Duke Global Health Institute Awards Environmental Health Pilot Grants

With $25,000 pilot grants from the Duke Global Health Institute (DGHI), two Duke research teams are collaborating with partners in China and Sri Lanka on global environmental health projects.

One study will explore the effect of maternal exposure to electronic waste on birth outcomes in Guiyu, China, and the other will investigate whether pollutant mixtures in well water may cause chronic kidney disease in Anuradhapura, Sri Lanka.

How Does Maternal Exposure to Electronic Waste Affect Their Babies?

DGHI affiliate faculty member Liping Feng, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology, is leading the study on maternal exposure to electronic waste in China.

In many low and middle income countries, handling and disposal of discarded electrical or electronic equipment (e-waste) is unregulated. E-waste contains hazardous elements such as lead, mercury, chromium and flame retardants. Concern about health effects related to contamination in air, soil, and water for people working and living near e-waste processing sites is increasing, and pregnant women and children are among the people most vulnerable to this contamination.

Efforts have been underway to move toward a more sustainable, environmentally secure e-waste disposal process in Guiyu, China. By the end of 2015, all unregulated electronic-waste workshops were moved to a new industrial park in Guiyu. This change paves the way for a comparative study of the effect of e-waste contamination on birth outcomes between 2001-2008 and 2009-2016.

The team hypothesizes that the e-waste exposure level among pregnant women in this region is decreasing and birth outcomes are improving. To explore this hypothesis, they plan to:

  • Initiate a birth cohort from three hospitals in Guiyu to evaluate the e-waste exposure among pregnant women and birth outcomes for those women
  • Collect and analyze drinking water, water from Lian River (the major river in Guiyu), soil, food, air and industrial indoor dust for pollutants
  • Develop a local education program to improve the awareness of the adverse health effects of e-waste exposure and prevention strategies among women

Feng is collaborating with Jim Zhang, professor of global and environmental health at Duke and Duke Kunshan University, and Xia Huo, professor of environmental medicine and developmental toxicology at Jinan University in Guangzhou, China. The team hopes the pilot funding will help them build a long-term collaboration with China and provide a foundation for securing external funding to continue their work.

Are Chemical Mixtures a Toxic Recipe for Chronic Kidney Disease?

Richard Di Giulio, professor of environmental toxicology at Duke, is leading the study on the potential link between pollutant mixtures in well water and chronic kidney disease in Sri Lanka.

Chronic kidney disease, a growing global health concern, typically results from disorders such as diabetes, hypertension, environmental contaminants and other factors. But in some instances, the etiology of the disease remains unknown. Chronic kidney disease of unknown etiology (CKDu) has become a serious public health epidemic in Sri Lanka over the last ten years. The disease is most prevalent in the country’s Anuradhapura district—or “dry zone”—where it affects about 15 percent of adults.

Ingestion of environmental contaminants is thought to contribute to CKDu, but a specific role for individual chemicals has been repeatedly tested without compelling positive results. The research team hypothesizes that the synergistic and interactive toxic effects of chemical mixtures may cause CKDu.

To explore this hypothesis, they’ll investigate the biological effects of chemical mixtures derived from drinking water wells used by CKDu patients in Anuradhapura. They’ll compare these results with wells belonging to families who are not affected by CKDu from Anuradhapura and from a distant region (Galle district), in collaboration with researchers at the University of Ruhuna, one of DGHI’s priority partnership locations. Ninety families will be identified, with 30 wells per group. The researchers will test well toxicity using zebrafish assays followed by cell culture studies at the University of Sri Jayewardenepura in Sri Lanka.

The overall project goals are to test the plausibility of chemical mixture effects as drivers of CKDu and ultimately help mitigate this critical, yet poorly understood, health problem.

