Prof. dr. ir. R.C.H. (Roel) Vermeulen

One Health Epidemiology Chemical Agents

Genomics has realized major breakthroughs in precision medicine. Yet its limitations have become clear: despite large-scale genomic studies, genetic contributions can only explain an estimated 30% of the chronic disease burden. The other 70% needs to be explained by non-genetic factors collectively called environmental factors. The environment hence has a major impact on public health as a major risk factor for common non-communicable diseases. However, till recently the scientific community lacked the tools to adequately identify at a system-scale the relations between disease and exposure to these environmental factors.
Recognising the importance of these non-genetic factors and the disbalanced view of nature versus nurture in medicine Vermeulen and colleagues set out more than 10 years ago to change the scientific paradigm. They initiated the new field of Exposome research which aimed to enable at an OMIC-scale the identification of these environmental factors driving health. Dr. Vermeulen pushed the research field in exposure science, molecular biology, epidemiology and computational science to develop the tooling to establish a 4-dimensional system understanding of our living environments, biology, disease and its time dependencies. Through his leadership he was able to establish the Gravitation program on Exposome research (17M research program) and was instrumental in initiating and establishing the European Human Exposome Project (106M research program) of which he is the current lead. Vermeulen’s adagium is that we cannot treat ourselves out of the chronic disease problem and that therefore prevention must be central. However effective prevention is impossible without system knowledge on the causes and underlying mechanisms of disease.
Vermeulen is not only focusing on fundamental research but is well aware that data and knowledge needs to be actionable and implemented. He has therefore established the Data and knowledge hub on Healthy Urban Living to facilitate the quadruple helix collaboration on healthy living environments. Vermeulen is a strong believer of team and open science. He has dedicated a large part of his career to establish research resources and open infrastructures. Within his current research projects he has established open science hubs allowing co-creation and the FAIR use of data.
Vermeulen’s work has had direct impact on regulation of important occupational and environmental contaminants (e.g. benzene, formaldehyde, diesel exhaust, air pollution) affecting millions of people. His work however does not only impact society through the regulatory process but through collaboration with citizens, urban planners and other stakeholders he is actively working on changing design principles as to establish more healthy environments for all.
Public and environmental health have no borders. Vermeulen’s research group works in more than 30 countries to safeguard the health of its global citizens.