Volunteers needed for University of Michigan study of link between environment, risk of health problems

The University of Michigan is seeking volunteers for a long-term study on how the environment impacts the risk of developing health problems, such as cancer.

Recruitment for the MI-Cares study will last at least six years. The team is looking for 100,000 participants ages 25-44 who will be studied for decades. The study will be conducted remotely, with some test kits being mailed in.

"We're evaluating environmental exposures and different intermediate health outcomes with the idea to protect individuals from cancer, because environmental exposures may affect other things, we will also be able to evaluate heart disease, diabetes and other disease endpoints to identify which of the 1000s of chemicals that were exposed to can impact our health," said Dr. Dana Dolinoy, with U of M.

Researchers will focus on many environmental exposures, while assessing how other factors like race, socioeconomic status and lifestyle impact relationships between the environment and health. Its really a study of the epigenome, which are chemical compounds that tell your body how to react. 

"It's the instruction book that tells our 1000s of genes, when to turn on, where to turn on how much to turn on, and how to react to all of these environmental influences that we're encountering. From when we're very young, in the womb, to when we're adults and throughout our life. We know the genome is static and not modifiable, but the epigenome is plastic and potentially modifiable across our life. It's poised to react to various environmental influences," Dolinoy said. "We may be able to identify through looking at an individual's epigenome people who are more likely to develop a disease years later. And in that case, there might be some options for intervention, we might invoke some of those positive things like a good diet, less stress, but there are also potentially clinical approaches where we might be able to go in and alter the epigenome in a way that says, hey, wait a minute, we're not ready for these genes to be expressed this way. Let's go back and think about some interventions or some pharmaceuticals that might be able to prolong life and decrease the risk of disease."

Learn more about the study.