New EXIMIOUS SOP tool for biological samples published

The EXIMIOUS project has released a new Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) tool as part of their toolbox to standardise the collection, storage, and shipment of biological samples for analysing internal exposome markers.

The EXIMIOUS project, which gathers extensive data to study exposome markers, operates across diverse sites such as mines, factories, and hospitals. This complexity necessitates a unified protocol to ensure sample consistency and quality across various centers and partner organisations.

The new SOP tool outlines detailed procedures for sample collection, processing, storage, and shipment, with a strong focus on maintaining sample integrity. Quality assurance was a key focus, with pilot samples being collected and assessed before finalising the protocols.

For more information and to access the SOP tool, visit the EXIMIOUS project website.

Read the recently published sixth EHEN newsletter spotlighting the network’s progress

The European Human Exposome Network (EHEN) has recently published the sixth issue of its newsletter, packed with updates and insights from all projects. This edition features a preview of the HEAP Symposium, which will present the latest results from the EHEN Working Group on Ethics and Law.

Beyond the symposium preview, the newsletter will provide comprehensive progress updates from all EHEN projects, including EXPANSE, ATHLETE, EQUAL-LIFE, LONGITOOLS, EPHOR, REMEDIA, and HEDIMED. Readers can expect the latest biographies of key researchers, news highlights, upcoming events, and recent publications across the network.

The May 2024 newsletter is available online. Stay informed for an in-depth look at how these collaborative efforts are advancing our understanding of the environmental impacts on health and driving innovative solutions.

‘Internal effect markers’ – Take-aways from the 6th EXIMIOUS Symposium

The sixth EXIMIOUS Symposium was held online Thursday, 7 March 2024, attracting around 40 participants. This edition, titled “Internal effect markers: immune, genetics and epigenetics”, zoomed in on the topic of the impacts environmental and occupational exposures have on our health through three talks by the invited experts Dr. Unni Cecilie Nygaard (Norwegian Institute of Public Health), Dr. Mariona Bustamante (Barcelona Institute for Global Health), and Dr. Rossella Alfano (Hasselt University, Centre for Environmental Sciences). Did you miss the event? Read on as we share our key takeaways from the symposium with you. You can also watch the full video recording on the EXIMIOUS YouTube channel.

After a brief introduction to the EXIMIOUS project and the symposium by EXIMIOUS coordinator Prof. Peter Hoet (KU Leuven), the presentations kicked off with a talk from an EXIMIOUS researcher Dr. Unni Cecilie Nygaard from the Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH). She was the first to present her work on single cell profiling by mass cytometry as a promising tool for advancing environmental health and toxicology. As Dr. Nygaard explains, various environmental factors (e.g. air pollution, chemicals, etc.) have increased the incidence rate of immune diseases, which result in adverse health effects such as auto-immunity, increased hyper-sensitivity or immuno-suppression. With a lack of guideline tests to identify sensitive and relative endpoints, there is a need for new methods to identify diseases associated with immunotoxicity. Dr. Nygaard explained that the new methods should consider two important concepts: to capture the complexity of the immune system and the depth of the immune response. To achieve this, her research has focused on the use of single cell profiling by mass cytometry (CyTOF) to capture the two concepts. The advantage of using this method is that you get high-dimensional information about the phenotype and functions of a cell from a single sample. In one of Dr. Nygaard’s ongoing studies in the EXIMIUOS project, demonstrated that the method of single cell analysis is a sensitive tool to reveal immune cell profiles associated with diseases. Future research will enhance these insights and exploit other sensitive endpoints such as metabolism and epigenetic markers.

The second speaker, Dr. Mariona Bustamante from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGGlobal) in Spain, presented a perspective on the topic of epigenetic marks of the exposome. More specifically, how the internal exposome is measured using candidate biomarkers or omics technologies, which is a way to quantify various biological molecules in a cell. Dr. Bustamante explains how DNA methylation, a type of epigenetic modification that regulates gene expression, can be used to study biological mechanisms connected to the exposome and predict exposures that lead to various diseases. In one of Dr. Bustamante’s ongoing studies, epigenetic data was used to study the biological mechanism of maternal smoking during pregnancy and the placental genome. The study revealed an increased number of DNA methylation sites in the placenta of smoking mothers which is directly associated with the quantity of smoking during the pregnancy. In this context, it means that some factors crucial for fetal development are affected. The take-home message? Epigenetic data can be used not only to study biological mechanisms but also to predict exposures and associated diseases.

