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Significance of Biomarkers in the Exposure-disease-continuum

Koch, Holger

doi: 10.1097/01.ede.0000392076.13655.b6
Abstracts: ISEE 22nd Annual Conference, Seoul, Korea, 28 August–1 September 2010: Assessment Methodology for Newly Emerging Exposures in Environmental Epidemiology

Institute for Prevention and Occupational Medicine of the German Social Accident Insurance, Institute of the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (IPA), Bochum, Germany.

Abstracts published in Epidemiology have been reviewed by the societies at whose meetings the abstracts have been accepted for presentation. These abstracts have not undergone review by the Editorial Board of Epidemiology.


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Human biomonitoring or the measurement of specific biomarkers in body tissues/fluids is one of several tools to assess exposure to chemical substances. With the aid of biological monitoring internal exposures (biomarkers of exposure), biochemical and biological effects can be evaluated.

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Unlike ambient monitoring, exposure models or questionnaire data, human biomonitoring provides a measure of the amount of substance that has actually been taken up by the human body. Thus, human biomonitoring data permit a reliable approach to exposure assessment even when the extent and nature of external exposures pathways (eg, via foodstuff, air, dust water, cosmetics, lifestyle) are multiple, unknown, or difficult to evaluate. Biomonitoring can also provide data to verify or calibrate (probabilistic) exposure models. An important prerequisite for human biomonitoring is some knowledge on the metabolism and kinetics of the target biomarker and its metabolites. Depending on the characteristics of the respective biomarkers, biomonitoring data can capture exposures over the past 24 hours, a couple of weeks or even several months in the past. Further assumptions, worst case scenarios or evaluation of the contribution exposure routes are not essential, because biomonitoring data represent an integral measure of all sources and routes of exposure. Finally, biomonitoring data can also provide critical information to accurately evaluate and communicate health risks, and to develop and monitor measures for reducing exposures.

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The possibilities and limitations of biological monitoring will be shown using examples of emerging environmental exposures of concern to endocrine disruptors such as phthalates and bisphenol A (BPA), and exposure to a well-known carcinogen, environmental tobacco smoke. In the case of tobacco smoke exposure, the usefulness of reaction products of carcinogenic substances with hemoglobin, the so called Hb-adducts, as exposure biomarkers will be discussed. Last, biomonitoring data trends of exposure over the last few years will be shown (for phthalates and BPA), as well as comparisons of exposures between Europe and the United States. Biomonitoring data trends of exposure over the last few years will be shown (for phthalates and BPA), as well as comparisons of exposures between Europe and the United States.

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Biomonitoring is an excellent tool that can add valuable information on exposures to chemical substances. It does not replace other measures of external exposure or model estimates.

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