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.
What NIEHS Is Doing
A better understanding of the complex nature of how a person’s environment contributes to their 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 approaches 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.
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.
A major goal of both the 2012-2017 and 2018-2023 NIEHS Strategic Plans is 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, and technologies. In 2013 and 2018, NIEHS funded the Health and Exposome Research Center: Understanding Lifetime Exposures (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 researchers access to laboratory analyses of biological samples from NIH-funded studies on children's health. CHEAR also supports a suite of data science tools, including a data repository for exposure measurements and epidemiologic data provided by researchers. CHEAR has supported more than 30 studies covering a broad range of exposures and children’s health outcomes.
In 2019, NIEHS will build upon the success of CHEAR by offering exposure analysis resources to researchers studying life stages and health outcomes that occur later in life. The expanded program, called the Human Health Exposure Analysis Resource (HHEAR), will provide a larger community of researchers access to centralized, high-quality exposure assessment services. This will allow researchers to better understand the influence of environment on health throughout the life-course and eventually support more comprehensive assessment of the developmental origins of health and disease.
Additional Exposome Efforts
Federal exposome efforts include:
- Exposome and Exposomics - NIOSH Workplace Safety and Health Topics
- NIH Common Fund’s Metabolomics Program
- Total Exposure Health: An Innovation in Precision Health (U.S. Air Force)
International exposome efforts include:
David Balshaw, Ph.D.
Branch Chief, Exposure, Response, and Technology Branch
P.O. Box 12233Mail Drop K3-04Durham, N.C. 27709
Jennifer B. Collins
P.O. Box 12233Mail Drop K3-12Durham, N.C. 27709
Yuxia Cui, Ph.D.
Contractor — Program Analyst
Remote Duty Station
Moseley, VA 23120
Daniel T. Shaughnessy, Ph.D.
Health Scientist Administrator
P.O. Box 12233Mail Drop K3-04Durham, N.C. 27709