NewGeneris is an Integrated Project conducted within the European Union's 6th Framework Programme, priority area Food Quality and Safety. Its objective is to investigate the role of prenatal and early-life exposure to genotoxic chemicals present in food and the environment in the development of childhood cancer and immune disorders.
During recent decades there has been an accelerating increase of the incidence of childhood cancers, especially leukemias. A world-wide increase is also observed in the prevalence among children of immune diseases, including asthma, allergic rhinoconjunctivitis and atopic eczema/dermatitis.
There may be biological and etiological links between the onset of childhood cancer and immunological disorders. Among such possible links is exposure to genotoxic-carcinogens (i.e. carcinogenic chemicals capable of causing damage to the genetic material of cells) with associated immunotoxic properties, present in the environment, including food. NewGeneris is examining the possible role of exposure to such chemicals during pregnancy in the induction of increased risk of cancer and immune disorders in childhood. The relevance, for such risks, of analogous exposures of the fathers at the time of conception, as well as of the children themselves during their very early lifetime, is also being investigated.
The main research tool used is biomarkers, i.e. chemical or cellular components of human fluids or tissues, which reflect exposure to, early effects of, or susceptibility to toxic chemicals. In NewGeneris, biomarkers are measured mostly in samples of maternal and umbilical cord blood collected from groups of mother-child pairs (birth cohorts) and stored in large collections ( biobanks ). Information regarding the dietary exposures of the mothers, the fathers and the children themselves during early life, is extracted from validated questionnaires. The combined analysis of data on exposure, biomarkers and information on the health status of the children as they grow older will be utilised to evaluate the role of early-life exposures in the causation of disease, to identify genetic traits which lead to increased individual susceptibility to disease and to evaluate their public health implications of such findings.
Towards a European birth mega-cohort
comeThe biological samples available to NewGeneris from already existing biobanks in 5 different European regions, while 3 new biobanks will also be created. Between them, these biobanks represent a total of around 300,000 mother-child pairs, constituting in effect a virtual European birth mega-cohort with subjects coming from regions with a wide diversity of environmental conditions and dietary and lifestyle habits. This makes NewGeneris one of the largest studies of its kind ever conducted and provides it with a unique potential to discern the role of food-borne chemicals in the etiology of childhood cancer and immune disease.
Social relevance: Safer food and environment to protect children
With its emphasis on health risks for newborn children associated with in utero exposure to chemicals as a consequence of their dietary intake by the mother, NewGeneris provides a novel perspective on the issue of food safety. From the project/s results, policy measures may be derived to improve food quality by appropriate selection of raw materials and use of appropriate food production methods. The ultimate aim is to contribute to the protection of child health through the formulation of improved health policies, more effective food regulations specially targeted at children and better food quality.
NewGeneris also serves the objective of the EU Sixth Environment Action Programme to achieve a quality of the environment where the levels of man-made contaminants do not give rise to significant impacts on or risks to human health, by contributing to the research effort to develop science-based risk assessment into a tool for improved chemical and food safety.