Environmental Health Risks in European Birth Cohorts
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project overview

EnviroGenomarkers is a European FP7 research project aiming at the development and application of a new generation of biomarkers to study the role of environmental agents in human disease. The project concerns the large-scale application of –omics technologies in a population study aiming at:

a) the discovery and validation of novel biomarkers predictive of increased risks of chronic diseases in which the environment may play an important role (breast cancer, Non Hodgkin’s lymphoma, childhood diseases including allergy, neurological and immune diseases, thyroid disruption),

b) the exploration of the association of such risk biomarkers with exposure to a number of high-priority or emerging environmental pollutants with carcinogenic, immunotoxic or hormone-line properties, including polychlorinated biphenyls (PBCs), polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), cadmium, lead, phthalates, brominated flame retardants, ambient air pollutants and water treatment byproducts),

c) the discovery and validation of biomarkers of exposure to the above environmental pollutants. 

The project uses three existing prospective cohorts: 

  • Cancer-related biomarkers will be developed by conducting a case-control study nested within the Northern Sweden Health & Disease Study and EPIC-Italy cohorts, which contain biosamples collected prior to disease diagnosis, dietary, exposure and life style information and follow-up health histories.
  • Biomarkers related to chronic diseases, which establish themselves in early childhood but persist into adult life, will be evaluated using the Rhea mother-child cohort on the island of Crete.

Biomarker searches utilize state-of-the-art metabonomics, epigenomics, proteomics and transcriptomics, in combination with advanced bioinformatics and systems biology approaches. Exposure assessment utilizes established exposure biomarkers, questionnaires, modeling and geographic information systems (GIS)-technology as well as additional data derived from other projects.


The conceptual basis of the project is depicted in the scheme:





Project impact

A new paradigm in environmental biomarker research
Omics technologies provide exciting opportunities to develop a new breed of biomarkers of environmental health which, In contrast to traditional ones, allow the use of the same generic methodology (e.g., microarrays) for the detection of cellular responses to different categories of chemicals and types of toxicity and provide mechanistic information at an unprecedented scale. In fact the prospect of simultaneously obtaining, in human biosamples, a global picture of the functional state of the cell at the levels of DNA, RNA, proteins and metabolites, which can be integrated into a holistic view of the perturbation of cellular pathways by the environment, provides a paradigm shift for environmental biomarker research and molecular epidemiology. By applying this approach to analyse for the first time biosamples from large cohorts, the EnviroGenomarkers project constitutes a ground-breaking effort in establishing this new paradigm.


Advancing the exploitation of existing biobanks
Existing biobanks in Europe and beyond, containing stored biosamples from millions subjects, represent an enormous investment and a precious resource for environmental health studies. However experience with their potential to benefit from –omics technologies is very limited to date. By utilising some of Europe’s major existing biobanks, and including systematic technical validation of the application of –omics on their samples, the EnviroGenomarkers project helps open the way to the exploitation of this important resource.


Enhancing the power of human biomonitoring
Currently human biomonitoring is based on the measurement of chemicals or their metabolites in human tissues and provides information only on the level of population exposure to environmental chemicals. The combination of such data on chemical-specific biomarkers of exposure with –omics data provides the opportunity to link exposure information with biological data measured on the same human biosample. The EnviroGenomarkers project, by combining the analysis of human blood samples for a number of high-priority chemicals of great interest for population biomonitoring programmes with the –omics-based assessment of the same biosamples, is taking a step into the future and represents the next day in human biomonitoring activities.


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