European researchers are going to monitor thousands of people by giving them smartphones, which will record the chemicals to which they are exposed to every day.
Two projects announced this week that they had won €17.3 million ($22.4 million) from the European Commission to study the exposome, the effects of environmental exposures on health. The four-year studies are supposed to help public research in ways that genome research hasn’t.
Genomic studies, in which scientists search for genetic variants linked to disease, have failed to explain why some people are more susceptible than others to chronic disease, like type 2 diabetes. A possible reason for this is that there has been an emphasis on genetic factors instead of environmental factors.
Participants will carry smartphones equipped with sensors to measure their exposures, and their blood will also be analyzed for molecular changes. Most of these subjects are already involved in other long-term health studies. The goal is to look for biomarker differences between people walking through areas with low air pollution and those exposed to urban fumes in order to understand the triggers for heart disease, asthma, and lung cancer.
The second project will focus on children and pregnant women, since children are most vulnerable to environmental factors because their bodies are smaller and their organs are still developing. The scientists will track disease biomarkers to assess the effects of environmental exposures on growth, obesity, immune development, and asthma.
There has been also a growing interest in exposomics in the USA. This year, the US National Research Council called for greater investment in exposome research and the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences plans on making it a priority