The Exposomics project offers a new approach to studying the health effects of exposure to air pollution and water contamination, using new technologies to better understand and predict the onset of disease.
Traffic jam

Air pollution and its health effects

Ambient (outdoor) and household (indoor) air pollution have major health impacts, affecting populations in developed and developing countries alike.

Ambient air pollution consists of emissions of complex mixtures of air pollutants from industry, households, cars and trucks. Of these pollutants, fine Particulate Matter (PM) has the greatest effect on human health. Most fine particulate matter comes from fuel combustion, both from mobile sources such as vehicles and from stationary sources such as power plants, industry, households or biomass burning.

Household air pollution is the result of cooking and heating households using solid fuels (i.e. wood, charcoal, coal, dung, crop wastes) on open fires or traditional stoves. In poorly ventilated dwellings, smoke in and around the home can exceed acceptable levels for fine particles 100-fold.

Health risks associated with air pollution include but are not limited to stroke, heart disease, lung cancer, and both chronic and acute respiratory diseases, including asthma.

What is the exposome?

An individual’s exposome is the sum of the exposures which they are subjected to during their lifetime. These include external exposures originating from the environment (suchas air pollution), as well as internal exposures produced inside the body, including the action of hormones or gut microbes.

The Exposomics project

Air pollution HCMC As exposures interact with the body, a characteristic metabolic or molecular fingerprint is generated. Exposures may also trigger genetic mutations  or other transformations. These responses can be studied to gain a new understanding of the transition from health to disease.

Assessing the exposome at different stages of life delivers new insights into the causal factors and mechanisms underlying chronic disease, which may eventually lead to new strategies for preventing and treating disease.

The Exposomics project takes advantage of rapid advances in new technologies and in the omics sciences (genomics, proteomics, metabolomics), which use large-scale approaches to study biological systems. The external exposome can be measured with sensitive personal monitors and sensors. The internal exposome and the biological changes it induces in body molecules can be measured with high-throughput methods such as metabolomics, proteomics, transcriptomics, adductomics and epigenomics. 

Project aims

The project has the following goals:

  • To use advanced personal exposure monitoring to accurately measure the air pollution related external exposome
  • To use high-throughput methods (adductomics, proteomics, metabolomics, transcriptomics, epigenomis) to measure the internal exposome
  • To integrate knowledge from the methods above to estimate the risk of disease in several population-based studies in Europe.


Professor Paolo Vineis and Dr Toby Athersuch explain how the Exposomics project will help us understand the effects pollutants have on the body.


This project is funded by the European Commission (FP7).

Selected publications

Beelen R et al. Effects of long-term exposure to air pollution on natural-cause mortality: an analysis of 22 European cohorts within the multicentre ESCAPE project. Lancet. 2014 Mar 1;383(9919):785-95.

Raaschou-Nielsen O et al. Air pollution and lung cancer incidence in 17 European cohorts: prospective analyses from the European Study of Cohorts for Air Pollution Effects (ESCAPE). Lancet Oncol. 2013 Aug;14(9):813-22.

Rappaport SM, Barupal DK, Wishart D, Vineis P, Scalbert A. The blood exposome and its role in discovering causes of disease. Environ Health Perspect. 2014 Aug;122(8):769-74

Vineis P, van Veldhoven K, Chadeau-Hyam M, Athersuch TJ. Advancing the application of omics-based biomarkers in environmental epidemiology. Environ Mol Mutagen. 2013 Aug;54(7):461-7