Who will be affected by certain chronic diseases, and who will not? For thirty percent that depends on heredity factors, whereas no less than seventy percent is explained by external factors. Exposme-NL has been awarded 18 million euros from the prestigious Gravitation Grant to study these external factors,
The consortium will investigate which factors of the exposome are important for health and how these factors work. The exposome consists of factors from daily life such as eating and drinking, the air we breathe, our social interactions and lifestyle choices such as smoking and exercise. The biological response of the individual to these factors is also part of the exposome. Much is still unknown about the exposome, and therefore the development of chronic diseases.
Professor Roel Vermeulen (Utrecht University and UMC Utrecht): "People make all kinds of choices in their daily lives that have a major impact on their health. Thanks to the funding we will be able to map all non-genetic risk factors for the health of Dutch people.' Much is already known about the human genome, so for the first time the researchers now also want to systematically analyse the human exposome. 'We know that the burden of disease for people with a chronic disease is largely influenced by the exposome. That is why this funding is so important. We will start with research into the causes of cardiovascular disease and type 2 diabetes. The techniques and insights from this research will also be applicable to other chronic conditions.'
Vermeulen emphasises how complicated the research is. 'Unraveling the impact of non-genetic factors on our health is not easy, but with this unique collaboration between doctors, molecular biologists, epidemiologists, geographers and chemists, we think it should work.' The research team operates under the leadership of Vermeulen and five other top scientists. In addition to Vermeulen, they are Thomas Hankemeier (Leiden University), Mei-Po Kwan (Utrecht University), Rick Grobbee (UMC Utrecht), Sasha Zhernakova (University Medical Center Groningen, RUG) and Joline Beulens (Amsterdam UMC).
By means of the Gravitation programme, the government encourages research by groups of leading scientists in the Netherlands so that they become global leaders. To reach this level, researchers must carry out innovative and influential research in their field. The Ministry of Education, Culture and Science has asked the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research to carry out the selection procedure for this funding programme.