Philanthropist Christy Brown gives U of L $5 million for institute to study environmental conditions that affect human health

With a $5 million gift from leading Louisville philanthropist Christina Lee Brown, through the Owsley Brown II Family Foundation, the University of Louisville has established an Envirome Institute in its School of Medicine to “develop integrated knowledge of the environmental determinants of health.”

The name of the institute is not missing three letters. The word “envirome” is a knock-off from “genome,” which is the “map of our genetic code, revealing how our genes relate to our health, and potentially our susceptibility to disease,” the university says in a press release. “Built on a new vision of health, the Envirome Institute pioneers actionable knowledge about all forms of health and how they are affected by the environment beyond genomics. This gift from Brown catalyzes existing resources and adds new capabilities toward the ambitious, long-term mission of studying the human envirome with the same precision and rigor applied to decoding the human genome.”

What’s an envirome? Wikipedia says it “includes all of the environmental conditions required for successful biological life that affect human health. In genetic epidemiology, an envirome the total set of environmental factors, both present and past, that affect the state, and in particular the disease state, of an organism.”

The Envirome Institute is the successor to the university’s Kentucky Institute for the Environment and Sustainable Development. “Like KIESD, the institute will support research and applied scholarship, teaching and educational outreach activities, but with greater emphasis on community engagement and health,” the university said. “The Envirome Institute is the first institute dedicated to the study of the human envirome. Taking a holistic approach to researching how the human-environment interrelationship impacts peoples’ lives, the institute will build on the pioneering work of Dr. Aruni Bhatnagar, the institute’s director, in the field of environmental cardiology. The institute will incorporate community engagement and citizen science to introduce a singular, new approach to the study of health.”

The university has also created a Center for Healthy Air, Water, and Soil as part of the Envirome Institute. Brown had previously created a private nonprofit called the Institute for Healthy Air, Water and Soil. Its work will shift to the center, which “will support outreach activities to promote collaborations and interactions with the community for information exchange, partnership in scientific studies, dissemination of environmental information to the community and consultation by the community on issues relevant to the environment and health,” the university said.