Superfund Research Program

Nishad Jayasundara

Nishad Jayasundara, Ph.D., a postdoctoral researcher at Duke University, is the 18th recipient of the annual Karen Wetterhahn Memorial Award, which was presented at the 2015 Annual Meeting of the NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP) in San Juan, Puerto Rico.

Each year this award recognizes one outstanding SRP graduate student or postdoctoral researcher who exemplifies certain qualities of scientific excellence. Wetterhahn, who was a chemistry professor at Dartmouth College until her death in 1997, insisted that the life sciences are interdisciplinary. She fostered links between biology, chemistry, environmental studies, engineering, and the medical school.

Jayasundara’s research centers on understanding how rapid and profound changes in the environment affect the health of ecosystems and, in turn, the health and wellbeing of humans.

“Inspired by a little mudskipper fish that intersects the terrestrial and aquatic life in coastal areas of Sri Lanka—where I grew up—I have always been interested in understanding how organisms adapt to their natural habitat and how they respond to changes in their environment,” said Jayasundara, who received his doctorate degree in biological sciences from Stanford University in 2012. “My research at Duke University is focused on understanding synergistic effects of exposure to multiple stressors during organismal development and how they are manifested later in life.”

In particular, Jayasundara is studying an estuarine fish, Fundulus heteroclitus, that has become resistant to an ever-present chemical pollutant, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs), a harmful by-product of fuel combustion. His research takes an interdisciplinary approach by integrating studies on the wild fish and biomedical laboratory models to better understand how those fish respond to environmental pollution and to develop important insights into mechanisms of toxicity.

“My research has implications for improving our understanding of how developmental exposure to pollutant mixtures may have significant consequences for humans and other organisms in addition to contributing to studies geared towards remediation of heavily contaminated sites,” said Jayasundara.

“Nishad is highly deserving of the award because of his great intellect, dedication to environmental health research, passion for collaboration and research communication, innovativeness, and knowledge within the field of environmental toxicology. His service to the laboratory, his passion for mentoring students and interns, his commitment to furthering the impact of his research, and his genuine good heartedness are exemplary,” said Richard Di Guillio, Ph.D., professor of environmental toxicology and SRP Center Director at Duke University.

Outside of the lab, Jayasundara is involved in several activities to promote science education to students underrepresented in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics fields. Within the lab, he has mentored undergraduate research interns, all of whom are on track to pursue graduate education in the biomedical and environmental health sciences. He plans to pursue an academic career in environmental health research – one that provides a creative learning environment.

“It is my hope that someday I will be able to follow in the footsteps of Dr. Wetterhahn by becoming a leader in science and a mentor to those who strive to preserve the health of our planet,” said Jayasundara.

The NIEHS congratulates Jayasundara on his accomplishments and wishes him continued career success.