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Your Environment. Your Health.

Exposure Biology and the Exposome

Program Lead

David M. Balshaw. Ph.D.
David Balshaw, Ph.D.
Branch Chief, Exposure, Response, and Technology Branch
Tel 984-287-3234
P.O. Box 12233
Mail Drop K3-04
Durham, N.C. 27709

Program Description

Complex environmental exposures from a variety of sources can affect a person’s health. Frequently, we think of exposures as occurring outside of the body, including chemicals, radiation, infectious agents, and lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise. However, the response to those exposures can be altered by how they interact with normal biological systems, particularly metabolic processes including the microbiome, which is all of the microorganisms naturally in and on the body. Measuring the totality of the exposures that a person experiences from conception to death along with 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 the complex nature of how a person’s environment contributes to his/her health requires sustained development of technology to measure exposures, such as better biomarkers, new sensors and monitors, and remote detection of exposures. Scientists are developing ways to screen compounds for potential health effects, working on more sensitive ways to analyze how the body responds to exposures, and creating advanced computer models that can be used to predict the consequences of exposure. Large amounts of exposure data can now be collected, which means that new computational tools are needed to manage and analyze this important data.

Exposome in the Washington Post

What toxins have you been exposed to? Your baby teeth may hold the answer

Podcast featuring Mike Jerrett on GIS

Mapping Environmental Health

Exposome on NPR

What Causes Breast Cancer? These Families Want To Help Find Out

Literature on Exposome

View a list of publications related to the exposome in PubMed

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 webpage.

Register for the Webinar LISTSERV to receive information on upcoming NIEHS Exposome webinars.

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 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.

In 2015, NIEHS launched the Children's Health Exposure Analysis Resource (CHEAR), a major new infrastructure to provide access to laboratory analyses of biological samples from NIH-funded studies on children's health and a suite of associated data science tools, including a data repository for exposure measurements and epidemiologic data provided by study principal investigators. There is also a companion program, Pediatric Research Using Integrated Sensor Monitoring Systems (PRISMS) led by the National Institute for Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering, to establish capabilities for characterizing the external environment in pediatric studies. Together, these two programs will enable the most comprehensive analyses of the exposome for studies of children's health to date.

Program Contacts

Jennifer Collins
Jennifer B. Collins
Health Specialist
Tel 984-287-3247
P.O. Box 12233
Mail Drop K3-12
Durham, N.C. 27709
Yuxia Cui, Ph.D.
Yuxia Cui, Ph.D.
Contractor — Program Analyst
Tel 984-287-3251
Remote Duty Station
Moseley, VA 23120
Daniel Shaughnessy, Ph.D.
Daniel T. Shaughnessy, Ph.D.
Health Scientist Administrator
Tel 984-287-3321
Fax 919-541-0146
P.O. Box 12233
Mail Drop K3-04
Durham, N.C. 27709
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