New research centre to study the impact of the environment on human health

A new multi-disciplinary research centre to study the impact of environmental exposures on human health has been launched at the University of Leicester.

The Centre for Environmental Health and Sustainability (CEHS) draws on experts from a wide variety of research backgrounds to investigate and mitigate the health problems from air pollution, environmental noise, and low-level chemical exposures.

Air pollution is known to have wide-ranging effects on health. CEHS specialises in producing high quality estimates of air pollution exposure to use in large health studies, to better understand impacts of air quality on the lung, infectious disease and childhood development.  It is also involved in laboratory studies to looks at the mechanisms involved.

Recent research suggests environmental noise may contribute to health conditions including coronary heart disease, diabetes, hypertension and sleep disturbance. CEHS is one of the leading European groups researching this new area.

The CEHS group also examines health risks from other exposures, including moulds and pollens in the air and chemical exposures such as volatile organic compounds, found in many products in the home.

The Centre was formally launched on Wednesday at a virtual event, with Director Professor Hansell and Deputy Director Professor John Gulliver providing an overview of the exciting work already taking place in CEHS and the future research vision.

Guests also heard a keynote address from Professor Sir Stephen Holgate, MRC Clinical Professor of Immunopharmacology, UKRI Clean Air Champion and Special Advisor to the Royal College of Physicians on air quality.

The new Centre is directed by Anna Hansell, Professor of Environmental Epidemiology, and chair of the UK Government’s Committee on the Medical Effects of Air Pollutants (COMEAP).

She said: “I am delighted that the official launch of the Centre forms part of the University of Leicester Centenary celebrations. The University of Leicester’s motto is ut vitam habeant, ‘so that they may have life’, which underpins the Centre’s vision to improve human health and the health of the environment in our changing world.

“Since being founded in 2018, the Centre research team has grown to 18 people. We have led or participated in research grants totalling £20million, working with 15 research groups across the university, and collaborating with external national and international experts in environmental health.”

CEHS also hosts a National Institute of Health Research (NIHR) Health Protection Research Unit (HPRU) in Environmental Exposures and Health at the University of Leicester, formed in partnership with Public Health England (PHE) and the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). Its focus is on health risks in the built environment.

Researchers will further collaborate with colleagues at Space Park Leicester on Earth observation and other space-based projects. The University of Leicester also hosts the Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)-affiliated National Centre for Earth Observation (NCEO).

Professor Nishan Canagarajah, President and Vice-Chancellor at the University of Leicester, said: “We are very pleased to take the next step in Leicester’s contribution to environment research with the launch of our Centre for Environmental Health and Sustainability.

“Professor Hansell and her team have quickly established an international reputation for their novel research, and we look forward to continuing to support this important work, which will impact the way all of us live.

“I would like to thank entrepreneur Bob Woods, MBE, for his generous philanthropic support which has helped the University to establish the Centre specifically through vital funding for the Professorship in Environmental Epidemiology.

“To be able to formally launch the Centre in the same year that the University marks our Centenary – and our first 100 years of world-changing research and learning – makes this development all the more significant.” 

Professor Philip Baker, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research and Enterprise at the University of Leicester, said: “We are immensely proud of the track-record of the University’s research in this area, and are excited to see the real-world impact of this work in the coming years.

“This Centre holds a unique strength in its multi-disciplinary approach, drawing on expertise from a wide number of fields. Close collaboration between researchers is the only way we can hope to create positive change in our built environment.”