Early Life Brain Development, Air Pollution and the Exposome: A Complexity Perspective (Lecture at Nelson Mandela University)

I would like to thank Andrea Hurst and Anton Botha and Harsheila Riga for the opportunity to present my work on early Life Brain Development, Air Pollution and the Exposome: A Complexity Perspective  at Nelson Mandela University. The purpose of the talk is to outline a new framing of the exposome, allostatic load and brain health grounded in a case-based complexities of place perspective.




Adverse environmental exposures during early life development, in particular air pollution, are crucial to the brain health that children and adolescents (and the communities in which they live) subsequently experience throughout their life-course. Brain health ranges from neurodegenerative disease and developmental disorders to cognitive function and mental health. Given this pathways to disease link to development, a new field of study has emerged called the exposome. The exposome is a complex configuration of all the exposures a community and its individuals experience in a lifetime and how the multifaceted chemistry of the systems in which people live meet with the complexities of the human brain and public health – particularly in terms of health and social inequalities. For example, by 2050, 24% of global deaths will be linked to the environment; 30-55% to social determinants; and over 139 million people will have dementia at a global cost of $2.8 trillion. Mitigating these public health issues by intervening in early life development is key. The theoretical challenge, however, is how best to make sense of such complexity. The purpose of this presentation is to explore how a complex systems view of the intersection between social determinants and the exposome and their impact on brain health development as a function of place is the best approach for advancing such a difficult, interdisciplinary field of study and its policy implications. The case study as evidence will be the latest research on air pollution and brain health in early life and adolescence.

Here is a link to my PowerPoint

Here is the link to InSPIRE


Vermeulen, R., Schymanski, E. L., Barabási, A. L., & Miller, G. W. (2020). The exposome and health: Where chemistry meets biology. Science, 367(6476), 392-396.




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