• Science Saturday: Do environmental exposures contribute to human diseases?

a medical illustration of the earth with people standing on the surface

An accumulation of environmental chemicals, pollutants, microbes, and particulates may be living inside each of us — acquired from the air we breathe, the food we eat, products we touch, and the water we drink. These sometimes-harmful exposures can potentially interact with our genes to fuel diseases, including cancer, cardiovascular disease, respiratory illnesses, autoimmune diseases, and stroke. Research shows environmental factors are associated with more than 80% of human diseases and nearly 1 in 6 deaths worldwide.  

In response, researchers at Mayo Clinic Center for Individualized Medicine are launching a major initiative to study a person's lifetime of environmental exposures, called the exposome, along with an assessment of their inherent biological responses to those exposures.  

"We've made significant progress in mapping the human genome and understanding the role of genes in diseases, but genetics only accounts for approximately 10% to 15% of diseases. Now, the key to accelerating further discoveries in individualized medicine lies in putting the exposome under the microscope," says Konstantinos Lazaridis, M.D., the Carlson and Nelson Endowed Executive Director for Mayo Clinic's Center for Individualized Medicine. 

Dr. Lazaridis says the exposome is considered a counterpart to the genome (a person's complete set of DNA). He says in many diseases, the exposome and genome work in combination.  

"So, imagine the learning opportunities if we can not only better understand the gene part, but also examine the impact of our exposures of a lifetime and how those two elements interact in a human to maintain wellness or create disease.” 

Read the rest of the article on the Individualized Medicine blog.


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