NIEHS Awards $10.2 Million Grant to Duke Superfund Research Center

July 10, 2017

Contact: Tim Lucas, 919/613-8084,

DURHAM, N.C. – The Duke University Superfund Research Center has been awarded a five-year grant for nearly $10.2 million from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).

The grant will support five Superfund Center research projects investigating the later-life consequences of early-life exposures to hazardous chemicals. It will also fund six outreach and training programs designed to augment and support the center’s research.


Dr. Richard Di Giulio, Sally Kleberg Professor of Environmental Toxicology

NIEHS is part of the National Institutes of Health.

“This renewed funding will support our center’s work to shed light on the long-term effects exposure to chemical pollutants can have on human and ecological health, and to develop approaches for reducing these exposures,” said center director Richard T. Di Giulio, who is the Sally Kleberg Professor of Environmental Toxicology at Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment.

“It will also support efforts to share our research results with governmental, industrial and public stakeholders, engage communities in Superfund Center activities, and provide superior training for graduate students and postgraduate researchers,” Di Giulio said.

Highly interdisciplinary in nature, the Superfund Center brings together teams of biomedical, social and environmental scientists and engineers from across Duke’s campus – and from other institutions such as North Carolina State University – to investigate some of the most pressing issues in environmental health today.

The five research projects that will be supported by the new NIEHS grant are:

* “Cholinergic and Monoaminergic Mechanisms of Persistent Neurobehavorial Toxicity,” which is aimed at identifying how exposure to diazinon, triphenyl phosphate and other neurotoxins affects an organism’s neurotransmitter system and can result in persisting cognitive and emotional dysfunction;

* “Altering the Balance of Adipogenic and Osteogenic Regulatory Pathways from Early-Life Exposure to HPCs and AOPEs,” which is aimed at understanding how the regulation of key receptor pathways in the body may help mediate later-life skeletal malformations, obesity and other harmful effects of early exposure to halogenated phenolic compounds (HPCs), chemicals which mimic hormones on the body;

* “Persistent Mitochondrial and Epigenetic Effects of Early-Life Toxicant Exposure,” which is aimed at identifying whether the toxic effects of certain chemicals on mitochondrial function are highly persistent or inheritable; and if these effects are greater among certain genetic backgrounds;

* “Mechanisms and Consequences of Evolved Adaptation to Environmental Pollution,” which is aimed at exploring how low-level exposures to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) affects physical, behavioral and metabolic development, and how PAHs have driven evolution in free-living populations of fish;

* “Engineering the Physico-Chemical Environment to Enhance the Bioremediation of Developmental Toxicants in Sediment Fungal-Bacterial Biofilms,” which is aimed at devising new biological techniques – using an understudied group of micro-organism known as non-basidiomycete fungi – to remediate high levels of PAHs and other developmental toxicants that can accumulate in sediment, ultimately reducing the potential for harmful human and environmental exposures.    

Each of these five projects will be augmented by the Superfund Center’s research support cores, research translation core, community engagement core, and training core.

“Taking such an interdisciplinary and holistic approach allows us to evaluate the risks of early-life exposures to these chemicals, and try to identify approaches for reducing these risks,” said Heather Stapleton, deputy director of the Superfund Center and Dan and Bunny Gabel Associate Professor of Environmental Ethics and Sustainable Environmental Management at the Nicholas School. “We are deeply appreciative to NIEHS for this support, and are happy to know they share our commitment to this vital work.”