Di Giulio’s co-investigators include:

  • Nishad Jayasundara, postdoctoral researcher, Nicholas School of the Environment
  • Truls Ostbye, professor of community and family medicine, nursing and global health
  • Joel Meyer, associate professor of environmental toxicology and DGHI affiliate faculty member
  • Kamani Wanigasuriya, professor of nephrology at the University of  Sri Jayewardenepura

This pilot funding will enable the team to build on their past work in this area, strengthen and expand DGHI’s and Duke’s partnerships in Sri Lanka, and—they hope—secure external funding to expand the study. The project will also provide important training opportunities for Jayasndara and for graduate students at the Duke Global Health Institute and the Sri Lankan universities involved in the study.


Originally posted on the Duke Global Health Institute website. Photo: Worker dismantling toner cartridges, covered with toner. Guiyu, China. Credit: Basel Action Network

Duke Kunshan University Offers Funding for Education & Research Programs in China


Deadline: November 17, 2016


Pilot funding is available from Duke’s Office of Duke Kunshan University Programs to help faculty develop innovative education and research programs in China.


Proposed projects may include other Chinese higher education institutions, but ideally will have a strong connection with Duke Kunshan University. This academic year we anticipate two requests for proposals (RFPs), one in the fall and one in the spring. This RFP is open for proposals in any target area, but particularly encourages proposals that focus on the following topics:

  • China studies, broadly defined (history, culture, arts, economic developments, China foreign relations, political science, sociology, etc.)
  • Humanities and the Arts
  • Economics
  • Environmental Studies (economics, science, engineering, management and policy)
  • Public Policy

Awards will be made up to a maximum of $20,000, though most awards will be smaller; co-funding from other sources is welcome and encouraged.

Priority will be given to proposals for innovative, long-term activities at Duke Kunshan University, including programming for the Global Learning Semester and graduate and/or professional programs. Examples of education programs include:

  • The development of new courses
Service/immersive learning experiences
  • Certificate programs
  • Intensive workshops

Research program proposals might request funds to stimulate research collaborations, support promising China- based research endeavors, or promote professional interactions. Examples of research programs include:

  • Conferences
  • Workshops
  • Professional Training Sessions


  • All regular-rank faculty, including those in professional schools, may submit a proposal.
  • Groups of faculty are encouraged to apply.
  • Collaborators are not required to be regular rank faculty.

Preference will be given to applicant groups that represent different disciplines, departments, divisions, schools, institutes, etc. No prior experience or existing collaborations in China are necessary to apply.

Proposal Guidelines

Proposals should include the following:

  •  Proposal Cover Sheet
    • List the individual who will serve as the contact person for the award (PI), the individual’s department, and contact information.
    • List the title of proposed project, the total amount of funding requested and the submission date.
    •  List the sponsoring department business manager. If possible, please also include the fund code 
where expenses will be incurred.
  • A brief narrative (no more than 3 pages)
    • Define the proposed education or research program.
    • Describe the program timeline, including prospective sustained activities.
    • Describe its potential impact.
    • List the application faculty member(s) qualifications.
    • Provide a plan for evaluating the program’s success.
    • Include a draft syllabus, outline or agenda, if applicable.
    • Include a detailed budget outlining the usage of the funds requested.
    • List existing funding sources and funding already applied for.
    • Provide anticipated sources of funding for the program.
  • Curriculum Vitae
    • Include a 2-page CV for all key personnel.

Submit your proposals as a single PDF, with cover sheet on top, to Irina Adams at the Office of Duke Kunshan University Programs (irina.adams@duke.edu) by November 17, 2016.

Review Criteria

Proposals will be reviewed by the China Faculty Council (CFC). For proposals relevant to DKU, the chair of the CFC will also consult with the Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and the appropriate Associate Dean at Duke Kunshan University to ensure that the project is both feasible and appropriate for Duke Kunshan. Preference will be given to applications that:

  • Propose multidisciplinary programs
  • Demonstrate potential for long-term impact at Duke Kunshan or that promote collaborations 
between faculty at Duke Kunshan and Duke.
  • Propose programs or activities that directly engage students.

Decisions will be announced in December 2016, to allow time for activities and programs to begin as early as Spring 2017. Successful proposals may undergo additional budget revisions in consultation with the applicants following review by the China Faculty Council, in order to ensure the most consistent and impactful use of funds.