Assessing individual exposure to environmental stressors and predicting health outcomes implies that both environmental exposures and epi/genetic variations are reliably measured simultaneously. HEALS (Health and Environment-wide Associations based on Large population Surveys) aims at integrating in an innovative approach a comprehensive array of novel technologies, data analysis and modelling tools that support efficiently exposome studies. The exposome represents the totality of exposures from conception onwards, simultaneously identifying, characterizing and quantifying the exogenous and endogenous exposures and modifiable risk factors that predispose to and predict diseases throughout a person’s life span.
The overall objective of HEALS is to refine an integrated method and the application of analytical and computational tools related to conducting health environmental studies across the European Union. The HEALS approach compiles and organises environmental, socio-economic, exposure, biomarker and health effect data; in addition, it includes all the procedures and computational sequences necessary for applying advanced bioinformatics coupling thus effective data mining, biological and exposure modelling so as to ensure that environmental exposure health associations are studied comprehensively.
The general approach is to verify and refine a series of population studies across Europe including cohorts of twins in order to deal with different levels of environmental exposure, exposure windows, and socio-economic and genetic variability. The HEALS approach will be applied in a pilot study and a study of children’s health checks, including both single and twin pregnancies, covering different EU member states (the EXHES Study). The lessons learned will be translated into scientific recommendations for the development of protocols and guidelines for the creation of the biggest and most homogenous European environment for the study of health checks.
The HEALS project will combine and organise data on the environment, socio-economics, customs and lifestyle, exposure to environmental stress factors, biomarkers and the effects on health. Moreover, the project includes the application of advanced bioinformatics, biological modelling and exposure in order to guarantee that the associations between environmental exposure and the effects on health are exhaustively studied. The exposome appears to be a very promising tool for a better understanding of the complexity of the interactions between the genome and the environment, particularly in the investigation of large populations. The nature of the exposome will lead to a better understanding of the causal relationships between the environment and disease.
The HEALS project is financed by the EU’s 7th Framework Programme (FP7-603946).