The Exposome: Measuring Multiple Factors Impacting Our Health

September 18, 2013
1:00 pm US Eastern Time

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The 'exposome' is a measure of the effects of environmental exposures (including lifestyle factors) on health from conception throughout life and is a key determinant of chronic disease. The term was first coined by Dr. Christopher Wild, a cancer epidemiologist, in a 2005 article entitled "Complementing the Genome with an 'Exposome': The Outstanding Challenge of Environmental Exposure Measurement in Molecular Epidemiology."  

Several initiatives focusing on the exposome have been launched in the US over the last couple years. The National Academy of Sciences hosted a meeting in December of 2011 entitled "Emerging Technologies for Measuring Individual Exposomes." The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention developed an overview, "Exposome and Exposomics", which outlines the three priority areas for researching the occupational exposome as identified by the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health. The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has made investments in technologies that support exposome-related research, including biosensors, and supports research on gene-environment interactions. In May, 2013, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) awarded a Core Center Grant to Emory University focused on the exposome. The idea of a Human Exposome Project, analogous to the Human Genome Project, has been proposed and discussed in numerous scientific meetings, but has not yet been launched.

This CHE call featured two leading national experts, Dr. Stephen Rappaport and Dr. David Balshaw, who provided an overview of what we currently understand about the exposome, the challenges of measuring it, and some highlights of the emerging research in this exciting new field.

Featured Speakers

Dr. Stephen RappaportStephen Rappaport, PhD, is director and principal investigator at the Berkeley Center for Exposure Biology, a multidisciplinary program that brings together Berkeley researchers from public health, chemistry, and electrical engineering to develop a new generation of biomarkers and biosensors for environmental epidemiology. He is a pioneer in the emerging field of exposure biology and a prominent advocate of the concept of the exposome as a new paradigm for environmental health. Much of his current research involves the development and application of blood protein adducts as biomarkers of exposure to toxic chemicals arising from inhalation, ingestion and endogenous processes. This has led to the concept of the protein adductome, representing signatures of people’s exposures to toxic chemicals. By comparing adductomes across populations, Dr. Rappaport hopes to identify important biomarkers of chronic diseases. He has also used environmental measurements and biomarkers to elucidate the human metabolism of several toxic chemicals, notably benzene, and to quantify interindividual variability in biomarker levels due to genetic, environmental and lifestyle factors. Dr. Rappaport has also published extensively in areas related to the assessment of long-term chemical exposures for purposes of controlling hazards and of investigating exposure-response relationships. He has more than 200 peer-reviewed publications and has collaborated extensively with investigators throughout the world.

David BalshawDr. David Balshaw is a program director in the Center for Risk and Integrated Sciences at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. Dr. Balshaw is responsible for planning and administration of NIEHS-funded research programs in bioengineering, integrated systems and computational methods to understand complex systems; development of sensor technologies for environmental exposure assessment; discovery and validation of emerging biomarkers; and application of innovative "omics" research for reducing the risk of exposure and disease including development of databases. He is the primary NIEHS scientist overseeing the development of emerging technologies with particular emphasis on enabling innovative approaches to improving exposure and risk assessment. To this end, Dr. Balshaw has been a leading figure in the development of the Exposure Biology Program to develop a new generation of tools to characterize the personal environment integrating direct, personal assessment of multiple chemical factors, dietary intake, physical activity and psychosocial stress as well as assessment of the biological response to these factors on major biological pathways.

The call was moderated by Elise Miller, MEd, director of CHE.