A review article in the journal Science by researchers at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health; Utrecht University; University of Luxembourg; and Northeastern University reviews progress in assessing the components of the exposome and its implications on health. The researchers call for efforts on the scale of the Human Genome Project to map the cumulative health effects of environmental exposures. The researchers argue that a similar large-scale effort is needed to ensure a more complete picture of disease risk by accounting for the exposome, defined as our cumulative exposure to environmental agents such as chemical pollutants.
“Our genes are not our destiny, nor do they provide a complete picture of our risk for disease,” says senior author Dr. Gary Miller, Vice Dean for Research Strategy and Innovation and professor of environmental health sciences at the Columbia Mailman School. “Our health is also shaped by what we eat and do, our experiences, and where we live and work.”
Traditionally, our understanding of the health effects of chemicals has come from epidemiological and toxicological studies that analyze one or a small number of pollutants at a time. “However, the challenge lies not only in the large number of chemical exposures in our daily lives, but also in the complex ways they interact with cells,” the authors write.
Among the challenges to exposome research are that enrollment in studies of nongenetic environmental exposures remains relatively low. In addition to sample size, the authors call for improvements in screening technology to identify associations; network theory to elucidate the consequences of the chemical environment; and replication in independent studies and the use of methods to establish causation.Friday Letter Submission, Publish on January 31