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Exploring the Role of the Exposome in Aging and Age-Related Diseases

Exposures in the environments where people live, work, pray, and play throughout their lives shape health, including a person’s risk or resilience to disease. Together, this comprehensive set of exposures across domains (e.g., physical, chemical, social, psychological, economic) constitute the “exposome.” NIA seeks to expand our understanding of how these exposures shape health and risk for disease, especially Alzheimer’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease-related dementias (AD/ADRD). Learn more about NIA’s research in this area.

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NIA Interest in Exposome Research

NIA has a growing grant portfolio on environmental health and is conducting research to address disparities in AD/ADRD research, including the social and contextual factors that contribute to increased risk. In 2022, NIA issued a NOT-AG-22-022: Notice of Special Interest (NOSI) for Administrative Supplements to Support Research Infrastructure on Exposome Studies in Alzheimer's Disease (AD) and AD-Related Dementias (ADRD). Sixteen projects were funded under this NOSI, some of which are highlighted below. These aim to: 

  • Enhance research on air pollution and AD/ADRD. 
  • Establish infrastructure to study the effect of life-course exposures such as residential histories on AD/ADRD health outcomes (Expo-AD).
  • Increase the usability of exposome-related data from the Framingham Heart Study (FHS) such as diet, exercise, and medication use for research on brain aging and dementia.
  • Enhance the data infrastructure for understanding connections between the exposome, gut microbiome, and metabolome.
  • Add exposome measures to large, population-based longitudinal studies such as the Health and Retirement Study (HRS) and international family of studies, National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent to Adult Health, as well as other NIA-supported studies.

Funding Opportunities

NIA’s strategic research framework for addressing the burden of AD/ADRD, including health disparities in AD/ADRD, is centered around a precision medicine approach to treatment and prevention. To this end, NIA developed a series of funding initiatives that aim to enable a precision environmental health approach to AD/ADRD risk reduction and disease prevention.  These new programs leverage NIA’s long-standing investment in population studies, social and behavioral sciences, genetics, epigenomics, metabolomics, systems biology, and translational/data infrastructure, and expand NIA’s collaboration with the NIH National Institute on Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).   The programs will operate under open-science principles, to maximize their translational impact.  

Workshops and Symposia

NIA has hosted and supported a number of meetings with the research and public health community to discuss the state of the evidence for the effect of the exposome on healthy aging and Alzheimer’s and related dementias and possible future directions for research.

Past Meetings

  • NIH Alzheimer’s Disease Research Summits (2015, 2018, 2021) — During these three summits, participants examined new strategies for prevention with regards to the exposome, sought to understand the impact of the environment to advance disease prevention, and explored the role of the exposome on brain health and advancing disease prevention. 
  • NIA Workshop: Understanding the Role of the Exposome in Brain Aging, Alzheimer’s Disease, and Alzheimer’s Disease-Related Dementias (December 2020) — This workshop covered four key themes: (1) technological advancements to assess Alzheimer’s and related dementias risks, (2) impact of the exposome across the life-course, (3) lifestyle and environmental impacts, and (4) the importance of integrating data across multiple fields and scales to generate policy-actionable outcomes. 
  • NASEM Seminar: Consequences of Climate Change for Health at Older Ages (May 2022) — Four sessions focused on the impacts of climate change on older adult health, specifically the role of extreme temperature, infectious disease, social and economic vulnerability, and cognitive and psychological outcomes. 

NIA Collaborations on Exposome Research

In 2020, NIA joined the Global Environmental and Occupational Health Initiative (GEOHealth).  GEOHealth supports the development of institutions in low- or middle-income countries serving as regional hubs for collaborative research, data management, research training, curriculum and outreach material development, and policy support around high-priority local, national, and regional environmental and occupational health threats. NIA is supporting one hub in Peru, which will examine the role of air pollution in AD and will also examine this within the context of the COVID-19 pandemic. This is expected to be particularly relevant given Peru was one of the epicenters for COVID-19 in the early stages of the pandemic.

NIA is also actively participating in the NIH Climate and Health Initiative. The initiative includes participating on multiple funding opportunities, being part of the Climate Change and Health working group, as well as sponsoring a scholar in the inaugural class of the Climate and Human Health Scholar Program.

Contact Information

To learn more about NIA-funded research on exposomes, please reach out to the NIA contact in your area of research.

Division of Aging Biology

Division of Behavioral and Social Research

Division of Neuroscience Precision Environmental Health

Environmental Epidemiology and Population Studies

Genetic/Epigenetic interactions with the environment

Model systems for precision environmental health 

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