The environment in which we live puts us under constant stress – pollution, noise, chemicals and food stabilisers. All these elements are part of the environmental pollution around us and can affect our health. This has led the Centre for Research in Environmental Epidemiology (CREAL) to launch HELIX, a new European research project based on personal environmental exposure affecting mothers and children.
Personal environmental exposure refers to diet, lifestyle, use of medication, pollution, proximity to chemicals, infections, stress and all internal and external environmental factors that a person is exposed to from birth. The idea originated in 2005, from the mind of Christopher P. Wild, molecular epidemiologist and director of the International Agency for Research on Cancer in the United States.
The HELIX project aims to define personal environmental exposure for the early stages of life. Pregnancy and early childhood are the periods when people are most susceptible to damage caused by environmental exposure to toxic substances, which can manifest themselves throughout life. “Establishing a clear link between environmental exposure during early life and future disease can pinpoint powerful tools for prevention,” explains Martine Vrijheid, coordinator of HELIX and researcher at CREAL. She believes that actions during the initial phase of life can affect the body’s biological programming and change bodily development of to normal functioning. “The outcome of this project will help us to better understand environmental factors and their relationship with the development of diseases,” he concludes.
One of the elements that will enable this research to progress, due to last 4.5 years, is smartphones. Equipped with GPS and environmental sensors, smartphones will monitor participants as well as potential risks to which they are exposed: pollution, ultraviolet radiation, physical activity or noise. In addition, an analysis will be conducted using biological markers of the meals, water and products consumed by the 1200 participants and their children.
This research is the largest study undertaken to date in this field and a total of 13 European institutions, including two PYMES, are taking part. Different international studies have also been conducted in relation to this subject. To develop this work further, the project will receive 8.6 million Euros of funding from the European Commission.