The research conducted by the Environmental Epidemiology and Biocomplex Systems Research Unit (UR "EpiBio") aims to consolidate the scientific basis to support sustainable environmental decisions that contribute to reducing the burden of disease, in line with Sustainable Development Goal No. 3. Specific objectives include the development and application of integrated approaches that combine epidemiological studies on environmental risk factors with toxicological risk assessment, recognizing direct human knowledge as relevant aspects of research within a more robust Adverse Outcome Pathway approach. The research focuses on preclinical endpoints to gain a better understanding of how human exposure to chemical contaminants can cause alterations at the organ and tissue levels by triggering pathogenetic processes. Attention is paid to structural and functional alterations induced by toxic substances, which can be observed at low and medium exposure levels over the long term. Although these alterations may be silent, they underlie the onset of diseases. In the field of environmental epidemiology techniques, systematic reviews, meta-analytic techniques, and evidence evaluation tools are particularly used. These tools are employed to highlight the importance of solid and reliable epidemiological data, which are combined with toxicity data in chemical risk assessment.

The working group participates in research initiatives funded by both European and national funds and contributes actively to international discussions on risk assessment and health impact within the context of the European Union's Green Deal and the European Centre for Environment and Health of the World Health Organization (WHO). Furthermore, it collaborates with Italian and foreign universities and research centres, public administrations, and interdisciplinary working groups of the National Research Council (CNR) for the development and implementation of operational projects aimed at supporting decisions that promote the OneHealth approach, which integrates human, animal, and environmental health to address global health challenges in a holistic and interdisciplinary manner.

ALTERNATIVE - environmentAL Toxicity chEmical mixtuRes through aN innovative platform based on aged cardiac tissue model

36 months (2021-2024)

European Commission Horizon 2020 programme

Grant Agreement n.101037090

Project website:

The EpiBio contribution within the ALTERNATIVE EU project aims to connect the effects observed in human communities with laboratory toxicity testing results. Environmental epidemiology identifies pollutants with cardiotoxic potential in real population exposure conditions. Environmental contamination affects a large portion of the global population, with pollutants directly contributing to heart issues, increasing hospitalizations and mortality. Through systematic literature review and meta-analysis, the project identified pollutants affecting echocardiographic parameters and early markers of heart failure. Notable effects include particulate matter and lead on systolic and diastolic function, with other pollutants also showing significant impacts. This research underscores the importance of addressing the direct cardiotoxicity of chemicals to combat cardiovascular diseases caused by pollution. The evidence built within the project contributes to understanding adverse outcome pathways from biological to community levels and select relevant chemicals to focus on. Future studies should also address vulnerable populations to decrease the cardiovascular burden from chemical pollution.

BREATH - A bioprinted alveolar lung-on-chip device to assess the role of inhaled pollutants towards pulmonary fibrosis onset

24 months (2023 - 2025)

PRIN 2022 PNRR – Missione 4 MINISTERO (Ministero dell'Università e della Ricerca)


Pulmonary fibrosis (PF) is a severe lung disease with a short median survival time after diagnosis. Recent research highlights the correlation between long-term exposure to harmful substances like tobacco smoke, air pollution, and certain occupational chemicals, and the progression of PF. However, evidence on the role of pollutants in initiating PF is lacking. The synthesis of research findings involves studying the effects of chemical exposure on humans, starting from epithelial injury, immune cell recruitment, and molecular initiation. Key events include epithelial cell injury, proliferation, differentiation into myofibroblasts, and excessive production of extracellular matrix (ECM) proteins, leading to ECM accumulation, altered lung architecture, organ dysfunction, and respiratory insufficiency. The EpiBio contribution within the BREATH project focuses on identifying specific pollutants responsible for the onset of pulmonary fibrosis (PF). This involves conducting epidemiological analyses to pinpoint these pollutants. Subsequently, these identified pollutants are tested on an optimized 2.5D in vitro lung model to comprehensively understand their toxicological effects.