The final talk from Dr. Rossella Alfano from the Hasselt University, Centre for Environmental Sciences (CMK) in Belgium, presented her research and insights from multi-omics analysis, specifically to unlock the role of cholesterol in birthweight. As Dr. Alfano explains, there have been many studies that directly relate smoking during pregnancy to a variation of birthweight and the occurrence of diseases in later life. In one of Dr. Alfano’s studies, the exposome-wide study with the use of multi-omics was able to detect exposures directly related to cholesterol in mothers and birthweight of children. Future research will enhance these insights by looking at the potential association of cholesterol in birthweight with childhood traits and disease correlation.

The EXIMIOUS consortium would like to thank the speakers for sharing their latest work and valuable insights with the audience. It is evident that their research will a great impact on society.

We are looking forward to bringing you more exposome research highlights at the next EXIMIOUS Symposium in Autumn 2024, so stay tuned! If you’d like to be notified about the next symposia you can also subscribe here and we’ll send you an invitation in due time.

EXIMIOUS launches first online tool: DMP-CHECK

One of EXIMIOUS’s main objectives is to develop a toolbox catering to diverse stakeholders, facilitating their understanding and use of the project’s findings, outcomes and results. This toolbox will provide resources tailored for patients, researchers, policymakers, and decision-makers, empowering them to generate data and insights, even beyond the end of the EXIMIOUS project. 

EXIMIOUS has published its first online tool. Named DMP-CHECK, it focuses on Data Management Planning (DMP), essential for occupational and environmental exposome research. 

Drawing from insights gained in the EU-funded Horizon 2020 EXIMIOUS project, the DMP-CHECK addresses challenges in data collection and analysis. It ensures compliance with ethical and legal standards while making research data FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable) and GDPR compliant.

The tool, accompanied by an explanatory video can be found online.

EXIMIOUS scientific meeting 2024: advancing research on exposure-induced immune effects

Barcelona, February 22-23, 2024

In a collaborative effort to propel advancements in understanding exposure-induced immune effects, the EXIMIOUS scientific meeting took place at the esteemed Vall d’Hebron Research Institute in Barcelona from 22-23 February 2024. The event, organised and hosted by the Institute, saw participation of 40 people representing the 16 partners involved in the EXIMIOUS project.

The EXIMIOUS project, funded by the European Union, is dedicated to Mapping Exposure-Induced Immune Effects: Connecting the Exposome and the Immunome. With the ultimate goal of shedding light on the intricate interplay between environmental exposures and immune responses, the project aims to pave the way for more targeted interventions and treatments.

The two-day event was structured into seven sessions, each delving into different aspects crucial to the project’s overarching objectives covering Biological Sample Collection and Analysis, Exposure Assessment, Scientific Presentations and Discussions, Publications and Research Focus, Data Integration, Management and Coordination and Communication, Dissemination, and Exploitation

The EXIMIOUS scientific meeting highlights the collaborative efforts aimed at unraveling the complexities of exposure-induced immune effects. By bringing together the EXIMIOUS partners’ expertise from diverse backgrounds and disciplines, the event not only facilitated knowledge exchange but also laid the groundwork for future innovations in the field.

Registration is open for sixth EXIMIOUS Symposium on internal effect markers

The sixth EXIMIOUS Symposium, titled “Internal effect markers: immune, genetics and epigenetics” will take place on 7th March 2024. Register now and join us online at 15:00 – 17:00 (CEST) to learn more.

People are often exposed to multiple substances from different sources at the same time. Several of these environmental and occupational factors (exposures) have significant impact on our health. Knowledge of the biological response can help us better understand the effect of such exposure and mechanisms underlying different environmental and occupational diseases. This can be achieved by studying the biological responses to external factors, through molecular and omics analyses (immunome, epigenome, proteome…).

Our three invited experts will present their latest research on the topic, each highlighting a different aspect

Dr. Unni Cecilie Nygaard’s presentation will focus on single cell profiling by mass cytometry – a promising tool for advancing environmental health and toxicology. After this, Dr. Mariona Bustamante from the Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal) will focus on epigenetic marks of the exposome. Lastly, Dr. Rossella Alfano will present her research and insights from multi omics analysis, specifically on unlocking the role of cholesterol in birthweight.

