About the UCSD Superfund Research Center

What does the UCSD Superfund Research Center do?

Research at the UC San Diego Superfund Research Center (UCSD-SRC) is dedicated towards understanding the mechanisms associated with toxicant-induced steatohepatitis (TASH) and cancer, which may be an escalating problem in many susceptible Hispanic and American Indian communities that are exposed to household, occupational and industrial chemical exposure. Our efforts will provide important findings linking mechanisms of TASH and cancer with disease prognosis, which can be communicated to impacted communities to serve as intervention tools to assist in prevention of toxicant exposure.

Nonalcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) is escalating in California and the United States and is associated with the rising obesity epidemic. NAFLD is a hepatic phenotype that encompasses the more serious manifestation of steatohepatitis (NASH), considered to be a prerequisite for liver cancer (hepatocellular carcinoma/HCC). We also know from recent clinical studies that chemical toxicant exposure, in the absence of obesity, can lead to toxicant-associated steatohepatitis (TASH), which closely resembles the pathology of NASH. These findings are relevant to SRP stakeholders in EPA Region 9, since California ranks high in National Priorities List (Superfund sites) nationally and contains thousands of additional hazardous waste sites (HWS). In addition, the UCSD NAFLD Research Center shows that American Indians and Hispanics, combined the largest non-Caucasian population in California, are at far greater risk of developing NAFLD. Over the past five years, our UCSD-SRC has leveraged resources to demonstrate that TASH is greatly accelerated by consumption of high-fat diet (HFD) or after a diabetic episode in mice. These findings are relevant, since we can speculate that American Indians and Hispanics are more susceptible to TASH development, a risk amplified by unhealthy diets, poverty and health disparities. The UCSD-SRC will be developing models through its Biomedical projects to characterize the mechanisms of Superfund toxicant induced TASH development and cancer, while the Environmental Science & Engineering (ES&E) projects will develop tools for NPL-toxicant detection and remediation. Biomedical and ES&E projects will be assisted in these efforts by Research Core services that will provide tools for mouse genetic production, metabolomic and sophisticated Bioinformatic analysis. A key objective of the projects is to highlight scientific findings to maximize Research Translation, which will happen with collaborations between the projects and the Research Translation Core. We believe our program is innovative and paradigm shifting, since it has the potential of linking important basic research findings regarding Superfund toxicant exposure with human disease biomarker identification through collaborations with the UCSD NAFLD Research Center, which contains one of the largest NALFD cohort studies in the world. Importantly, our Biomedical findings and tools developed in the ES&E projects will be used as resources and knowledge gained to reduce cumulative impacts and health disparities. These initiatives will be leveraged through Community Engagement Core efforts in disadvantaged Hispanic neighborhoods in San Diego and Mexico where statistics confirms that obesity is an escalating problem both in children and adults. Since the incidence of NAFLD and liver cirrhosis is on the rise in both children and adults and may be linked to toxicant chemical exposure, our findings will be communicated to SRP primary stakeholders at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, in addition to state and local agencies.

What is a Superfund Research Center?

We are a university-based multidisciplinary research center funded by the NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP). The NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP) funds university-based multidisciplinary research on human health and environmental issues related to hazardous substances. The mission of the NIEHS is to discover how the environment affects people in order to promote healthier lives. The central goal is to understand and break the link between chemical exposure and disease. In keeping with the NIEHS mission, teams of diverse professionals develop, test, and implement unique, solution-oriented approaches to address complex environmental health problems. They are improving the understanding of environmental contaminants, which may lead to lower environmental cleanup costs, reduced risk of exposure, and improvements in human health.

What is the Superfund Research Program?

The Superfund Research Program is a research branch of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). This branch is part of one of the institutes of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). NIH is made up of 27 Institutes and Centers, each with a specific research agenda, often focusing on particular diseases or body systems.

What is Superfund?

Understanding the cellular and molecular mechanisms of hazardous chemicals in our environment is a critical national objective. The Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA), commonly called Superfund, was enacted by Congress on December 11, 1980.  CERCLA was established to gain knowledge on the public health risks associated with exposure to Superfund site hazardous waste. More specifically, sites that are contaminated with hazardous substances as well as broadly defined "pollutants or contaminants". Thus, a greater understanding of the exposure pathways and the health consequences resulting from human exposure to uncontrolled hazardous waste from Superfund and other hazardous waste sites are high priorities.

Do you do Superfund cleanup?

We do not. The EPA’s Superfund program is responsible for cleaning up some of the nation’s most contaminated land and responding to environmental emergencies, oil spills and natural disasters. To protect public health and the environment, the national Superfund program focuses on making a visible and lasting difference in communities, ensuring that people can live and work in healthy, vibrant places. 

We are a university-based multidisciplinary research center funded by the NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP) that is dedicated toward understanding the mechanisms associated with toxicant-induced steatohepatitis (TASH) and cancer, which may be an escalating problem in many susceptible Hispanic and American Indian communities that are exposed to household, occupational and industrial chemical exposure. For over 20 years, it has been realized that environmental toxicant exposure accelerates both dietary and non-dietary induced liver fibrosis, but the mechanisms leading to this disease have remained a mystery. New findings originating from studies being conducted at the UCSD-SRC will advance an understanding of the events leading to TASH, with hopes of improving treatment while taking steps to prevent its impact on liver fibrosis. 

Main Contact Information

UCSD Superfund Research Center
University of California, San Diego
Department of Pharmacology
9500 Gilman Drive, Mailcode 0722
La Jolla, CA 92093-0722
Phone: 858-822-4200
Fax: 858-822-4204

What is a Toxicant?

A toxicant is a poison that is made by humans or that is put into the environment by human activities. A toxicant is not a toxin, which is poison made by certain bacteria, plants, or animals, including insects.

We will be investigating toxicants originating from industrial and consumer sources that lead to TASH. Toxicant exposure will be assessed through Biomedical & Environmental Science and Engineering projects, with Community Engagement targeting vulnerable communities. Backed by tools that will lead to creative and new Models of Exposure, our efforts will expand through Research Translation to influence policy and improve healthy living.

Grant Funding

The research conducted by our Center is supported by Grant Number P42 ES010337 from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences or the National Institutes of Health.

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UCSD Superfund Research Center
University of California, San Diego
Pharmacology Department
9500 Gilman Drive, Mail Code 0722
La Jolla, CA 92093-0722