Welcome Letter

HEALS represents a comprehensive applied methodology focusing on the different aspects of individual assessment of exposure to conventional and emerging environmental stressors and on the prediction of the associated health outcomes. Key health endpoints considered  include allergic respiratory diseases, bronchial asthma, neurodevelopmental and neurodegenerative disease, obesity, and childhood type II diabetes (T2D). For the first time, HEALS will try to reverse the paradigm of “nature versus nurture” and adopt one defined by complex and dynamic interactions between DNA sequence, epigenetic DNA modifications, gene expression and environmental factors that all combine to influence disease phenotypes. HEALS will start from analysis of data collected in on-going epidemiological EU studies involving mother/infant pairs, children, or adults including the elderly to evidence relevant environmental exposure/health outcome associations. These associations will aid in designing pilot surveys using an integrated approach, where the selection of biomarkers of exposure, effects and individual susceptibility results in integrated risk assessment. In the context of this new paradigm, a relevant contribution for a better understanding of the diseases comes also from twin studies.

In fact, HEALS proposes the functional integration of -omics derived data and biochemical biomonitoring to create the internal exposome at the individual level. These data will be exploited using advanced bioinformatics tools for both descriptive and predictive data mining. HEALS will propose a novel bioinformatics strategy focusing on biomarker fusion, and direct coupling of physiology-based biokinetic models to metabolic regulatory networks derived from -omics analyses. In this way, the internal dose of environmental stressors will be coupled to the alterations they bring about to gene expression, protein-protein interactions and metabolic regulation and plausible hypotheses on the respective pathways of toxicity can be established.

Conceptual model of HEALS paradigm

Conceptual model of HEALS paradigm

The HEALS consortium is dedicated to the rapid translation of scientific findings in the environment and health area into actual innovative tools that can enter the market in support of both job and wealth creation as well as cost-effective policy interventions that can mitigate the environmental burden of disease in Europe and worldwide.