Complex environmental exposures from a variety of sources can affect a person’s health. Frequently, we think of exposures, such as chemicals, radiation, infectious agents, and lifestyle factors, as occurring outside the body. However, a person’s response to these exposures is determined by how the exposures interact with their normal biological systems, particularly metabolic processes and the microbiome.
Measuring the totality of exposures 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 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. This includes better biomarkers, new sensors and monitors, and remote detection of exposures. NIEHS-funded scientists are:
- Creating advanced computer models that can be used to predict the consequences of exposure.
- Developing new computational tools to manage and analyze large exposure data sets.
- Developing ways to screen compounds for potential health effects.
- Working on more sensitive approaches to analyze how the body responds to exposures.
From 2007-2010, 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 NIEHS Exposure Biology Program supported research 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.
Literature on Exposome
View a list of publications related to the exposome in PubMed.
NIEHS Exposome Webinar Series
This series of webinars 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.
As a leader in environmental health sciences, NIEHS has been at the forefront of exposome efforts and is committed to engaging the scientific community to clearly define the exposome and create research opportunities to explore it.
A major goal of both the 2012-2017 and 2018-2023 NIEHS Strategic Plans is to promote exposome research and create a blueprint to incorporate exposure science into human health studies. NIEHS is transforming exposure science by improving characterization of environmental exposures, defining and disseminating the concept of the exposome, and creating the necessary tools and technologies to measure it.
In 2013 and 2018, NIEHS funded the Health and Exposome Research Center: Understanding Lifetime Exposures (HERCULES) at Emory University, which conducts exposome-focused research and develops new tools and technology for assessing the exposome.
In 2015, NIEHS launched the Children's Health Exposure Analysis Resource (CHEAR), a major new infrastructure that gave researchers access to laboratory analyses of biological samples from NIH-funded studies on children's health. CHEAR also supported a suite of data science tools, including a data repository for exposure measurements generated by HHEAR and epidemiologic data provided by researchers and provided data analysis service to investigators. CHEAR supported more than 30 children’s studies covering a broad range of exposures and health outcomes.
In 2019, NIEHS built upon the success of CHEAR by offering exposure analysis resources to researchers studying different life stages and health outcomes that occur later in life. The expanded program, called the Human Health Exposure Analysis Resource (HHEAR), provides a larger community of researchers access to centralized, high-quality exposure assessment services. This allows 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.
Director, Division of Extramural Research and Training
P.O. Box 12233Mail Drop K3-04Durham, N.C. 27709
Jennifer B. Collins
530 Davis Dr
530 Davis Drive (Keystone Bldg)
Durham, NC 27713