Facilitating the Centralization and Integration of Exposure Data through Exposure Ontology Development and Expanded Accessibility to Exposure Studies

Carolyn Mattingly1, Judith Blake2, Michael Callahan3, Robin Dodson4, Jane Hoppin5, Elaine Cohen Hubal6, Peter Egeghy6, Thomas McKone7, and Ruthann Rudel41Mount Desert Island Biological Lab, 2The Jackson Laboratory, 3MDB, Inc., 4Silent Spring Institute, 5NIEHS, 6U.S. EPA, 7Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory.

Environmental exposures contribute substantially to the burden of common complex diseases. Understanding the relationships between exposures and disease etiologies will be critical to support health studies and characterize risk. The effective use of exposure data is currently limited by the lack of publicly available robust data sets, centralization of exposure data, improvements in measurement capabilities and context with other systems-based biological information. Many environmental health and research agencies including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, and the National Academy of Sciences, are supporting programs and proposing visions that underscore the importance of increased support for research and development in exposure science. In order to overcome the challenges to leveraging existing exposure data, resources must be developed to centralize, integrate, and improve public accessibility to these data within a broader biological framework. In this application, we propose to address these needs by: 1) developing an exposure data ontology that will expand the capacity for exposure data integration, centralization, curation, and analysis and 2) facilitating public access to a seminal exposure data set generated by the Silent Spring Institute (i.e., the Household Exposure Studies). This highly collaborative and interdisciplinary project is leveraging existing expertise among the exposure science and database and ontology development communities to lay the groundwork required ensuring future integration and centralization of exposure science information.


Significant progress has been made over the last several years in collecting and improving access to genomic, toxicology, and health data. However, these information resources lack extensive and reliable exposure data required to translate molecular insights, elucidate environmental contributions to diseases, and assess human health risks at the individual and population levels. The design and development of an Exposure Ontology, ExO, will facilitate centralization and integration of exposure data by bridging the gap between exposure science and environmental health disciplines including toxicology, epidemiology, disease surveillance, and epigenetics. This project extends the existing National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) Comparative Toxicogenomics Database (CTD) to include exposure-health information by curating exposure data for a subset of chemicals and integrating them with health data. An exposure ontology with clear definitions and relationships should help to facilitate decision-making, study design, and prioritization of research initiatives by enhancing the capacity for data collection and analysis in a manner that has not been possible previously.


Exposure ontology development, environmental health, public database, integration of exposure data

Project Start and End Dates

2010 – 2011

Project ID


Peer-reviewed Publication(s)

Mattingly CJ, McKone TE, Callahan MA, Blake JA, Cohen Hubal EA. (2011). Design and evaluation of ExO: An ontology for exposure science. (Submitted).

Other Publication(s)

None to date.

Abstract Revision Date

May 2011

* This abstract was prepared by the principal investigator for the project.


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