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Smartphones and high-tech laboratories to reveal health effects of environmental pollutants

Tuesday, November 27th, 2012

Smartphones and high-tech laboratories to reveal health effects of environmental pollutants

New technologies for sensing chemicals that people are exposed to and their effects in the body will help scientists work towards a complete picture of how environmental pollutants influence health in a major EU initiative being launched yesterday at the WHO the International Agency for Research on Cancer in Lyon.

Researchers will use smartphones equipped with GPS and environmental sensors to monitor potential hazards that study participants are exposed to. This information will be combined with blood and urine analysis to investigate whether exposure to risk factors leaves chemical fingerprints that can be detected in bodily fluids.

Two projects were launched jointly the 26th November. The first was the Exposomics project, valued at €8.7 million and involving 12 partner institutions led by Imperial College London. The other was the HELIX Project of a similar value; it is led by the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL), involves 13 partner institutions, and is focused on early life exposome. Together, this joint launch marks the EU’s biggest investment in environmental health research to date.

The HELIX project will build an early life exposome. Pregnancy and the early years of life are well recognized to be periods of high susceptibility to environmental damage with lifetime consequences. Martine Vrijheid, from CREAL and coordinator of HELIX, adds: “Characterisation of the exposome in early life can provide very effective tools for disease prevention, given that interventions at that time can reshape biological programming and shift the body’s developmental track to the normal function”. This makes early life a major starting point for development of the exposome.

The exposome is all of the environmental components, including lifestyle factors and chemicals we are exposed to, that influence our health over the course of a lifetime. The new projects will develop high-tech tools to improve our ability to measure the exposome, with a particular focus on multiple chemical exposures in food, air and water during critical periods of life.

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