Newswise — NYU Langone Health has announced the creation of the Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards to study the exposome, the measure of how all the various forms of environmental and social exposures throughout a person’s life influence their health.

The new center will be led by Leonardo Trasande, MD, MPP, director of the Division of Environmental Pediatrics at NYU Langone, and an internationally-renowned leader in children’s environmental health. The mission of this unique center is twofold: to advance technologies and tools to help measure the effects of environmental exposure, and to translate research findings into information the public can understand and use to minimize harmful exposures in their own lives.

“In order to more accurately diagnose and treat conditions that affect a large proportion of the population, we need to better understand the origins,” says Dr. Trasande. “Why do some people get sick, while others exposed to the same environmental factors such as food, air and water pollution, or prescription medications, do not? While genetics has helped us identify origins of disease together with behavior, we now realize that health is more of a three-legged stool comprised of genetics, behavior, and environment, opening a new path for prevention.”  

The multidisciplinary efforts of the center, which spans NYU Langone and other NYU schools and colleges, will focus on the way environmental exposures that happen throughout childhood affect brain development, obesity, cancer, and fertility later in life. Specifically, researchers at the Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards aim to map the human exposome, similar to how mapping the human genome has improved our understanding of genetic diseases.

“We know that environmental exposures and lifestyle factors can have a negative impact on people’s health, but we have an incomplete picture of the human and economic cost of these exposures over a lifespan,” says Dr. Trasande. “It’s our hope that with advances in technology and environmental science, we can more effectively gather and translate that data to effect change on both a global and individual scale.”

Leaders in a Growing Field of Interest

The Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards will build on NYU Langone’s strength in environmental medicine, population health, pediatrics, and genomics and metabolomics to establish a collaborative group on the leading edge of exposome research.

“Under Dr. Trasande’s leadership, the new center will unite physicians and researchers with the common goal to accelerate progress toward a new understanding of the relationship between environmental exposures and health,” says Dafna Bar-Sagi, PhD, senior vice president and vice dean for science and chief scientific officer at NYU Langone. “This reflects and reinforces the institution’s commitment to placing human health at the center of all our basic science and translational research efforts.”

Dr. Trasande, the Jim G. Hendrick, MD, Professor of Pediatrics and professor in the Departments of Environmental Medicine and Population Health and Vice Chair for Research in Pediatrics at NYU School of Medicine, has led policy-changing research on identifying the role of environmental exposures in childhood obesity and cardiovascular risks, and documenting the economic costs for policy makers of failing to prevent diseases of environmental origin in children proactively.

Researchers involved with the new center will seek to pair novel findings with concrete advice for how families can take simple steps to limit exposure to harmful environmental factors. This follows the example of much of Dr. Trasande’s previous work, such as a series of studies on the health risks of phthalates, the “safer” replacements for harmful chemicals in plastics; study authors provided simple steps families could take to limit exposure to phthalates while detailing the potential risks of exposure.

The new center’s launch reinforces the Division of Environmental Pediatrics’ dedication to protecting children from environmental hazards. The division’s research complements the world-class clinical care provided at Hassenfeld Children’s Hospital at NYU Langone, whose new flagship inpatient location opened in June 2018, and which provides families in New York City and the surrounding region with expert healthcare for the most common or complex childhood conditions.

Upcoming Symposium: Environment and the Brain

The Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards’ inaugural symposium will be held May 17-18, 2019. The first symposium, “Environment and the Brain,” will unite researchers across disciplines to foster new thinking about how environmental factors influence brain development across the lifespan. The two-day event will feature distinguished plenary speakers, presentations, posters, and a community session.