Applied exposome programme: exposures interacting with our health

Our health is impacted by the environment in which we grow up, live, work, enjoy sport, sleep and relax. The combination of exposures over our lifetime strongly influences the risk of the development of disease. This has given rise to the concept “exposome”; the totality of exposures people experience during their lifetime and how their bodies respond to them. 

Read more about the Exposome and our programme

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TNO is working together with partners on technology and methods to monitor and interpret these exposures, relate them to health effects and to develop effective methods of prevention.

The promising potential of the exposome

Many common disorders are closely linked to exposures that range from lifestyle factors to chemical exposures, social interactions and stress. Collectively, these exposures have a huge impact on health in society. Many exposures can potentially be modified to prevent disease. Unfortunately, we often can’t explain why one person will develop a certain disease while another won’t, due to the complex interrelation between exposures and effects.

The exposome concept can help bridge this gap in knowledge. This will provide important information that can form the basis of prevention, for example: why one person becomes ill and another doesn’t under the same circumstances, how different exposures combined may lead to effects on health, and what the early signs of the negative effects of exposures are.

Exposome and working life health

Since people spend a large part of their lives at work, occupational exposure is an important factor. Exposures at work often are higher and more complex than generally outdoors or in home environments, and working is closely related to lifestyle and behaviour (e.g. diet, physical activity, smoking and alcohol consumption) and socio-economic status. We apply the exposome concept to occupational exposures in order to develop evidence-based and effective preventive measures that enhance workplace health:

  • Sensors and sensor-based methods for obtaining personal exposure profiles throughout the working day, providing better insights into who is exposed, where a person is during higher exposures and what the reasons for this exposure are. Read more: virtual occupational hygiene assistant;
  • Innovation of other internal and external exposure assessment techniques such as a point of care assay for biomarkers of benzene in urine or passive sampling devices.
  • Combining data mining methods with internal exposure and exposure-response modelling in order to obtain mechanistic insights that will help identify early markers of disease, exposures with similar health effects or insights on vulnerability. In addition, these techniques can contribute to innovation of risk assessment methods.
  • Lastly, TNO coordinates the EU EPHOR project in which a large consortium of EU partners develops and applies methods and tools to characterize the working-life exposome in order to obtain better and more complete knowledge on the working-life exposome. The developed methods and knowledge will be made available to scientists, occupational health practitioners and policy makers in a toolbox. Read more about the project.

Exposome and urabn health

Everybody is exposed to urban exposures such as air pollution, noise and heat during their life. We therefore develop methods to better characterize exposures in an urban environment by combining sensors with high resolution environmental modelling:

  • In the Eindhoven Area, TNO is mapping air quality on an individual level by setting up large-scale sensor networks together with industry, public authorities, citizens and knowledge institutes. Read more about measuring air quality.
  • Within the Precisie geneeskunde voor meer zuurstof (P4O2) consortium led by AMC, TNO in collaboration with a company that has developed a COPD health management tool will develop a methodology for assessing indoor air quality exposure in COPD patients which will be incorporated in the health management tool for more optimal prevention of attacks.

That is why we develop models and biomarkers to characterise the internal exposome (doorlink pagina). In addition, we further develop and apply exposome methods, e.g. sensors, passive sampling, data mining, and (non-invasive) biomonitoring methods in large groups of workers, in the EU EPHOR project that we coordinate.

Immune Exposome

Between 15 and 20% of the people in the western world suffer from inflammatory diseases. Inflammatory processes also play a central role in many other disorders. The functioning of the immune system is driven by inflammatory balances. These balances depend on a complex interplay between intrinsic (host) and extrinsic (chemical and microbial) factors. At TNO we investigate the key extrinsic factors involved and the mechanisms and interactions through which these interact with our immune system, which is crucial for the development of safe and effective interventions and management practices for allergic and inflammatory diseases. Read more about allergic and inflammatory diseases.

Join us

Thanks to our multidisciplinary nature and our in-house experts ranging from sensor developers to exposure scientists and from systems biologists to behavioural scientists, we are able to unravel the exposome.

Together with partners from industry and research, we work in partnerships that are essential for taking this field further, towards applications. We have strategic partnerships with the NIOSH in the US and HSE in the UK and with the Utrecht Exposome Hub on exposome research. If you would like to know more about our exposome activities or collaborate with us, please get in touch.

Learn more about our exposome activities and business opportunities

Get in touch with Anjoeka Pronk

TNO Insights

EXPOSOME: connecting the dots for effective prevention of disease

12 March 2018
Our (work) environment has an important, and potentially avoidable, impact on our health. Knowledge about the precise effects of exposures in our environment is still limited. The concept 'exposome' –... Read more
TNO Insights

This is how we trace harmful substances even faster

31 August 2016
TNO has developed a method for rapidly detecting exposure to benzene. This is a nice example of personalized sensing, a type of sensor system that is used to better manage environmental impacts on people.... Read more
TNO Insights

Smart sensors for a healthy and safe working environment

14 January 2021
The effects of occupational illnesses are far-reaching. Every year, thousands of people die as a result of long-term exposure to hazardous substances. That has to change. To that end, TNO is developing... Read more
Our work

Applying sensors for preventing occupational diseases in the future

Occupational diseases are still common. Annually, approximately 4000 (former) employees die in the Netherlands and a multiple of that figure become ill as a result of being exposed to hazardous substances... Read more

Dr. ir. Anjoeka Pronk