Environment and Health
ENVIRONMENT AND HEALTH (E&H)
The Centre for Environment and Health (E&H) includes the following closely linked areas of research: (a) Occupational and Environmental Exposure and Toxicological Assessment; (b) Occupational and Environmental medicine; (c) Insurance medicine; (d) Youth Health Care; (e) Infection Prevention and Control; (f) Nutrition. The interaction between environment and health in different age groups and settings is the main and common focus of the research of E&H in the different areas of attention.
Occupational and Environmental Exposure and Toxicological Assessment
The broad research objective of the unit is to improve scientific knowledge (and, hence, practice) in environmental health and exposure, through epidemiologic, basic and applied research. The human epidemiologic studies comprise ‘classic’ exposure and effect studies to pollutants in the workplace or in the general environments (e.g. carcinogens, irritants, metals, particulate air pollution, green spaces) in Belgium and also in developing countries (e.g. Morocco, Pakistan, DR Congo).
The experimental studies are conducted in two laboratories: (1) the Laboratory of Occupational Hygiene is an analytical laboratory where methods are developed and validated to assess environmental and human samples after exposure, and (2) the Laboratory of Occupational and Environmental Toxicology performs translational research regarding mechanisms of toxicity of inhaled pollutants with an emphasis on ultrafine particles and engineered nanoparticles, and immunological and non-immunological mechanisms of chemical-induced asthma.
Occupational and Environmental Medicine
In addition to the above mentioned epidemiologic ‘exposure’ studies, this unit investigates the impact of environment on health in humans by unravelling the underlying mechanism and also the reverse how health can affect work (dis)ability. The first scope focuses mainly on the genetic and epigenetic mechanisms of disease development. Here, we apply a translational study design: often starting from lab findings, obtained through the exposure of cells or animals to specific agents (e.g. particles, metals, pesticides, solvents, dental composite). The main focus of the second scope is the social environment and the psychological health, e.g. alcohol and other drug use at work; healthy ageing, determinants of burn out.
Insurance medicine is the application of the science and art of medicine to the assessment of the life and health insurance risk. The unit makes use of its position close to sickness funds and private insurers to enhance its research, teaching and external profile. Its research relates a range of theoretical and applied issues in disability, life insurance, malpractice and health care. Particular and present areas of research include disability following low back pain with a major focus on return to work. Future research is also aimed at analysing mortality and disability risk in underwriting.
Youth Health Care
This unit conducts clinical-epidemiological in child health services research, the evaluation of preventive programs, the assessment of child growth and development, the management of chronic disease and psychological well-being of children and adolescents. The unit is also initiator and promoter of evidence-based youth health care in the fields of prevention and early detection. Being one of the founding members of the Leuven University Vaccinology Centre (LUVAC), the unit is actively involved in vaccinology research, including clinical trials and vaccination coverage studies in the general population (i.e. children and adolescents) and in specific risk groups with chronic disease.
Infection Prevention and Control
The unit is mainly in charge of infection prevention and control for the University Hospitals Leuven. Research was until now focused on the evaluation of the efficacy of disinfectants in their different modes of application and the description and analysis of outbreaks and their preventive measures. At this moment the unit participates in a Belgium-Netherlands INTERREG project i-4-1 Health with focus on antimicrobial resistance and infection control in a one Health setting (veterinary, community and health care). The project focuses on research and innovation and is allocated for a period of 3 years, starting from 1/1/2017. A PhD student is analysing and optimizing the quality of home care by health practitioners. Finally, research collaboration exists with the department of Primary Care, especially in the area of infection control in long-term care facilities.
The research of this unit is mainly of a clinical-epidemiological nature. The main focus is prevention of chronic diseases by lifestyle adaptations (diet, physical activity, stress, sleep). Further on, the unit is also involved in public health issues coming up from the Superior Health Council (nutritional guidelines, food composition table, workgroup on diet, safety and health, specific questions according to actuality), and the Flemish institute for healthy living (educational tools).