Exposure Biology and the Exposome
David Balshaw, Ph.D.
Exposure, Response, and Technology Branch
Complex environmental exposures from a variety of sources can affect a person’s health and cause disease. Traditionally, we think of exposures as occurring outside of the body, including chemicals, radiation, infectious agents, and lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise. However, chemicals can also be produced endogenously and might interact with exogenous “environmental” exposures and, therefore, must be considered. These include products of metabolism, hormones, and 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 toxicity, creating advanced computer models that can be used to predict toxicity and working on more sensitive ways to analyze how the body responds to exposures. Large amounts of exposure data can now be measured, which means that new computational tools are needed to manage and analyze this important data.
Podcast featuring Mike Jerrett on GIS
Funding Opportunities Announcements
Exposome on NPR
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.
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 page.
Register for the Webinar LISTSERV to receive information on upcoming NIEHS Exposome webinars.
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 is soliciting 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 an exposure data repository. There is also a companion program being 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.
Additional Exposome Efforts
Federal exposome efforts include:
- Exposome and Exposomics - NIOSH Workplace Safety and Health Topics
International exposome efforts include:
Program ContactsWebinars Highlight European Advances in Exposome Research
Jennifer B. Collins
Kimberly McAllister, Ph.D.
Health Scientist Administrator