Illustration of head and neck looking up at a constellation of symbols

New Exposomics Center: On the Cutting Edge of an Emerging Field

April 11, 2024

Over the last 30 years, genomics has transformed medicine with early and accurate diagnosis and targeted treatments. Now, exposomics, which analyzes data from our complex environmental exposures—physical, chemical, biological, psychosocial—promises to do the same for public health, opening new avenues for prevention, as well as treatments. Launched in recent weeks, the Columbia Mailman Center for Innovative Exposomics is positioned to be a major player in this rapidly emerging field.

“Our genes are not our destiny, nor do they provide a complete picture of our risk for disease. Our health is also shaped by what we eat and do, our experiences, and where we live and work," says Gary Miller, Vice Dean for Research Strategy and Innovation and Professor of Environmental Health Sciences and director of the new Center.

A leading light in the field, Miller is the author of The Exposome: A Primer (2013) and founding editor-in-chief of the journal Exposome, which launched in 2021. He is a professor of Molecular Pharmacology and Therapeutics in the Vagelos College of Physicians and Surgeons and a new member of the Herbert Irving Comprehensive Cancer Center (HICCC) at Columbia University. Other faculty and research staff in the new Center include Randolph Reyes Singh, Haotian (Howie) Wu, Vrinda Kalia, and Ana Navas-Acien—the latter who was just named the next chair of the Department of Environmental Health Sciences.

The Center for Innovative Exposomics’ team seeks to drive discovery and innovation through the development of new methods and workflows to measure complex exposures in blood and other biological samples. Already, its investigators have studies underway on cancer, liver disease, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Parkinson’s Disease. On March 6, Cancer Grand Challenges announced $25 million for a global study to examine the multiple determinants of cancer in people of African descent. Miller and colleagues will lead an arm of the study using exposomics to understand complex environmental factors in that equation.

The Center for Innovative Exposomics partners with the Biomarkers Core Laboratory of the Irving Institute to provide state-of-the-art high-resolution mass spectrometry. The team uses liquid chromatography and gas chromatography-based systems (LC-HRMS and GC-HRMS). The combined platform allows analysis of thousands of exogenous and endogenous compounds in a wide variety of sample types (plasma, serum, CSF, rodent and human tissue, extracellular vesicles, C. elegans, Drosophila, and zebrafish).

More broadly, the Center aims to be an intellectual hub for exposomics locally, nationally, and internationally, connecting with stakeholders in academia, industry, government, as well as the local community. Beyond the Irving Institute, other nearby partners include the Columbia Precision Medicine Initiative and the Data Science Institute at Columbia University. Further afield, the Center has links with other leading lights in the field such as the Human Exposome Project and the Exposomics Consortium, the European Exposome Network, France Exposome, and the Expanse Project.

This summer, anyone with an interest in learning about exposomics can sign up for the Department of Environmental Health Sciences’ Exposome Boot Camp offered through the Columbia Mailman Environmental Health Sciences’ summer Skills for Health and Research Professionals (SHARP) program. The two-day course will give participants a hands-on introduction to the concepts, techniques, and data analysis methods used in studies of the exposome.