Research Projects

Project 1

Edward Levin (Principal Investigator)

Dr. Levin is the principal investigator for Project 1. He conducts research on the neurobehavioral bases of cognitive, emotional and addictive function in rat, mouse and zebrafish models. The basic focus of his research is to understand the functional interactions of cholinergic systems with brain stem monoaminergic projections to the limbic system, cortex and thalamus, with recent forays into analysis of GABA/glutamate interactions as well. With acute and chronic local infusions of receptor agonists and antagonists in behaving animals we can explore the geography of interacting neural systems underlying these behavioral functions. Levin’s lab also studies developmental aspects of drug and toxicant response with studies of the persisting behavioral impairments after in utero and postnatal pesticide and heavy metal exposure as well as studies of the vulnerability of adolescents to the onset of drug self-administration. The two applications of our basic focus are neurobehavioral toxicology and therapeutic drug development.

Theodore Slotkin (Co-Principal Investigator)

Research in the Slotkin laboratory is aimed toward understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms that control neuronal development in the fetus, newborn and adolescent, especially the adverse effects of drugs of abuse and environmental contaminants. Ongoing projects comprise three areas:

  1. Mechanisms regulating development of synapses: ontogeny of neurotransmitter receptors and intracellular signaling cascades; endocrine and trophic factors;
  2. Adverse effects of exogenous agents on development: drugs of abuse (especially nicotine), hormonal imbalances, environmental contaminants (pesticides), drug therapies for preterm labor; and
  3. Unique biological properties of the adolescent brain: their role in addiction and neural injury by environmental toxicants. 

Frederic Seidler (Co-Principal Investigator)

Frederic Seidler is an Assistant Research Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Cancer Biology. He studies biochemical signals related to development in mammalian neural tissue, and how exposure to environmental factors, hormones, and drugs affect nervous system development in a fetus. New directions in the lab include an emphasis on how neurotransmitters and hormones regulate cell differentiation and the way that genes are expressed.

Project 2

Heather Stapleton (Principal Investigator)

Heather Stapleton’s research focuses on understanding the fate and transformation of organic contaminants in aquatic systems and in indoor environments. Her focus has been on the bioaccumulation and biotransformation of brominated flame retardants, and specifically polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs). Her current research projects explore the routes of human exposure to flame retardant chemicals and examine the way these compounds are photodegraded and metabolized using mass spectrometry to identify breakdown products/metabolites. She uses both in vivo techniques with fish, and in vitro techniques with cell cultures to examine metabolism of this varied class of chemicals. Also of interest to Stapleton is the study of the fate of PBDEs in the environment which may lead to bioaccumulation in aquatic systems and examining their bioavailability under different environmental conditions.

Seth Kullman (Co-Principal Investigator)

The Kullman laboratory uses molecular, comparative and functional genomic approaches to examine how exposure to environmental stressors (dys)regulate complex interactions between genotype and phenotype. The laboratory is particularly interested in signaling pathways that govern critical steps of embryonic development. Much of their work is focused on nuclear receptors and ligand activated transcription factor signaling. The overarching goal of the lab is to establish a mechanistic understanding of the relationship between chemical-receptor interactions and resultant pleotropic and epigenetic effects influencing both human and environmental health.

Lee Ferguson (Co-Principal Investigator)

Lee Ferguson leads the Analytical Chemistry Core at the Duke Superfund Center. He is an environmental analytical chemist and his work focuses on the applications of high resolution mass spectrometry (HRMS) in trace organic contaminant analysis, environmental fate and effects of carbon nanomaterials in the aquatic environment, proteomics in environmental toxicology, and mechanisms of environmental endocrine disruption in aquatic organisms.

Project 3

Joel Meyer (Principal Investigator)

Dr. Meyer is the lead investigator for Project 3, and he also serves as Director of the Training Core for the Center. Meyer studies the effects of genotoxic agents on human and wildlife health. He is interested in understanding the mechanisms by which environmental agents cause DNA damage, the molecular processes that organisms employ to protect prevent and repair DNA damage, and genetic differences that may lead to increased or decreased sensitivity to DNA damage. Mitochondrial DNA damage and repair are a particular focus. He studies DNA repair and other responses to DNA damage via PCR-based analysis of DNA damage and repair, genomic and systems biology approaches, and organismal-level responses.

Susan Murphy (Co-Principal Investigator)

Susan Murphy, PhD, has expertise is in the study of DNA methylation across the human lifespan, with particular interests in early life exposures, developmental and health outcomes and cancer. She leads the Duke Epigenetics Research Laboratory, she is a founder and Executive Committee member of the Duke Epigenetics and Epigenomics Program, a co-founder of the Duke Newborn Epigenetics STudy (NEST) and the program director for the NICHES Children’s Environmental Health and Disease Research Center at Duke University, which is focused on epigenetic mechanisms linking early life tobacco smoke exposure with increased risk of ADHD. I have published extensively on targeted and genome-­wide studies of methylation in ovarian and cervical cancers, in liver fibrosis, and in normal prenatal and perinatal human specimens. I also have extensive expertise in the quantitative analysis of DNA methylation using bisulfite pyrosequencing, reduced representation bisulfite sequencing and whole genome bisulfite sequencing.

