfund Research Program (SRP) until his return in June. In my "full time" role at NIEHS as Chief of the Exposure, Response, and Technology Branch and program lead for NIEHS efforts on exposure biology and the exposome, my primary focus has been on shaping efforts to enable innovative approaches to improving exposure and risk assessment. As a result, my interests and focus overlap significantly with the SRP, and I am looking forward to the opportunity to strengthen the connection between the two branches and our programs.
A major goal of the NIEHS Strategic Plan is to promote research to measure the totality of the exposures that a person experiences from conception to death, known as the exposome, and to create a blueprint for incorporating exposure science into human health sciences. This involves integrating direct assessment of multiple chemical factors, dietary intake, physical activity, and psychosocial stress with an assessment of biological response to these factors. I see this focus as a bridge between my personal interest in advancing the concept of the exposome through the development of a new generation of tools and methods to characterize the personal environment with the breadth of work being supported by the SRP.
While traditional approaches for toxicological research and human health risk assessments have focused on individual contaminants, we know that everyday exposures throughout life are incredibly complex. The concept of the exposome has become increasingly important for discovering the environmental causes of disease. As we work to characterize the exposome, we will rely on non-targeted approaches to identify contaminants in the environment and new approaches to classify compounds that might be harmful. We also will look to new methods to integrate diverse data sources to answer complex environmental health questions, such as developing novel computational models that integrate multiple time points or that integrate in vitro, in vivo, and in silico data to better understand links between the environment and disease.
In the Feature Story, you will see many examples of how SRP researchers are developing methods and tools to characterize the exposome. In the coming months, I look forward to learning more about these efforts. Together, I hope we can leverage interdisciplinary collaborations to share and integrate biological response, omics, and environmental data, which is crucial for advancing discovery in environmental health research and understanding the totality of exposures and effects.
David Balshaw, Ph.D.
Interim Director of the Superfund Research Program
Chief of the NIEHS Exposure, Response, and Technology Branch