235373 Epigenetics and human disease: What occupational health needs to know

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Amber Rassbach, MPH(c) , Department of Health Science, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
Steven Thygerson, PhD, MSPH, CIH , Department of Health Sciences, Brigham Young University, Provo, UT
Occupational health is charged with protecting workers from unacceptable exposures and injuries, and therefore has the responsibility of incorporating new technologies and science in risk assessment, mitigation, and management. Epigenetics, the study of heritable changes in gene expression without alterations in DNA, is the new frontier of our understanding of human disease. Common epigenetic mechanisms include DNA methylation and histone modification which result from environmental exposures to environmental chemicals such as metals, air pollutants, pesticides, and endocrine disrupting toxicants, as well as lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise, and stress level. Epigenetic mutations have been associated with a variety of human diseases including cancer, heart disease, and reproductive disorders. Studies show some epigenetic changes to be heritable; implying that mutations and diseases associated with epigenetic mutations might not be due to exposures in the lifetime of the individual but rather, the parents or grandparents. These research findings should be red flags to occupational health professionals given the high levels of chemical exposures incurred on the job and the profession's responsibility to protect susceptible groups. Given that mutations often occur even at low exposure levels, epigenetics research has huge implications for exposure threshold setting, risk assessment, and occupational disease studies. As research continues, it is important that occupational health prepares to incorporate this new science. The purpose of this presentation is to increase knowledge and understanding of epigenetics, promote epigenetics research, and inform participants about areas within occupational health that would benefit from the inclusion of epigenetics in the research paradigm.

Learning Areas:
Occupational health and safety
Other professions or practice related to public health
Public health biology

Learning Objectives:
Define and describe epigenetics. Asses how occupational health can support epigenetics research. Identify applications of epigenetics research in occupational health.

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have an understanding and education in biology and microbiology and I have performed a comprehensive literature review of the subject area.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.