Welcome to the National Institute for Health Research Health Protection Research Unit (NIHR HPRU) in Chemical and Radiation Threats and Hazards.

This HPRU is led by Imperial College London in partnership with Public Health England, King’s College London and the MRC Toxicology Unit at the University of Cambridge.

We have strong links with the Environmental Exposures and Health HPRU and the MRC Centre for Environment and Health. To ensure we operate as a highly collaborative matrix, analogous to PHE’s multi-functional, single-agency model, we have created a Joint Steering Committee, Training Programme Committee, Public and Community Involvement, Engagement and Participation Committee and Public and Community Oversight Group.


The mission of this HPRU is to address today’s most pressing chemical and radiation threats and hazards, to advance our understanding of how the everyday and exceptional contact we have with chemicals and radiation leads to ill health and deliver timely impact on policy to improve the long-term health of the nation. Research of the highest quality will be undertaken, focusing on specific agents and situations, including ionising radiation, electromagnetic fields, ultra-violet light, neurotoxins, flame retardants, re-developed brownfield sites and contaminated drinking water. Our aims are to improve the understanding of the distribution, determinants and pathways linking these exposures to health effects, to provide scientific evidence that will impact directly on public health practice and policy, and to train the next generation of research leaders in environment and health.


The research programme is organised into four complementary themes focusing on: generating new knowledge and understanding of chemical and radiation disease mechanisms and risks to health; information on exposure-response relationships and their quantification based on occupational, patient and population cohorts; discovery and application of biomarkers of exposure, effect and susceptibility; novel methods for the in vitro identification of radiation and chemical causes of cancer, circulatory diseases and neurological dysfunction; application of biomarkers to assess chemical and medical radiation exposure risks and risk mitigation and control of chemical warfare agents and other high toxicity compounds.


Theme I

Adverse outcome pathways and exposure-response relationships for ionising and non-ionising radiation:

  1. What are the health effects of exposure to ionizing radiation in specific population groups?
  2. What, if any, are the health effects of exposure to radiofrequency electromagnetic fields in users of mobile telecommunications devices?
  3. What are the risks and benefits of UV and light exposures on health?

Theme III

In vitro testing and integration with epidemiological data

  1. What are the cellular processes involved in mutations and other biological changes caused by exposure to chemical carcinogens and ionising radiation?
  2. Can these biological signatures of environmental toxicants be used to identify exposures to particular causal agents in population studies?
  3. What is the effect of the gut microbiome in detoxifying common environmental pollutants?

Theme II

Biomarkers of exposure, effects and susceptibility to chemicals and radiation

  1. Can we identify reliable biomarkers of exposure to chemicals and ionizing radiation?
  2. What are the biochemical and mechanistic pathways linking these exposures to adverse health effects?
  3. Can this knowledge on causal pathways be translated into policies for protection against chemical and radiation hazards?

Theme IV

Neurotoxins and high toxicity agents

  1. What are the mechanisms of neurotoxicity of certain high toxicity chemicals and chemical warfare agents?
  2. Can we design/identify molecules that simulate or absorb and decompose high toxicity agents to develop safe decontamination protocols?
  3. Which high toxicity agents are present in the environment and pose a greater risk in drinking water supplies?


This HPRU brings together the expertise in epidemiology, biology, chemistry, toxicology, statistics and ‘omics’ technologies, from four leading UK research partners to produce the scientific evidence needed to support the effective protection of the population from chemical and radiation risks.

For information on the research programmes and latest news for the NIHR HPRU in Environmental Exposures and Health and on the MRC Centre for Environment and Health please follow the links to their websites.

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