A dedicated time for Q&A will follow each of the presentations. Like our previous symposia, this sixth EXIMIOUS Symposium is open to all audiences.

Programme EXIMIOUS Symposium
“Internal effect markers: immune, genetics and epigenetics ”

Time Title Speaker

15:00 - 15:15

Welcome and introduction from the EXIMIOUS coordinator

Prof. Peter Hoet
Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Belgium

15:15 - 15:50

Single cell profiling by mass cytometry – a promising tool for advancing environmental health and toxicology

Dr. Unni Cecilie Nygaard

Norwegian Institute of Public Health (NIPH), Norway

15:50 - 16:25

Epigenetic marks of the exposome

Dr. Mariona Bustamante

Barcelona Institute for Global Health (ISGlobal), Spain

16:25 - 17:00

Unlocking the role of cholesterol in birthweight: insights from multi omics analysis

Dr. Rossella Alfano

University of Hasselt, Centre for Environmental Sciences, Belgium

Speakers

ucny_2019

Unni Cecilie Nygaard, PhD, is a researcher in the field of immunology, and is heading the Section for Immunology at the Norwegian Institute of Public Health. She has extensive experience within immunotoxicology and environmental health, lately involving studies of effects of environmental exposures on immune cell function. Unni is passionate about exploiting the opportunities of high dimensional single cell analyses and systems immunology within the fields of immunotoxicology, environmental medicine, vaccinology and infection control. She is the work package leader for WP4 Immunome in EXIMIOUS.

Mariona

Mariona Bustamante has a in biochemistry and human genetics. Her PhD focused on the identification of genetic variants associated to complex diseases and the functional validation in in vitro models. Currently, she investigates the genetic causes of complex phenotypes and their interaction with environmental exposures. She joined ISGlobal in 2010 as a postdoctoral researcher and now has a position as staff scientist in the area of molecular epidemiology.

PHOTO-2022-09-26-11-25-14 (1)

Rossella Alfano is a Medical Doctor, qualified specialist in Public Health at the University ‘Federico II’, (Naples, Italy). In 2017, Dr. Alfano joined the Epidemiology group of the Centre for Environmental Science at the Hasselt University (Hasselt, Belgium). Under the mentorship of Professor Michelle Plusquin, she completed her PhD in Biomedical Sciences. She now serves as junior Postdoctoral Researcher funded by the Research Foundation – Flanders. Her research interests include epidemiology, birth cohort research and omics. Her main work focuses on integrating omics (epigenomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, and metabolomics) to elucidate the mechanisms underlying health and disease across the lifespan.

New publication: Data management and protection in occupational and environmental exposome research – A case study from the EU-funded EXIMIOUS project

We are happy to announce that our new publication on “Data management and protection in occupational and environmental exposome research – A case study from the EU-funded EXIMIOUS project” has been published by Environmental Research and is available to read online.

Within collaborative projects, such as the EU-funded Horizon 2020 EXIMIOUS project (Mapping Exposure-Induced Immune Effects: Connecting the Exposome and the Immunome), collection and analysis of large volumes of data pose challenges in the domain of data management, with regards to both ethical and legal aspects. However, researchers often lack the right tools and/or accurate understanding of the ethical/legal framework to independently address such challenges. With the guidance and support within and between the partner institutes (the researchers and the ethical and legal teams) in the EXIMIOUS project, we have been able to understand and solve most challenges during the first two project years. This has fed into the development of a Data Management Plan and the establishment of data management platforms in accordance with the ethical and legal framework laid down by the EU and the different national regulations of the partners involved. Through this elaborate exercise, we have acquired tools which allow us to make our research data FAIR (Findable, Accessible, Interoperable, and Reusable), while at the same time ensuring data privacy and security (GDPR compliant). Herein we share our experience of creating and managing the data workflow through an open research communication, with the aim of helping other researchers build their data management framework in their own projects. Based on the measures adopted in EXIMIOUS to ensure FAIR data management, we also put together a checklist “DMP CHECK” containing a series of recommendations based on our experience.

