U of T joins with European, Asian universities to tackle urban issues

Urban issues were the main topic of discussion as U of T President Meric Gertler met with Utrecht University President Marjan Oudeman and Chinese University of Hong Kong President Joseph Sung in in Utrecht, Holland recently.

One of the highlights of the conference was the signing of a five-year collaboration on global public health by the three presidents. The project, “Novel Investigative Tools and Big-Data to discover modifiable risk factors: The Exposome” involves researchers from several areas at U of T, including the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, Engineering, Earth Sciences and other disciplines. One of the leaders of the project at U of T is Chemical Engineering professor Greg Evans. He told U of T News that the agreement will help with the understanding, prevention and treatment of chronic disease.

“Chronic disease – such as heart disease, cancer, lung disease, neurological disease, degenerative disease – is one of the biggest public health issues of our time. It results from a combination of genetics and environmental exposure. We’ve made huge progress on the genetics side, but that only explains a fairly small part of the overall picture. What we’re exposed to over our lifetime – the exposome – also plays a big role.”

Another of U of T’s exposome researchers, Dalla Lana School of Public Health Dean Howard Hu, agreed. “A very large portion of cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurodegenerative disease and other chronic conditions are due to environmental factors or gene environment interactions. However, our knowledge of what those factors are, the genes they interact with, and mechanisms remains extremely limited. Advances by DLSPH scientists and others in exposomics promise to accelerate our understanding of preventable risk factors for the onset and progression of disease.”

The three universities will collaborate in five areas, Evans said: using big data to characterize the exposome, evaluating the exposome through sensors, creating and improving exposome maps, the 24/7 exposome (for example, the effect of shift-work on exposure), and awareness and education. Read full story at U of T News.

A panel discussion will be held in Toronto on Friday, May 13 to launch the tripartite public health research collaboration. For details, click here.