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NIEHS Awards $8.45 Million Grant to Study the Effects of Environmental Exposures on Health

The National Institute of Environmental Health Science (NIEHS) has awarded Mount Sinai's Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health and its Institute for Exposomics Research a new five-year P30 Center grant totaling $8.45 million to fund infrastructure that supports research on environmental exposures, including climate change, and their effects on health, disease, and development across the human lifespan.

The Institute for Exposomic Research at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai is the world's first institute to focus on exposomics. Exposomics is defined as the health impact of all the exposures an individual experiences in a lifetime. An individual's exposome begins at conception and includes environmental, nutritional, social, physical, and occupational sources such as malnutrition, air pollution, social stressors, and chemicals. Researchers at the Institute will translate their findings into new strategies for prevention and treatment of diseases including autism, asthma, cancer, and chronic lung diseases that have an environmental component.

The grant will support studies on climate change, wildfire smoke, plastics and nanoparticles, air pollution, chemicals from consumer products, metals such as lead, and thousands of other environmental factors and their impacts on health.

"All diseases have both a genetic and environmental component, and we're finding that the environmental contributions to most diseases are greater than the genetic contribution," said Robert Wright, MD, MPH, Chair of the Department of Environmental Medicine and Public Health and Co-Director of the Institute for Exposomic Research. "In fact, genetics explains less than half of the cause of the most common diseases including cancer, obesity, asthma, Alzheimer's disease, and many others; environmental factors explain the rest. When we factor in the environmental impact, we better understand the complete picture of how disease happens. This knowledge starts a domino effect, ultimately shaping how medicine is practiced and the messages we share with patients. The goal is to one day teach people how to modify their environment in ways that will have a profound impact on improved long-term health."

The Institute paves the way via a global effort to advance exposomics research programs. The Institute has forged partnerships throughout the United States as well as in Europe, Latin America, and Asia, and has convened seven international exposome symposia to date. Most recently, symposia in Italy and Mexico brought leading scientists, clinicians, trainees, and policymakers together to advance the field and develop new collaborations. The next meeting, to be held in Nashville, Tennessee, will focus on maternal-child health and environmental justice in partnership with Meharry Medical College, January 22-24, 2024.

"Funding for research on the health impacts of our environment has exponentially increased in recent years," said Rosalind Wright, MD, MPH, Dean for Translational Biomedical Research, Icahn Mount Sinai, and the Institute's Deputy Director. "This grant allows us to continue paving the way in exposomics and dig even deeper into the effects of environment and health throughout the lifespan. Recent climate-related events are proving that now is the time to focus more funding on environmental factors on health. Unlike genetics, we can change our environments to prevent or alter the course, development, and disease."

The NIEHS core centers support multidisciplinary research in environmental health and exposomics. Eligible institutions must demonstrate significant existing National Institutes of Health support for environmental research.

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