Unit | Chronic Disease Epidemiology

The Burden of Non-Communicable Diseases

The fight against infections, including interventions by Swiss TPH, has successfully reduced mortality at a young age. More and more people are surviving into old age and suffering from non-communicable diseases (NCDs). NCDs are often chronic and the burden of disability is increasing. Lifelong, often costly, treatment of NCDs is a poverty risk for individuals, households and health systems. Primary prevention is therefore a priority in NCD control. More than half of the world's population lives in urban areas. This leads to changes in social networks, work environment, environmental exposures and lifestyles that can predispose to the development of NCDs.

Research into the Relation between Exposome and Phenome

The unit conducts observational research to promote mechanistic understanding of the relationship between the exposome (the totality of exposures to which humans are exposed over the life course) and the phenome (the totality of health phenotypes and co-morbidities). In close collaboration with national and international policy makers, the unit applies the collected evidence and expertise of its members to improve health and environmental policy (e.g. LUDOK).

Cohorts and Biobanks to Unterstand NCD and Risk Factors

The unit sets up and conducts observational studies and cohorts of national and international value with associated biobanks (SAPALDIASOPHYA, COVCO-BaselCoDuBu, FarmCoSwiss) covering different age groups as well as geographical, cultural and genetic contexts. External environmental exposures (e.g. air pollution, traffic noise, chemicals) and lifestyle (e.g. physical activity, smoking, alcohol consumption diet) are captured through personalised health and exposome approaches, which also have been used for human biomonitoring. Genetic and genomic biomarkers are investigated for exposure, disease susceptibility and molecular mediation in causal inferences.

Identification of Risk Factors



The Swiss study on Air Pollution And Lung Disease in Adults (SAPALDIA) is the only Swiss-wide chronic disease cohort with associated biobank. It was initiated in 1991 and has since been funded by the SNF, the Federal Offices for the Environment and Public Health, different Lung Leagues and cantons. SAPALDIA is at the center of national and international air pollution (ESCAPE; Exposomics) and respiratory health research (ALEC). The rich risk factor, environmental and health data as well as the genome- and methylome-wide data is used in studies ranging from assessing the role of physical activity, sleep, and transportation noise in cardio-metabolic disease etiology to the evaluation of chronic disease diagnosis and treatment. Read more about SAPALDIA

ALEC - Aging Lungs in European Cohorts

The Horizon 2020 funded project ALEC - Aging Lungs in European Cohorts - integrates data from long-term studies with high quality spirometry data from different countries and age groups. It aims to close the gaps in understanding of poor lung function and COPD and will develop a COPD risk prediction tool. Swiss TPH is participating to ALEC with the SAPALDIA cohort and is leading the work package on genetics and epigenetics. These biomarkers are integrated into Mendelian randomization studies to interrogate the causality of COPD risk factors. Read more about the ALEC study

HBM4EU - The European Human Biomonitoring Initiative

Citizens are exposed to a wide range of chemicals through their diet, environment and use of consumer products. Human biomonitoring data of nationally representative or vulnerable subgroups of the population is essential to guide policy in all sectors dealing with the regulation of chemicals. Swiss TPH coordinates the participation of Switzerland in the Horizon2020 funded European Human Biomonitoring Initiative (HBM4EU). HBM4EU aims to use existing and collect new harmonized HBM data for improved understanding of health risks. Read more about HBM4EU

Expert Commission for Genetic Testing in Humans

The Unit Head Nicole Probst-Hensch is member of the expert commission for Genetic Testing in Humans (GUMEK). The commission is appointed by the Federal Council for expert advise. The commission pursuits scientific and practical developments in the field of human genetics, formulates recommendations and indicates problems and gaps in the legislation. Read more about GUMEK

Federal Commission for Air Hygiene

Since 2012 Nino Künzli has been the president of the Federal Commission for Air Hygiene (FCAH) that is a committee of experts in the field of air pollution control. As an extra-parliamentary committee of experts, it is appointed by the federal government. It advises the government on scientific and methodological questions relating to air pollution.

Adebayo-Ojo T.C, Wichmann J, Arowosegbe O.O, Probst-Hensch N, Schindler C, Künzli N. A new global air quality health index based on the WHO air quality guideline values with application in Cape Town. Int J Public Health. 2023;68:1606349. DOI: 10.3389/ijph.2023.1606349

Alegría M, Alvarez K, Cheng M, Falgas-Bague I. Recent advances on social determinants of mental health: looking fast forward. Am J Psychiatry. 2023;180(7):473-482. DOI: 10.1176/appi.ajp.20230371

Baum E et al. "I could not bear it": perceptions of chronic pain among Somali pastoralists in Ethiopia. A qualitative study. PLoS One. 2023;18(11):e0293137. DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0293137

Baum E et al. "It is difficult for us to treat their pain". Health professionals' perceptions of Somali pastoralists in the context of pain management: a conceptual model. Med Humanit. 2023(in press). DOI: 10.1136/medhum-2022-012570

Boogaard H et al. Long-term exposure to traffic-related air pollution and non-accidental mortality: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Environ Int. 2023;176:107916. DOI: 10.1016/j.envint.2023.107916