Theodore Slotkin (Co-Principal Investigator)

Project 4

Richard Di Giulio (Principal Investigator)

Richard Di Giulio serves as Director of the Duke University Superfund Research Center. He is also the lead investigator on Project 4. Di Giulio’s research focuses on mechanisms of contaminant metabolism, adaptation, and toxicity, and with the development of mechanistically-based indices of exposure and toxicity that can be employed in biomonitoring. The long term goals of this research are to bridge the gap between mechanistic toxicological research and the development of useful tools for environmental assessment, and to elucidate linkages between human and ecosystem health. The bulk of Di Giulio’s work employs a comparative approach with aquatic animals, particularly fishes, as models. Of particular concern are mechanisms of oxidative metabolism of aromatic hydrocarbons, mechanisms of free radical production and antioxidant defense, and mechanisms of chemical carcinogenesis, developmental perturbations and adaptations to contaminated environments by fishes.

David Hinton (Co-Principal Investigator)

Hinton’s experience lies in mechanistic, integrative understanding of how environmental contaminants exert their effects on biota (finfish), pathobiology and toxicopathology of persistent environmental contaminants in fishes, deciphering deleterious effects, and establishing causal linkages of those contaminants.

Project 5

Claudia Gunsch (Principal Investigator)

Gunsch comes to Duke with a wide range of research experiences in microbial engineering systems. Gunsch researches pollutant degradation as applied to groundwater and air pollution treatment. During the early stages of her graduate studies, her work focused on chlorinated compound degradation by bacteria in groundwater. For her doctoral work, she investigated the fungal degradation of aromatic compounds in biofiltration. As part of her innovative research, she incorporates quantitative molecular biological techniques into her research to link macroscale vapor-phase bioreactor performance to phenomena occurring at the microscale in the biofilm.

Heileen Hsu-Kim (Co-Principal Investigator)

Professor Heileen (Helen) Hsu-Kim’s research interests include the chemical processes that affect the fate of trace metals in the environment. In particular, she is interested in the biogeochemical cycling of pollutant metals and interfacial processes controlling the fate and bioavailability of nanoparticles in aqueous systems.

Dr. Hsu-Kim’s current research efforts focus on the role of reduced sulfur and natural organic matter for controlling mobility and toxicity of metals in the aquatic environment. The methodologies her group employs for this research include laboratory techniques for quantifying trace metal speciation, water-surface interactions, and in-situ applications of solid-state microelectrodes to determine important aquatic constituents in water and sediment.

Mark Wiesner (Co-Principal Investigator)

Dr. Wiesner is the Director of the Center for the Environmental Implications of NanoTechnology (CEINT) in Duke University’s Pratt School of Engineering.  Research within his lab addresses challenges at the interface between water, energy, and materials.  Specifically, his research is currently oriented along three main axes:

  1. Environmental Nanotechnology:  fabrication, transport, and fate in the environment, risk assessment, photocatalytic properties, toxicity, new environmental technologies,
  2. Membrane Science:  membrane fabrication, systems development, cost modeling, applications (membrane distillation, water treatment, desalination, water reuse, fuel cell development), and
  3. Surface Chemistry and Particle Transport:  morphology of particle deposits, particle transport, aggregation, filtration, particle characterization, and surface chemistry.

Rytas Vilgalys (Co-Principal Investigator)

Dr. Vilgalys scientific background includes traditional and modern research approaches used to study fungal biology. For the past 15 years, his lab has been increasingly involved in the study of fungal communities using targeted and shotgun metagenomics that link fungal functioning with diversity. In collaboration with medical mycologists and basic scientists at Duke Medical Center, he has helped to bring an evolutionary biology perspective toward the study of human mycoses.

Support Cores

Neurobehavioral Toxicity Core

Edward Levin (Principal Investigator)

Frederic Seidler (Co-Principal Investigator)

Analytical Chemistry Core

Lee Ferguson (Principal Investigator)

Heather Stapleton (Co-Principal Investigator)

Heileen Hsu-Kim (Co-Principal Investigator)

Administration Core

Richard Di Giulio (Director)

Heather Stapleton (Deputy Director)

Training Core

Joel Meyer (Principal Investigator)

Research Translation Core

Charlotte Clark (Principal Investigator)

Charlotte Clark directs the Research Translation Core of the Duke University Superfund Research Center. Clark’s primary interests are in the field of environmental education, specifically in the area of decision-making by the general public on issues of environmentally-related behavior. She studies how informal learning processes engage with behavior change for individuals and communities around environmental issues. She applies these concepts in work around campus sustainability, and leads the Education Subcommittee of Duke’s Campus Sustainability Committee. She enjoys using and teaching qualitative research methods, including qualitative research software.  Prior to completing her PhD, she worked for 5 years as the Director of the Center for Environmental Education in the Nicholas School, and for 12 years doing air pollution regulatory work under contract for the US EPA.

Community Engagement Core

Elizabeth Shapiro-Garza (Principal Investigator)

Elizabeth Shapiro-Garza directs the Community Engagement Core of the Duke University Superfund Research Center. She has over twenty years of both applied and research experience related to community engagement. Her expertise lies in Community-Based Participatory Research (CBPR), in the translation of science for low-literacy users, and in pedagogical approaches to teaching community engagement practice and theory.