 

‘Risk assessment of mixed exposures’ – Take-aways from the 5th EXIMIOUS Symposium

Mapping Exposure-Induced Immune Effects: Connecting the Exposome and the Immunome

‘Risk assessment of mixed exposures’ – Take-aways from the 5th EXIMIOUS Symposium

5 October, 2023

The fifth EXIMIOUS Symposium was held online on Thursday, 28 September 2023, attracting 60 participants. This edition, titled “Risk assessment of mixed exposures: particles, carcinogens, and EU policies”, zoomed in on the topic of combined exposure through three talks by the invited experts Prof. Ulla Vogel (National Research Centre for the Working Environment), Prof. Tiina Santonen (Finnish Institute of Occupational Health), and Dr. Violaine Verougstraete (Eurometaux).

Did you miss (parts of) the event? Read on as we share our key takeaways from the symposium with you. You can also watch the full video recording on the EXIMIOUS YouTube channel.

After a brief introduction to the EXIMIOUS project and the symposium by EXIMIOUS coordinator Prof. Peter Hoet (KU Leuven), the presentations kicked off with a talk by EXIMIOUS researcher Prof. Ulla Vogel from the National Research Centre for the Working Environment in Denmark. Her research shows that inhalation of particles is a risk factor for the development of cardiovascular disease. More specifically, the key mechanism at work involves induction of the acute phase response in the lung and liver. Acute phase response is a systemic response to inflammatory states that can be caused by different factors. The acute phase response is causally related to atherosclerosis. In this case, it is triggered by the particles retained in the lung. This mechanism has been shown to apply to more than 100 different particles and nanomaterials tested. Prof. Vogel also shows that particle size matters when it comes to predicting the health effects of inhaling particles: the acute phase response is predicted by the total surface area of the particles retained in the lung. The take-home message? Cardiovascular disease is a preventable particle-induced occupational disease, and there is a huge preventive potential. The association with particle-induced acute phase response may help us establish safe exposure limits in the future, for both single and mixed exposure.  

There is a huge preventive potential here, and there is evidence that reduction of particle exposure will reduce cardiovascular mortality.

From particles we moved to the risk assessment of combined exposure to carcinogenic metals, the topic of research conducted by Prof. Tiina Santonen and colleagues in the HBM4EU project. As Prof. Santonen explains, when considering the combined effects of exposure to multiple substances, an additive effect is usually assumed if it involves the same target organ and a similar mode of action. However, sometimes the given substances have different dose responses, as illustrated by an HBM4EU case study on hexavalent chromium, nickel, and PAHs using air monitoring. Nickel’s dose response, i.e. the relationship between the level of exposure and the magnitude of the risk effects, is different from that of the other two metals. For this reason, this mode of calculation cannot be considered as fully representative. In one of Prof. Santonen’s ongoing studies, biomonitoring data is taken into account in addition to air monitoring data. Measuring exposure levels in the body, e.g. in urine, means that the impact of respiratory protection worn by workers is also considered. Interestingly, the risk assessment picture resulting from this study is quite different from the one from the previous air monitoring study. Future research will further enhance these insights on different approaches to the risk assessment of combined exposure.

Usually, additivity is assumed in the case of substances which have similar target and similar mode of action, unless there is information on potential synergistic effects.

The final talk took yet another perspective on the topic of mixed exposure: Adding the “regulatory spices on the science” in her own words, Dr. Violaine Verougstraete looked at how the toxicological challenge of mixed exposure will be dealt with in EU policy, in the new REACH legislation in particular. Over the past decades, there has been a growing recognition that exposure to a cocktail of chemicals may also generate risks that are not captured by a substance-by-substance risk assessment. REACH 2.0, currently under revision, will address the challenge of combined exposure by introducing a Mixture Allocation Factor (MAF). This is a default numerical value which adds an uncertainty factor to the risk calculation. As Dr. Verougstraete explained, this can be seen as a kind of shortcut, simplifying the assessment, but it is also very much a pragmatic tool which we have to rely on when we lack most of the data needed to make a more refined assessment. For industry, this means that demonstrating the safety of their products will become more challenging with the required application of the MAF. In this context, Dr. Verougstraete briefly presented the scientific programme launched by Eurometaux to tackle these issues in the metals sector. While the MAF in REACH 2.0 will be a practical basis for decision-making and risk management, she concludes, there are still “a lot of things that are still subject to the scientific community to see whether that concept is actually a valid one and whether we have to adapt it to really provide for safe assessments of substances in the environment.”

