HHEAR is funded by the NIEHS; the National Cancer Institute; the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute; and the National Institutes of Health Environmental Influences on Child Health Outcomes (ECHO) program. The initiative, which began in 2019, provides a comprehensive set of resources for researchers seeking to advance knowledge of the exposome. This term refers to the totality of environmental exposures – and their corresponding biological changes – that humans experience throughout life.
“Today we have 44 approved studies with the analysis of some 70,000 samples from more than 35,000 people, as well as 139 targeted chemical exposures,” Balshaw said. “Twenty-three of the studies are now fully accessible to the public.”
This Data repository is updated as relevant studies become publicly available, giving researchers access to a wealth of important scientific information. They can use this data to perform secondary analyzes and improve their own exposome research.
“We really built this to allow for harmonization and integration of disparate studies, even if they use different measures,” Balshaw noted.
The evolution of the exposome
Balshaw described the history of the exposome and some of the challenges associated with studying it. The term has evolved since its inception in 2005, when the first article on the subject sought to place the exposome on an equal footing with the genome in the biomedical research community’s efforts to understand human health and disease.
“The environment is a massive, ill-defined set of factors,” Balshaw said. “Think of it as anything that is not encoded by genes, which is hereditary versus which is stochastic [involving random variables]. It’s very dynamic,” he added.
“By far the majority of publications that use the word exposome are using it as a buzzword,” Balshaw said, suggesting the need for further analysis, which HHEAR can activate. “In my opinion, there have only been a handful of projects that are powerful examples demonstrating the value of exposome.”
Precision Environmental Hygiene
According to Balshaw, there is enormous potential for HHEAR to advance the scientific framework known as precision environmental health. The idea is to integrate comprehensive exposure research with genetic analysis to get a more complete picture of an individual’s disease risk.
“Precision environmental health is focused on prevention, while precision medicine is focused on treating disease,” Balshaw explained.
“What really appeals to me is seeking a deep level of understanding of the mechanistic underpinnings of exposures and then translating that into individual risk assessment and intervention to reduce disease burden,” he said. declared.
Access to HHEAR tools and resources
HHEAR consists of three main components, including the following.
- Six laboratories of National Network of Exposure Assessment Laboratories (Lab Hubs) provide consulting and laboratory services for the analysis of biological and environmental samples associated with human health.
- the Data repository, analysis and science center (Data Center) at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai maintains a public access repository for data generated by Lab Hubs and epidemiological data provided by HHEAR customers. The Center also offers statistical analysis, data integration and interpretation services to its clients.
- the Coordination Centerhosted by Westatconnects the research community to HHEAR Lab Hubs and the Data Center.
Check the sidebar for more information on HHEAR resources and how to apply.
The next HHEAR webinar will take place on April 12 and registration is available. It will feature Shankar Subramanyam, Ph.D., a professor at the University of California, San Diego, and Susan Teitelbaum, Ph.D., head of the Mount Sinai Data Center. They will focus on the do’s and don’ts of data sharing.
(John Yewell is contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)