People respond differently to environmental exposures, and there are a lot of factors that may account for these differences. Factors such as age, sex, and health status, as well as genes and gut microbiomes, can play a role.
Our feature story showcases SRP grantees who use basic research and population-based studies to better understand individual susceptibility. Researchers are developing new models that better explain differences in susceptibility. One model uses more diverse mouse populations to study the effects of chemical exposures. We also provide examples of how grantees have focused research on two key organs, the liver and the brain, to uncover new insight into why some people may be more prone to disease.
Understanding individual susceptibility to complex diseases resulting from hazardous substances can lead to treatments and interventions to protect vulnerable populations and reduce the burden of disease. Addressing individual susceptibility is also a goal of the NIEHS Strategic Plan. Identifying the sources of variability and the distribution of susceptibility within a population can help inform decision making that better protects human health.
In addition to biological differences, people experience different exposures in the environment, and considering both is necessary to understand individual susceptibility. If we don't have a good understanding of what people are exposed to, we can't accurately figure out connections between exposure and disease.
Thankfully, we have good individual exposure assessment tools. SRP supports the Human Health Exposure Analysis Resource (HHEAR) initiative, which provides NIH-funded researchers access to centralized, high-quality exposure assessment services. SRP contributed funding to two National Exposure Assessment Laboratories focused on untargeted analysis, which SRP grantees are eligible to use. HHEAR provides access to state-of-the-art research services for analyzing human and environmental samples associated with environmental exposures. This resource is widely available to scientists, including SRP grantees, studying how chemical, biological, and social stressors affect human health.
With promising molecular techniques, scientists are gaining a new understanding of inherent differences among people. That information can be used to predict how people will differ in their susceptibility to environmental stressors, understand risk, and inform public health practitioners who are tasked with protecting vulnerable populations.
William A. Suk, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Superfund Research Program