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' – the totality of exposure of a person experiences during his or her lifetime – can help to close this gap in knowledge and enable the development of preventive measures.
For many common disorders, such as respiratory and cardiovascular disorders and cancer, exposures in our environment are an important risk factor, in addition to genetic predisposition. “The total amount of exposure during a person's life and the reaction of his or her body to it, the exposome, can help us to better understand and to quantify disease burden. This gives us information that can help in the development of effective prevention tools”, according to TNO researchers Anjoeka Pronk and Rob Stierum.
“The exposome can help us to better understand and quantify the disease burden”
External and internal exposome
A wide variety of factors in the environment we grow up, work, exercise, sleep and relax in determine the likelihood and course of disease. These exposures range from chemical exposures in the working and urban environment, such as (air) pollution, to lifestyle factors, such as diet or smoking, social interactions and stress etc. These external exposures are, unlike genetic factors, modifiable and dynamic and therefore have the potential for prevention. However, there is too little insight in the association between exposures and health for effective prevention. It is still unclear how the total combination of exposures (the external exposome) is related to the biological response in the body (internal exposome). New emerging technologies such as sensor technology, Internet of Things, omics and big data offer the possibility to gain more insight into the external and internal exposes.
Exposome research is mainly performed in academic settings. TNO thinks the time is right for a transition from basic research to the first applications. To facilitate translational exposome research and to use exposome knowledge and technologies for health applications, TNO has established the Applied Exposome Program. “Together with partners we work on innovative techniques for measurement of personal external and internal exposures, we develop models for assessment of the relationship between the exposome and health and we develop preventive strategies at group level and personalized interventions based on exposome technologies. We focus on high risk populations, both on vulnerable groups (such as children, patients) and on groups at high risk of exposure (eg during their work)”, say Pronk and Stierum.
“The time is right for a transition from basic research to the first applications”
TNO’s vision on the potential of the exposome for enhancing health is described in the white paper ‘EXPOSOME: connecting the dots for effective prevention of disease’, as is the need for an alliance between academia, the private sector and end-users to accomplish substantial health enhancements.
The first steps have already been taken when it comes to collaboration. On March 13, the Utrecht Exposome Hub will be launched by Utrecht University in collaboration with public and private partners like TNO and RIVM.
White paper Exposome: connecting the dots for effective prevention of disease
Would you like more information on how the exposome can improve our health? Read our white paper.