News Release

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

NIEHS Allocates $74 Million to Study Environmental Causes of Disease

As part of the new Exposure Biology Program, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, a component of the National Institutes of Health, today announced $74 million in grant opportunities for the development of new technologies that will improve the measurement of environmental exposures that contribute to human disease.

The three grant opportunities will support research to develop portable, easy-to-use sensing devices that will accurately measure personal exposure to a wide variety of chemical and biological agents. The grants will also support the development of sensitive biomarkers, based on subtle changes in DNA structure, proteins, metabolites and other molecules, that will enable scientists to study how the body responds to environmental stress.

The Exposure Biology Program is one of two complementary research programs outlined in the Genes and Environment Initiative, a five-year, NIH-wide effort to identify the genetic and environmental underpinnings of asthma, diabetes, cancer, and other common illnesses. The program will focus on the development of innovative technologies for assessing exposures to chemical and biological agents, dietary intake, physical activity, psychosocial stress, and addictive substances, as well as new methods for quantifying the biological responses to these environmental stressors.

“These new exposure technologies will enable researchers to accelerate their discovery of genetic and environmental risk factors for human disease,” said NIEHS Director David A. Schwartz, M.D. “The discoveries made with these new tools will ultimately lead to new strategies for the prevention and treatment of many illnesses.”

There is increasing evidence that common human diseases result from a complex interplay between genes and environmental exposures. Population studies designed to investigate the role of gene-environment interactions in human disease have often been hampered by the lack of precise measurement tools for assessing a person’s exposure to environmental agents that impact disease risk.

“The technologies used for the detection and measurement of environmental exposures should be as precise as the measurement tools currently used for genetic research,” said Brenda Weis, Ph.D., senior science advisor at NIEHS and program coordinator for the Exposure Biology Program.

The following are trans-NIH grant opportunities led by the NIEHS:

  • Environmental Sensors for Personal Exposure Assessment
    This announcement will support the development of field-deployable or wearable sensing devices that provide direct measurements of exposure to ozone, fine particles, diesel exhaust, heavy metals, volatile organic compounds, pesticides, microbial toxins, and other environmental agents that have been linked with respiratory disease, cancer, and other common illnesses.
  • Biological Response Indicators of Environmental Stress
    This announcement will focus on the development of sensitive biomarkers that reflect subtle changes in inflammation, oxidative damage and other pathways that can lead to disease. By measuring the cellular and molecular responses that are involved in disease development, researchers will be better able to define the relationships between the genetic and environmental components of human illness.
  • Biological Response Indicators of Environmental Stress Centers
    This announcement will focus on the development of sensitive biomarkers that reflect subtle changes in inflammation, oxidative damage and other pathways that can lead to disease, and the incorporation of these markers into field- and laboratory-based sensing devices.

The Exposure Biology Program also includes two other grant opportunities: Improved Measures of Diet and Physical Activity for the Genes and Environment Initiative, led by the National Cancer Institute and National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute, and Field-Deployable Tools for Quantifying Exposures to Psychosocial Stress and to Addictive Substances for Studies of Health and Disease, led by the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

“Any individuals with the skills, knowledge and abilities required to carry out the proposed research, including scientists who work in NIH laboratories, are encouraged to submit an application for participation in the program,” said Weis.

NIEHS will host an information meeting and videoconference, October 20, 2006 in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina, to allow potential applicants to obtain information and clarify any questions about the funding opportunities. Detailed information about the meeting, including time, location, and the new grant opportunities, is available at the Exposure Biology Program website:

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), a component of the National Institutes of Health, supports research to understand the effects of the environment on human health. For more information on environmental health topics, please visit our website at

About the National Institutes of Health (NIH): NIH, the nation's medical research agency, includes 27 Institutes and Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. NIH is the primary federal agency conducting and supporting basic, clinical, and translational medical research, and is investigating the causes, treatments, and cures for both common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and its programs, visit

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