Human health is the product of both genetic susceptibility and environmental exposure, but many human health studies have not considered the full array of environmental exposures that may affect an individual's health and wellbeing. To better understand how environmental exposures may affect health and lead to disease, researchers need access to the analytical capabilities necessary to accurately measure, record, and analyze environmental exposures.
To help fulfill this need, NIEHS, in partnership with the National Cancer Institute, the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, and the NIH Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) Program, has established a centralized network of exposure analysis services and expertise to support NIH-funded researchers.
Human Health Exposure Analysis Resource (HHEAR)
Established in 2019, the goal of the HHEAR program is to promote the characterization of the totality of human environmental exposures called the exposome. The exposome includes chemical, physical, and biological stressors as well as lifestyle and social environments. Researchers will harmonize and integrate data to gain a better understanding of complicated interactions between environmental factors as determinants of health.
HHEAR is a consortium that enables NIH-funded researchers to measure environmental exposures and integrate their data with other datasets by providing access to laboratory, statistical, and data science analysis services
The consortium also provides a wealth of data on relationships between exposures and health effects across the life span. By including early life stages, the research will contribute to understanding the developmental origins of health and disease (DOHaD), which suggests that harmful exposures early in life may increase the risk of disease later in life.
HHEAR has three main components:
- Network of Exposure Analysis Laboratories (Lab Hubs) – A network of exposure analysis labs provides access to cutting-edge technologies for analysis of samples collected from NIH-funded human health studies. HHEAR Lab Hubs are grouped into three categories:
- Targeted Analysis of Biological Samples (RFA-ES-18-011) – Uses traditional biomonitoring methods to provide a comprehensive suite of targeted, or hypothesis-driven, analytical services for biological samples.
- Untargeted Analysis of Biological Samples (RFA-ES-18-012) – Uses methodologies developed for untargeted metabolomics with a focus on indicators of exposure to support the untargeted, or discovery-driven, analysis of the exposome.
- Environmental Sample Analysis (RFA-ES-18-013) – Uses both targeted and non-targeted methods to analyze environmental samples, such as drinking water, collected from human health studies with the goal of linking health outcomes to the sources of environmental exposure.
- Data Center (RFA-ES-18-014) – The Data Center provides support for storage, maintenance, analysis, interpretation, curation, and integration of data generated by the HHEAR network.
- Coordinating Center (RFA-ES-18-010) – The Coordinating Center is the administrative hub and external access point for HHEAR. It manages and tracks the flow of projects, materials, and analyses between HHEAR components and participating investigators.
Children's Health Exposure Analysis Resource (CHEAR)
From 2015–2019, NIEHS funded the CHEAR program. CHEAR was similar to HHEAR, but focused on prenatal, childhood, and adolescent life stages. NIH researchers had access to CHEAR laboratory and statistical analyses to aid the understanding of environmental exposures in children’s health research.
CHEAR supported over 30 studies, providing targeted and untargeted analytical measurements for over 50,000 specimens. Projects assessed a broad range of environmental exposures including phthalates, phenols, metals, per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), and flame retardants. Projects also assessed associated biological responses including oxidative stress, DNA damage, and epigenomics. CHEAR studies explored health outcomes such as asthma, diabetes, autism, obesity, and pregnancy outcomes.
A public data repository houses harmonized biomarker and epidemiologic data from CHEAR studies. This resource promotes secondary analysis of pooled children’s environmental health data by providing data in a manner that is searchable, accessible, interoperable, and reusable. Researchers can search CHEAR studies and download public deidentified datasets though the HHEAR Data Center.
The CHEAR program is no longer accepting applications. Researchers should submit applications for new environmental exposure analytical services through HHEAR.
Information about current and previously funded institutions can be found on the Exposure Analysis Resources grantee webpage.
Claudia Thompson, Ph.D.
Population Health Branch
P.O. Box 12233Mail Drop K3-04Durham, NC 27709