The thought could be scary, knowing how much toxins you inhale everyday. Through the help of technology European researchers are gearing up to monitor thousands of people. Smartphones are given away to record the chemicals to which they are exposed every day.
Exposome, the term used by European Commission to study the effects of environmental exposures to human health. It was then hope that the four-year studies will benefit public health in ways that genome research so far has not. Exposone could reveal a warning or warnings of environmental health issues for use.
“There’s been too much emphasis on genetic factors, which contribute relatively little to disease compared with environmental factors,” says Martyn Smith, a toxicologist at the University of California, Berkeley, who is participating in the newly funded Exposomics project. Paolo Vineis, an environmental epi¬demiologist at Imperial College London, leads the €8.7-million project.
Some studies do not always succeed like the Genome-wide association studies, in which scientists search for genetic variants linked to disease. They have failed to fully explain why some people are more susceptible than others to chronic diseases, such as type 2 diabetes.
The new study will work this way, subjects will carry smartphones equipped with sensors to measure exposures, and their blood will be analyzed to monitor molecular changes. The majority of the participants are already concerned in other long-term health studies. In order to understand the triggers for conditions such as heart disease, asthma and lung cancer, goal is to look for biomarker differences between people walking through areas with low air pollution and those exposed to urban fumes. The idea is to differentiate the difference the toxins will cause the human health basing on their environment. Vineis’s exposomics approach has already exposed gene-expression signatures that connect people’s leukaemia risk with their exposure to heavy metals and other toxic chemicals, for example.
The second project will focus on children and pregnant women. Since children’s bodies are smaller and their organs are still developing they are more susceptible to environmental influences, this is according to epidemiologist Martine Vrijheid, head of the project, at the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology in Barcelona, Spain. The researchers will be focused on disease biomarkers to evaluate the consequence of environmental exposures on growth, obesity, immune development and asthma. Both projects will generate vast amounts of data. Vineis and Vrijheid are developing data-sharing policies to enable other researchers to mine the resource in order to have a more productive outcome so that they may be able to give appropriate warning to the public.
“We see this as a major priority,” says the institute’s David Balshaw. United States became interested in exposomics as well. This year the US National Research Count started to call for greater investments in exposome research. In further adieu the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences plans to make it a priority, although it has yet to invest in any projects as large as the European efforts, he added.