Environmental factor – July 2021: fusion of geospatial and population health data at the NIEHS workshop
Geospatial technology has become an integral part of our daily life. It helps us map our route, alerts us when the air quality in our area is unhealthy, and even tracks our location when we are playing on our smart phones. But scientists believe that geographic information systems can do much more, especially when extended from the personal level to the population level.
“We hope to explore how geospatial technologies can be added to the toolbox of methodologies used to collect environmental exposures, and ultimately how this data could be seamlessly integrated into large human population studies,” said the NIEHS and the director of the national toxicology program. Rick Woychik, Ph.D., at the start of the workshop sponsored by the institute June 15-16.
The two-day virtual event attracted over 400 participants from around the world and from diverse backgrounds, including epidemiology, exhibit science, geospatial analysis, genetics and genomics, and data science.
“This diversity aligns very well with the objectives of the workshop, which are to foster interdisciplinary interactions and collaborations, to promote the integration of geospatial technologies into public health studies and to advance our understanding of health. and human diseases, “said Yuxia Cui, Ph.D., NIEHS Program Officer and Co-Chair of the Workshop Planning Committee.
Eyes in the sky
In recent years, satellite remote sensing data has become a powerful tool for measuring the exposure of entire populations to various environmental risk factors such as air pollution. NIEHS beneficiary Yang Liu, Ph.D., from Emory University, provided an overview of emerging satellite instruments, their data products and potential applications in environmental health research.
“These satellite instruments generate terabytes of data every day that can be used for population health studies,” Liu said.
Ground level observations
Other speakers explained how they collect data closer to the earth on environmental exposures. Alison Motsinger-Reif, Ph.D., head of the NIEHS Biostatistics and Computational Biology Branch, described the first results of the Personalized Environment and Genes Study (PEGS), which collected data on health, family history, environmental exposures and lifestyle more of 19,000 participants in population health studies).
Motsinger-Reif explained how one of the first studies from PEGS showed that the risk of immune-mediated diseases such as seasonal allergies increased with proximity to caged animal feeding operations (CAFO), an environmental exposure. important in North Carolina.
“The CAFOS example is the tip of the iceberg of the types of data we are integrating,” she said. Motsinger-Reif added that such integration requires an open dialogue between data scientists and human geneticists like her.
“There are roadmaps for how we’re going to fight cancer, neurodegeneration, Alzheimer’s disease, etc., but do we have a roadmap for the environment and the changes we need? [to improve human health]?” request Roel Vermeulen, Ph.D., from the University of Utrecht in the Netherlands during a panel discussion on the next steps.
David Balshaw, Ph.D., chief of the NIEHS exhibition, response and technology directorate, stressed the importance of bringing people together and identifying a common goal to work towards.
“Sometimes it is enough to hear yourself speak and learn how the other is thinking; this process itself advances science, ”he said. “At this level, the workshop was a huge success. But I also think there were a number of very tangible things that we heard that we as a community can think about. “
These questions include the need for international collaboration between the exhibition’s scientific community and efforts to prioritize solutions to long-standing problems in the field.
(Marla Broadfoot, Ph.D., is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)