On Friday, September 22, the Duke University Program in Environmental Health (UPEH) and the Duke University Superfund Research Center hosted a day-long symposium that brought together researchers, students, representatives from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), and members of the public to learn about the Superfund Research Program (SRP) and Duke’s SRP Center.
The morning began with comments by Heather Stapleton, PhD, Deputy Director of the Duke SRP Center. Dr. Stapleton gave an example of the real-world impact provided by the Center’s research by describing her recent testimony to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) as part of a petition to remove organohalogen flame retardants from consumer products. In a surprising move, CPSC granted the petition last week, thanks in part to the evidence provided by Dr. Stapleton’s ongoing research on the health effects of flame retardant chemicals, as well as the efforts of numerous other organizations representing consumers, healthcare professionals, firefighters, and scientific researchers.
The symposium’s keynote lecture was given by Bill Suk, PhD, Director of the NIEHS Superfund Research Program. Dr. Suk described the history of the SRP and its many accomplishments over the years, emphasizing the four key tasks of the Superfund Research Program including detection, assessment, determining health effects, and remediation.
Richard Di Giulio, PhD, Director of Duke’s Center, followed with a presentation that highlighted the changing nature of research at Duke on environmental contaminants since the establishment of the Center in 2000. Since that time, the Duke SRP Center has produced 264 publications and trained over 50 graduate and postdoctoral students, four of whom have received the prestigious Karen Wetterhahn Memorial Award.
For the rest of the morning session, Superfund Center investigators from each of the five research projects that were renewed for a third five-year funding cycle beginning in 2017 gave presentations about their current and future work, followed by representatives from five of the six support cores.
The afternoon session included “speed talks” by six Superfund Center trainees: Savannah Volkoff (Project 5); Erin Kollitz, PhD, (Project 2); Jordan Kozal and Casey Lindberg (Project 4); and Andrew Hawkey (Project 1 and NBTC). Jessica Hartman, PhD, who is not currently a Superfund trainee but studies questions related to Project 3, shared insights from her study using the nematode C. elegans to explore the effects of exercise on mitochondrial toxicity.
The day concluded with a discussion on promoting effective collaborations between the various projects, trainees, and support cores. Center members identified missing opportunities and resources to promote even greater interconnectedness and productivity.
Overall, the symposium represented a successful “kickoff” celebration for the current grant cycle, generating excitement and new ideas both internally and among visitors to the university.