There are [...] a lot of things that are still subject to the scientific community to see whether that concept is actually a valid one and whether we have to adapt it to really provide for safe assessments of substances in the environment.

As the three lectures in this symposium have highlighted, the risk assessment of mixed exposures involves many interesting challenges, for scientists, regulators, and industry, not all of which we can solve today. At the same time, it has been encouraging and exciting to see the promising latest scientific progress presented by our three guest speakers. It is evident that their research will have a great impact on the environment and society we live in. The EXIMIOUS consortium would like to thank the speakers for sharing their latest work and valuable insights with the audience.

We are looking forward to bringing you more exposome research highlights at the next EXIMIOUS Symposium in 2024, so stay tuned! If you’d like to be notified about the next symposia you can also subscribe here and we’ll send you an invitation in due time.

AI, environmental exposures and autoimmune diseases – EXIMIOUS’ opinion piece in the EHEN blog

Mapping Exposure-Induced Immune Effects: Connecting the Exposome and the Immunome

AI, environmental exposures and autoimmune diseases - EXIMIOUS' opinion piece in the EHEN blog

27 September, 2023

As of earlier this year, the European Human Exposome Network (EHEN) website features a dedicated Blog with opinion pieces contributed by researchers from the nine EHEN projects (including EXIMIOUS) on challenges and opportunities in the field of exposome research.

In recent years, there has been a growing interest in the use of artificial intelligence (AI) and the EXIMIOUS project also makes use of it, specifically to uncover patterns and correlations of disease in large datasets. In the project’s opinion piece featured in the EHEN Blog, our partners at Biogenity in conversation with CEO Kenneth Kastaniegaard, take us through the chllenges, opportunities, and lessons learned in using AI for disease prediction. The team at Biogenity aims to discover potential pathways from occupational exposure towards development of autoimmune disease by analyzing nationwide data with AI technologies, focusing on rheumatoid arthritis. In the opinion piece, however, they explore the broader usefulness of AI for exposome research and share their recommendations for the use of AI in dat-driven research.

Read the full opinion piece in the EHEN Blog!

This is an issue that everyone working with AI needs to address: Is the data structured enough to provide the answer I am looking for, and can I trust it? Trust is critical when using these models for any purpose, and it is essential to align expectations with the model’s outcomes.

New charcoal cloth patch measures skin exposure to chemicals: EXIMIOUS at ISES 2023

Mapping Exposure-Induced Immune Effects: Connecting the Exposome and the Immunome

New charcoal cloth patch measures skin exposure to chemicals: EXIMIOUS at ISES 2023

5 September, 2023

On 31 August, EXIMIOUS researcher Rani Claus from Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, Department of Public Health and Primary Care, had the opportunity to present her latest research at the International Society of Exposure Science 2023 Annual Meeting in Chicago, Illinois, the US. The ISES meeting took a broad look at new and re-emerging (environmental) exposures and their causal link to human health.

The research conducted by Rani Claus and colleagues from KU Leuven involves the design of a new custom-made activated charcoal cloth patch, intended to measure skin exposure to volatile organic compounds (VOC; organic chemical compounds that evaporate easily at room temperature). While it is becoming increasingly important to measure this type of exposure in industrial settings, there are currently no standardised methods to do so. The charcoal cloth patch offers a potential solution to this. 

In the study, the patches were validated and tested on nine spray painting workers in real work conditions. The findings revealed that the patches are capable of accurately measuring skin exposure to VOC in such conditions. Thanks to this innovative custom-made patch, VOC exposure based on the different tasks of workers, such as spray painting, brush painting, VOC immersion or working close to VOC-related tasks, will be better interpreted. In general, occupational dermal exposure will be better assessed, leading to a better understanding of the route of exposure of such volatile chemicals.

Looking back on the conference experience, Rani states: “Attending the ISES 2023 meeting gave me a lot of insight into how the “exposome” is defined from different perspectives of scientists, community members and other stakeholders, creating interesting challenges. This showed the need for a broader assessment of exposure, such as the work we are doing in EXIMIOUS, and the exposome’s connection with human health.”

Attending the ISES 2023 meeting gave me a lot of insight into how the “exposome” is defined from different perspectives, creating interesting challenges. This showed the need for a broader assessment of exposure, such as the work we are doing in EXIMIOUS, and the exposome's connection with human health.

Rani Claus presenting at ISES 2023