MDI Biological Laboratory
MDI Science Café

Climate Change & Pollution: A Double Threat to Kids’ Health

  • April 8, 2024
  • 5:00 - 6:00 pm
  • Online-only Zoom event

From Maine to Sri Lanka, MDI Bio Lab Visiting Scientist Nishad Jayasundara, Ph.D., is connecting the dots between human-driven environmental change and emerging vectors of disease.

Nishad Jayasundara is innovating new ways to detect and respond to these global threats, in part through his work in agricultural communities where kidney disease is rising. He believes that a combination of heat stress and drinking water contamination is contributing to the increase in kidney disease rates in tropical farming communities, including among rice farmers in his native country of Sri Lanka.

To tease out these intertwined risk factors, Jayasundara’s research group at Duke University’s Nicholas School of the Environment is using zebrafish to screen drinking water for toxic compounds that can damage the kidney. The effort builds on his earlier collaboration with Iain Drummond, Ph.D., Scientific Director of MDI Bio Lab’s Kathryn W. Davis Center for Regenerative Medicine and Aging, and a recognized pioneer in establishing zebrafish as a platform for kidney research.

“The incidence of kidney diseases has been rising around the world for more than two decades, but there is a research gap in understanding when in life it begins to develop,” Jayasundara says. “Our zebrafish studies point to a potential origin in childhood, when some agricultural chemicals in drinking water may be changing kidney development.”

Heat stress and drought’s effects on water-supplies could be compounding the negative impacts of chemical pollutants, he adds. In the Science Cafe, Jayasundara plans to detail his recent research among 3,000 children in agricultural communities that are subject to these environmental stressors.

“Our data are very compelling in showing that children in hot, dry farming communities may already have kidney health that is worse than in children from non-farming areas,” he say, adding that as more data are collected, he will return to zebrafish studies to elucidate the underlying biological mechanisms at work.

Jayasundara was recently appointed the Juli Plant Grainger Assistant Professor of Global Environmental Health at Duke. He has received numerous awards and fellowships. And he is lead author of numerous peer-reviewed publications – five of them just since December 2023.

Previously he was an assistant professor in the University of Maine’s School of Marine Sciences. He received his Ph.D. at Stanford University. Jayasundara got his first exposure to scientific research as an undergraduate student at College of the Atlantic and research assistant at MDI Biological Laboratory.