All the latest news from the Human Exposome Assessment Platform.

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From the Project Coordinator
Welcome to the HEAP project community! I am delighted to present the launch issue of our newsletter, which features the latest on the development of the Human Exposome Assessment Platform, a round-up of Exposome-related events, and a handy summary of posts from the HEAP website.
In this issue, we cover the latest news from the Exposome Data Collection project, part of Work Package 5, which will gather exposome data from the daily lives of 100 pregnant volunteers. We also take a closer look at the HEAP Data Management Plan, which was completed in May 2020, and will provide the framework for all of HEAP's data gathering projects.
I would like to thank Allison Zhang of Stanford University and Bettina Kipperer from the Medical University of Graz for their contributions to the articles. We are already starting to plan the winter newsletter, so do send any article ideas, as well as feedback on this launch issue, to Heather Coombs ( at IARC.
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Joakim Dillner
The HEAP interview - Allison Zhang

We talk to Allison Zhang, a postdoctoral scholar who is working on a HEAP project to pilot continuous personal exposome profiling of 100 volunteers during their pregnancies. She is part of a team at Stanford University, led by Michael Snyder, that has been focusing on improving the design of wearable Personal Exposome Monitors (PEMs) and multi-omic profiling. 

Q:  How did you come to be working on the HEAP Exposome Monitoring project?

Our lab previously worked on a two-year study that used a device to track the environmental exposures of 15 people. The device that we used was a precursor of the Personal Exposure Monitor (PEM), and we succeeded in using it to capture over 2000 different species and 1000 chemical features. We found that people’s exposures varied significantly with the seasons and between locations, and also that the exposome is highly personalized. Even while based in the same geographical area, people’s exposures showed wide variations.

This study led our team to get involved in the HEAP project, which aims to extend exposome monitoring to a wider group, and then link it to results of health screening and a particular life point, in this case, pregnancy.

Q: Tell us more about the improved Personal Exposure Monitor.

Over the past eighteen months or so, we have redesigned the Personal Exposure Monitor (pictured below) to make it suitable for a larger-scale project. The battery now lasts long enough for the device to be carried around all day, and has twice the airflow rate of the old device, with the potential to reach a quadruple airflow rate. Other improvements we have devised include integrating a customized 3D printed cartridge with a filter that can capture both chemical and biological exposures.

What’s more, the device only costs half of the price as the previous one, and can also record GPS location, temperature and humidity. Overall, it will be is a great help in carrying out longitudinal exposome studies such as this one.

Q: One of your aims is to pilot “personal exposome profiling”. What is this, and how will the project achieve this?

A: Personal exposome profiling is achieved by monitoring and measuring day-to-day environment exposures. Using the PEM, our volunteers will collect air samples as they go about their daily lives, in each place they visit. After taking a minimum of two samples per week, they will store the samples in their home freezer at -20 degrees, from where they will be delivered to the lab every month, and stored in a 80-degree freezer. This monitoring will be the next stage of the project, to start in 2021.

Q: What data will the project generate?

A: There will be a wide range of data, relating to patient consent, geolocation, environmental parameters such as temperature, humidity, airflow rate, analysis of airborne particles and toxins.

There will also be metabolomics data gathered as part of the project. This will be high-resolution mass spectrometry coupled with liquid chromatography, and sequence analysis.

We expect the baseline data from the devices to be between 10-50GB, while the sequence data and metabolomics analysis data will be in the terabyte range.

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

A: It’s most exciting to me to fully characterize the pregnancy exposome. Pregnancy is a special period as the body goes through unique changes and exposures that affect both mother and child. What’s unique about this project is that it aims to depict both the external exposome, or environmental exposures, and the internal exposome, or the metabolome, which shows how the body reacts to these exposures. Bringing the two together will provide valuable insight into how the exposome affects pregnant women and their babies.

Ready for action – HEAP’s Data Management Plan

Starting with the Cervical Screening cohort study in early 2021, the HEAP Data Management Plan (DMP) will define the life cycle for all HEAP data. 

The Data Management Plan was delivered in May 2020 and prepared by a team led by Dr Heimo Müller at the Diagnostic and Research Center for Molecular BioMedicine at Graz Medical University. It is a deliverable of the “Data Interoperability and Sharing” Work Package (WP7), and will be used as a framework for managing existing, population-based data, as well as new data generated by wearable sensors. 

"FAIR" data principles

The DMP sets out how the data stored in the HEAP Information Commons will follow “FAIR” “Findable, Accessible, Interoperable and Re-usable” data principles, and comply with General Data Protection Regulations (GDPR, Regulation (EU) 2016/679).

A Data management “bible”

As HEAP data are from existing cohorts and data collections, the DMP represents a consensus between partners and stakeholders on how to collect, process and use the data.  

In this way, the DMP will be the HEAP “bible” for all further data management tasks. These will include developing Standards, Recommendations, Interoperability Training, and development of a FAIR toolbox, Bring Your Own Data (BYOD) workshops, liaison with the ESFRI research infrastructures (e.g. ELIXIR, BBMRI), the European Open Science Cloud (EOSC), large-scale projects as EOSC-Life, EJP-RD, GA4GH, GO FAIR, Global BioImaging, Galaxy, Bioconda and RDA, and knowledge exchange with the other projects in the Human Exposome cluster.

Ready for action 

The first time the Data Management Plan will be used “in action” will be for the Cervical Screening cohort study, starting in January 2021. The team will use it to guide their self-assessment of the quality and “FAIR”- ness of data produced and analysed. 

Consult the HEAP Data Management Plan

The Data Management Plan can be found on the HEAP website on the Learning Resources page.

A summary of Work Package 7, and the other HEAP work packages, can be found here.

Upcoming events

Virtual conference - "Biobanking for Global Challenges" 17th-20th November, 2020

Europe Biobank Week 2020 will take place from 17th to 20th November in a virtual format. The conference is organised by ESBB and BBMRI-ERIC, and in 2019 was attended by over 750 professionals.

This year’s edition will be online, creating new opportunities to attend sessions, enjoy scientific insights from speakers and panellists, and discuss, network, engage, and promote knowledge around biobanking, from wherever you are.

To register, click here

Latest news from the HEAP website
Pointing the way to ethical, reusable exposome data
The launch of the Data Management Plan at the end of May 2020 is a significant milestone for HEAP.

The launch of the European Human Exposome Network
Leading scientists and policy makers met at the European Commission in Brussels on 11 February 2020 for the launch event of the European Human Exposome Network.

Stockholm: Karolinska Institutet hosts HEAP kick-off.
Two intensive days of presentations and planning marked the official launch of the HEAP project on 13 and 14 January 2020.

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