The Department of Environmental Health Science works to investigate environmental factors and their effects on human health. The main research lines focus on the survey of environmental contaminants, the assessment of human exposure with related health risks, and toxicity mechanisms of pollutants.
The assessment of environmental contamination is carried out not only for well-known and widespread compounds, like dioxins and PCBs, but also for new classes of "unconventional" pollutants, e.g., endocrine disruptors, potentially toxic "natural" compounds, pharmaceuticals and personal care products, industrial waste products. The identification -for the first time- of illicit drugs in urban waste led to a new original tool for the evidence-based monitoring of community drug abuse, nicotine and alcohol. For all these survey activities sophisticated analytical methods based on advanced mass spectrometric techniques are developed.
Evaluation of risks associated with contamination in real-life scenarios is evaluated by toxicological and ecotoxicological risk analysis, based on studies in field and predictive models of toxicity. Assessment of human exposure to toxic compounds in the atmosphere and the diet, which is the main source of priority pollutants (PCBs, dioxins and other endocrine disruptors) is performed by both in vitro and in silico studies.
Molecular epidemiology studies are used to identify genetic and/or environmental factors posing risks to human health. We search also new useful “biological markers" to identify toxicity or pathology, and to identify molecular targets and toxic effect mechanisms of pollutants and drugs. This is performed through an advanced technological proteomic and metabolomic platform able to identify proteins differentially expressed in biological compartments in various experimental and clinical conditions and to define the biochemical phenotype of a biological system.
Mass spectrometry (MS) is a central analytical technique at the Department, where a complete set of state-of-the-art instrumentation is available, from GC-MS and LC-MS to MALDI-TOF-MS. These instruments are provided with modern solutions for sample introduction (chip-based nanoLC), sample ionization (ESI, DESI and MALDI), tandem MS (MSn) by triple quadrupole and TOF-TOF instruments, high mass resolution analysis (Orbitrap, Q-TOF, Q Exactive).