Environmental pollutants such as traffic-related air pollution (TRAP), allergens and phthalates have been associated with adverse health outcomes worldwide. In particular, these toxicants have been linked to the increased incidence and exacerbation of respiratory diseases such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). Relevant evidence from epidemiological studies, animal models and cellular studies have attracted the attention of researchers, environmental regulatory bodies and health authorities who have an interest to protect the public, especially the most susceptible.
However, each type of study has both strengths and limitations. Animal models are useful as they have intact (whole body) physiology and can allow for genetic manipulation, yet they differ from human airway anatomy and physiology . Cell lines offer a highly controlled milieu with potential for many levels of manipulation and high throughput, but lack intact whole body physiology. Epidemiology studies can incorporate many participants and real world context, but face many confounding factors that are unlikely to be completely resolved (leaving “residual confounding”). At COERD, we seek to utilize human exposure studies to bridge the gap between epidemiological associations and observed laboratory outcomes in order to translate our results into policies and human health interventions.
At the Air Pollution Exposure Laboratory (APEL), we are able to safely and ethically conduct controlled human crossover exposure experiments to directly observe what happens to the human body given different triggers or environments. APEL is a state-of-the-art facility and an integral part of our Centre. Our research is designed with a keen concern for research quality and relevance to public health. Our studies investigate the effects of common inhaled exposures on clinical symptoms, airway physiology, local and systemic immunity, and we also test the ability of existing and novel interventions to ameliorate these effects. Using rigorous methodology, we assess for inflammation, oxidative stress, lung function, and a range of unique signatures of exposure effect. With the application of omics, we also study the role of genetics on these variables, and seek biosignatures that inform our understanding of the human response to inhaled toxicant exposure. Ultimately, our research is aimed at using basic and translational scientific research to inform policies on occupational and environmental pollutants, to illuminate risk in susceptible populations, and to provide evidence for what interventions do and do not mitigate harm in this context. In the process, we provide a world-class training environment for the next generation of environmental health scientists.
To read about more about our work, please click on the following links:
Funding for the Air Pollution Exposure Laboratory has been provided by the following organisations: