Exposure Biology

Exposure Biology and Biomarker Development: Using biomarkers to recreate past exposures to chemicals during prenatal and early childhood
This molar tooth model with the cut face shows color-coded barium patterns merging with a microscopic map of growth lines.
[Credit: Ian Harrowell, Christine Austin and Manish Arora – graphic]

Our Laboratory has extensive experience in the development, validation and application of novel exposure biology methods. State-of-the-art equipment is available to measure ultra-trace levels of multiple organic and inorganic chemicals in biological and environmental matrices.

These include:

  • Inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometry (ICP-MS)
  • Laser ablation
  • Direct mercury analyzer
  • High resolution liquid chromatography quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry (Q-TOF-MS)
  • Liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry (LC-MS/MS)
  • Gas chromatography tandem mass spectrometry (GC-MS/MS)

An important area of development is the use of biological matrices (such as human teeth) to retrospectively uncover the timing of chemical exposure during the prenatal and early childhood periods. These applications are directed towards uncovering early life determinants of childhood and adult disorders by identifying critical windows of susceptibility to environmental chemical mixtures. Concentrations of a panel of over 20 metals/metalloids and organic chemicals (e.g. bisphenol A, phthalates and pesticides) are routinely measured in whole blood, serum, urine, hair, toenails, teeth and other biological media. The Laboratory participates in various inter-laboratory calibration programs internationally to ensure the highest standards of operation.

Key Researchers in this area are:

Manish Arora, BDS, MPH, PhD
Chitra Amarasiriwardena, PhD
Christine Austin, PhD
Syam Andra, PhD
Megan Niedzwiecki, PhD


T. M. Smith, C. Austin, K. Hinde, E. R. Vogel, M. Arora, Cyclical nursing patterns in wild orangutans. Sci. Adv. 3 (2017). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1601517 (read more)

Austin C, Smith TM, Bradman A, Hinde K, Joannes-Boyau R, Bishop D, Hare DJ, Doble P, Eskenazi B, Arora M. Barium distributions in teeth reveal early-life dietary transitions in primates. Nature. 2013 Jun 13;498(7453):216-9. doi:10.1038/nature12169. PMID:23698370; PMCID:PMC3725337 (read more)

Arora M, Austin C. Teeth as a biomarker of past chemical exposure. Curr Opin Pediatr. 2013 Apr;25(2):261-7. PMID:23429707 (read more)

Arora M, Bradman A, Austin C, Vedar M, Holland N, Eskenazi B, Smith DR. Determining fetal manganese exposure from mantle dentine of deciduous teeth. Environ Sci Technol 2012 May 1;46(9):5118-25. PMID:22455722; PMCID:PMC3341525 (read more)