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External and Internal Human Exposure in Urban EXposome

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - URBAN_X (External and Internal Human Exposure in Urban EXposome)

Reporting period: 2019-09-01 to 2020-11-30

"Urban populations already consist of more than half of the world's inhabitants and are rapidly growing. Consequently, exposure to environmental stressors, such as pollution and noise, which can adversely affect health, is rising. The ""urban exposome"" concept has emerged in response to the urgent need to understand the impacts of urban environments on human health.
The URBAN_X project aims to develop strategic partnerships between RECETOX (Research Center for TOXins in the environment; www.recetox.muni.cz) in the Czech Republic (a Widening country), and three leading European international counterparts (University College London in the UK, Barcelona institute of global health in Spain, and Utrecht University in the Netherlands). The partnerships will include scientific collaborations and networking activities and enhance European research excellence in the urban exposome field.
Common research interests and the complementary expertise of project partners will boost the development of new approaches for studying the effects of the urban exposome on human health. Simultaneously, the project will significantly enhance RECETOX's scientific capacity, raise its students' and staff's professional profile, and increase its international visibility.
The objectives of the project are:
• To strengthen the research excellence of RECETOX in the field of the urban exposome through the newly developed strong partnership with advanced research institutions in the area of environmental and social
epidemiology and environmental exposure assessment (demonstrated by high-profile joint publications)
• To enhance the scientific visibility of RECETOX and open new networking opportunities (joint project applications, secondments of students and staff)
• To increase the competitiveness of RECETOX in national, EU, and international research grant competitions (competitive individual grant applications, joint collaborative project applications)
• To improve RECETOX's researchers and research support staff profiles, and especially those of the early-stage researchers (ESRs) (newly accredited study programs, Ph.D. mentors from the partner institutions)
• To foster collaboration with policy-makers at the local level (Brno City Municipality) to translate the research findings to policy and regulations and implement smart and healthy city policies (collaborative contracts)."
URBAN_X is a Coordination and Support Action (CSA), and as such, travel is an essential means of achieving its goals. However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 epidemic across the EU and abroad, many project activities were postponed or canceled. Nonetheless, even though the epidemic presented significant challenges, it did not result in a complete cessation of activities but instead shifted in-person activities to the online realm. The best example was the 16th RECETOX Summer school, held in cooperation with the SMURBS project (SMart URBan Solutions for air quality, disasters, and city growth; http://smurbs.eu/) which took place entirely online in Microsoft Teams. 300 participants from 40 countries attended the summer school. Since the beginning of the project, partners participated in three collaborative projects, most notably the EXPANSE project (http://expanseproject.eu/) a five-year HORIZON 2020 project that focuses on the urban exposome and involves 20 academic and non-academic partners located in 14 European countries and the USA. Three of the URBAN_X partners are involved in this project, which is coordinated by Utrecht University. Several project events also took place, such as the project kick-off meeting, Researcher's Night, Open days at the Masaryk University, and public lectures on topics related to the urban exposome.
URBAN_X is a CSA project, and therefore, its main activities involve mainly capacity building and networking rather than research. However, the capacity building activities include internships (mobilities) of researchers and early-stage researchers (ESRs) from RECETOX at the advanced partners' institutes. Researchers and ESR will train for three months at the advanced partners and then use the newly gained knowledge at RECETOX.
RECETOX has access to large longitudinal datasets of air monitoring, census, epidemiological, and biomonitoring studies in urban areas but lacks the expertise to exploit these datasets' full potential. With the help of the strategic partners, who are global leaders in exposome studies, these data will be analyzed to link environmental exposures and health outcomes using advanced statistical and machine learning methods to investigate the impact of the urban exposome on the health of urban populations. The partnership with leading European research institutions will enhance RECETOX's innovation capacity and research performance and improve Europe’s collaborative potential.
Socioeconomic and broader societal impacts and implications are beyond the project's current scope, as they are associated with policy changes on local and national levels. Nonetheless, the project will provide policy-makers tools for better decision-making and planning in the long term. As the knowledge to analyze and understand the data develops, relevant information based on scientific evidence will guide the decision and policy-makers, leading to improvements in the urban inhabitants' health and quality of life resulting from policies addressing green spaces, air quality, and light and noise pollution. It is well established that low socioeconomic status is associated with several health conditions. Thus an improvement in the urban population’s health as a whole, consequent to sound environmental policy, will positively impact the socioeconomically-disadvantaged population. Furthermore, the implications of such policies will undoubtedly contribute to the health and quality of life of the whole society, regardless of socioeconomic status.
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