Last month, Duke researchers received about $10.2 million grant to study the long term impacts of early life exposure to toxins found in land that contains hazardous waste known as a superfund.

The five-year grant is the fourth of its kind that the Superfund Research Center has received from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. It will allow SRC to continue to host various biomedical engineering, toxicology and environmental health interdisciplinary projects. Richard DiGiulio, Sally Kleberg professor of environmental toxicology and SRC's director, said that the grant helps to solidify what has become an ongoing interdisciplinary collaboration among Duke faculty.

"We saw it as a great vehicle for doing interdisciplinary research related to toxicology and environmental health and engineering solutions to reduce exposures which is what the superfund research program is all about." DiGuilio said. "There was already a group of us who informally collaborated in various teaching and research activities and so we saw this as a great way to really ramp that up and get it funded well. We felt really fortunate it actually did get funded."

Founded in 2000, SRC responds to three of the Environmental Protection Agency's superfund program mandates. Its interdisciplinary projects aim to develop advanced technologies for detection, assessment and evaluation of the effects of hazardous substances on human health. 

According to the EPA, there are over 1,800 superfund sites nationwide that have been on the National Priority List for cleanup. North Carolina has 46 superfund sites.

The center also focuses on developing methods to assess health risks and reduce toxicity. DiGuilio noted that with its renewed funding, it will be able to support five projects in the next five year funding cycle—three biomedical and two non-biomedical.

The projects are enhanced through the center's support cores, a structure which monitors progress in neurobehavioral toxicity, analytical chemistry, research translation, community engagement and training. SRC is one of 18 multi-project superfund research centers across the country that have received NIEHS funding, with the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill being the state's other NIEHS funded center.

A major theme for SRC in this stage is the health risks associated with early life exposure, which DiGiulio noted is reflected in the direction of SRC.

"I think the overall focus of the center has become sharper, more focused on this overall idea of early life exposures later life consequences and so four to five of the projects directly deal with that," he said.