All the Symposium highlights from the Human Exposome Assessment Platform

The Human Exposome Assessment Platform

Interview with HEAP coordinator Professor Joakim Dillner of Karolinska Institute - Meet the presenters from the HEAP symposium 2022

This issue of the HEAP newsletter marks the halfway stage of the project. So it's a good opportunity to step back and look at the big picture. In the HEAP interview, we ask Joakim Dillner for his take on the milestones achieved and the challenges faced, and his hopes for where exposome research will take us in the future.

For the rest of the issue, we hand over to the researchers and guest speakers at this year's HEAP symposium, who provide a fantastic round up of the new directions, technologies and insights on offer in the field of exposome research.

All of their presentations can be found on the HEAP YouTube channel.  Make sure you're subscribed, as there's more great content on its way! 


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The HEAP Interview - Professor Joakim Dillner

HEAP coordinator Joakim Dillner shares his thoughts about the project’s impact so far, the challenges ahead, and the role HEAP could play in transforming exposome research.

Q: The HEAP project is at the halfway point. What are the most significant milestones that have been achieved so far?

A: We have succeeded in launching an international platform for exposome data processing that can be used by investigators from many different countries. The data is stored in a single computer centre, and advanced analysis pipelines for the data are now being deployed.

The “Proof of Concept” sub-projects for the data warehouse are progressing well.  In particular, the epigenomic project has already yielded significant insights, as the epigenomic data can now be read in an automated way.  The project on microbial ecology that studies how microbes are affected by immunity is also making significant progress, and generating massive amounts of data.

Large amounts of data can be obtained easily from environmental research, but a major bottleneck is how to handle and analyse these data. We have come a long way towards establishing an international collaborative model for efficient data handling.

Q: What have been the main challenges that the project has faced?

A: A major challenge is to change the mindset and ways of working that have, in the past, been focused on local or national projects. Working in large consortia like HEAP involves new ways of working that can be unsettling for people, but international collaboration is essential for exposome research because the quantity of data that can be collected is enormous, and the task too daunting to be managed at a local level.

A favourite quotation of mine is that each person knows one little segment of the truth, but only by combining insights from several different people can you have a comprehensive view of what is going on.

Q: What are the main impacts that you hope to see from HEAP?

A: As well as enabling a truly international and collaborative approach to research, HEAP will show that multiple exposures can be studied and analysed in a comprehensive and holistic way, rather than focussing on single exposures. This approach generates a phenomenal amount of data that may seem overwhelming at first, but it's actually not difficult to analyse them as a whole. This realisation will be a key impact of the project.

Q: What is the most exciting thing about this project, from your perspective?

A: One extremely exciting thing is seeing the exposome concept gaining momentum almost exponentially, and being able to play a part in that.

In the years following the “birth” of the exposome in 2005, when the concept was first formulated by Dr Christopher Wild, thousands of papers were published looking a just a few exposures, in limited populations. Very little was published on the entirety of what the human is exposed to.

Now the exposome is coming of age, and researchers are realising its potential. This is happening both in the European Union, where the European Human Exposome Network has more than 170 participating institutions, and beyond, in the USA for example.

Q: Finally, what are your hopes for the field of exposome research over the next 5 or 10 years?

A: I hope that in the future, whenever there is an unexplained occurrence of a disease, such as a localised increase in cancer cases for example, that an exposome research team will be dispatched immediately to the country or region to discover the reason for the occurrence, and how it can be prevented.

I think that within five or ten years, informatics tools such as HEAP will be able to readily translate data on disease occurrence and prevalence into knowledge of why that is, and what can be done about it.

In this way, exposome research can take public health to a whole new level, by identifying and removing hazardous exposures, as well as providing data on exposures that are good for you, for example, in the area of nutrition.

HEAP Symposium highlights
HEAP symposium - How what we buy affects our health
18 October 2022
How do our everyday purchases affect our health? In his contribution to the HEAP symposium highlights series, Frederik Trier Møller, leader of HEAP’s Consumer Cohort, outlines how Consumer […]

HEAP symposium - Epigenetics and personalised preventative medicine
17 October 2022
Can we predict someone’s risk of developing cancer by looking at their DNA markers? In her contribution to the HEAP symposium highlights series, Chiara Herzog, Postdoctoral researcher. European […]

HEAP symposium - DNA markers, ageing and lifestyle
14 October 2022
How does age, and lifestyle factors such as drugs, hormones, smoking, and nutrition, affect our DNA? In his contribution to the HEAP symposium highlights series, Martin Widschwendter, Director […]

HEAP symposium – Personal exposome profiling
12 October 2022
Can we prove that someone has been exposed to certain chemicals that have affected their health? In his contribution to the HEAP symposium highlights series, Michael Snyder, Director […]

HEAP symposium – Exposome data and the HEAP technical platform
11 October 2022
How will the Human Exposome Assessment Platform’s data analysis tools work? And how will they add value to exposome research? This HEAP symposium presentation from the platform’s lead […]

HEAP symposium - Ethics, law and big data
10 October 2022
How can the results of exposome research further the right to health for all? And how can this be achieved in an ethical way, respecting the rights of […]

HEAP symposium - The exposome and cancer research
5 October 2022
Dr. Zisis Kozlakidis is the Head of Laboratory Services and Biobanking at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC/WHO). He has significant expertise in the field of […]

HEAP symposium - Infrastructures for exposome research
5 October 2022
What does the future hold for exposome research infrastructures in Europe?  Jana Klánová is Professor of environmental chemistry at Masaryk University in Brno, Czech Republic, and coordinator of […]

HEAP symposium - "Measuring the exposome - delusion or next frontier?"
3 October 2022
Is it even possible to measure the exposome? In his contribution to the HEAP Symposium highlights series, Benedikt Warth, Associate Professor at the University of Vienna and founder of […]

HEAP sympsoium - the promise of informatics and precision medicine
29 September 2022
The next frontier of exposome research will focus on genomics, transcriptomics, proteomics, and metabolomics, and seek to identify optimal treatments for individual patients. In the next instalment of […]

HEAP symposium – “Biobanking and the exposome”
27 September 2022
As part of HEAP’s “Symposium Highlights” series, Kurt Zatloukal, Head of the Diagnostic and Research Center for Molecular BioMedicine, Medical University Graz, and Director of, Austria, discusses […]

Presenting the HEAP "Symposium Highlights" series
21 September 2022
HEAP “Symposium Highlights” showcases the presentations from the “Frontiers in Human Exposome Research” symposium, hosted by and the Medical University of Graz in June 2022. The Symposium […]

Exposome events

The European Human Exposome Network website features an events calendar and social media feed with a wide range of exposome events. HEAP is one of the nine EU-funded projects in this network.    

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This project has received funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement 874662