Campus News

What is the exposome? 3 reasons why USC scientists care about this new field of research—and why you should too

December 07, 2021
Image of globe amid field of grass.

By Sarah Rock

Leading experts in the fields of data science, environmental epidemiology and translational research recently held a workshop to discuss the future direction of a relatively new area of research known as the exposome.

The concept of the exposome was first introduced in 2005 by molecular epidemiologist Christopher Wild, who called on the scientific community to develop a field that measures all the exposures individuals experience in their lifetimes and how those affect health. Exposome research would offer an environmental complement to balance the investment of resources and research in the genome.  

The field is in its adolescence, and the Exposome and Health Workshop, held by USC’s Center for Translational Research on Environmental Health (R-TEN), featured a number of talks which fostered important discussions on the current status, knowledge gaps, and future directions in exposome research.

A recurring theme: Each speaker highlighted the need to expand exposome research through advanced technology and data-integration methods while implementing solutions-oriented research framework, translational study design, and cross-disciplinary collaborations.

Headshot of Lida Chatzi
Lida Chatzi

“The goal of the workshop was to share current work across a number of different research areas related to the exposome. This type of meeting inspires new ideas for research,” said Lida Chatzi, MD, PhD, a physician-environmental epidemiologist, director of R-TEN, and workshop organizer. “Cross-institutional collaborations are crucial in exposomic research.”

One session, “Unraveling the Exposome: Exposure Mixtures and Data Science Approaches,” focused on the complexities of exposure assessment and data analysis. Topics included current methods in exposure and outcome assessment, understanding exposure mixtures, and complexities of data integration.

A second session focused on a “solutions-oriented exposome research” and featured range of topics from the role of diet in exposome research to environment-induced liver disease. This session highlighted the critical need for exposome research to inform public health policy.

“Studying the exposome is complex, requiring large-scale studies, new analytical techniques and interdisciplinary collaboration,” said Chatzi, a professor of population and public health sciences. “While lifestyle choices may have influence on exposure and overall health effects, ultimately, large-scale intervention will have the greatest impact.”

R-TEN, a new center at Keck School of Medicine of USC, is one of the first translational research centers with a focus on environmental health. The center’s overarching goal is to support and facilitate inter-disciplinary research focused on understanding how the environment affect chronic diseases and to use this understanding for informed decision-making, policy changes, and the protection of human health.