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Researchers Gather to Update the Science Behind Pfiesteria: What's Known, What's Not, About the Marine Toxin

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Duke Health News 919-660-1306

DURHAM, N.C. -- Where does science now stand on what's been called the case of the "cell from hell" -- the marine organism Pfiesteria piscicida, which has killed fish along the U.S. eastern shore and affected humans as well? Seven researchers will provide an answer at a one-day Duke Integrated Toxicology Program symposium Monday, Nov. 10, at Duke University Medical Center. The meeting will be held in Room 001 of the Medical Science Research Building from 9 a.m. to 4:15 p.m.

The researchers are from Duke Medical Center, Duke University, North Carolina State University, the University of Miami, the National Center for Toxicological Research, and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.

"Pfiesteria is a medical mystery," says the conference's organizer, Edward Levin, a neurobehavioral toxicologist and head of Duke's Integrated Toxicology Program. "We want to explore what is known and unknown and what clues we need to solve it."

Levin will provide updates to his own research on an animal model for Pfiesteria's effects. He will present new evidence that the toxin retards learning in rats.

Other speakers include:

JoAnn Burkholder, associate professor and Pew Fellow, botany department, North Carolina State University. She will provide an up-to-date overview on the effect of Pfiesteria's toxin on fish and mammals.

Dr. Donald Schmechel, a Duke University Medical Center neurologist who has examined a number of people affected by the toxin. Schmechel will discuss the potential of human health effects attributable to Pfiesteria.

Patricia McClellen-Green, assistant research professor at Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment. McClellen-Green will talk about her finding that Pfiesteria is toxic to neurons in laboratory studies.

William Slikker, director of the Division of Neurotoxicology at the National Center for Toxicological Research. He will explain how researchers solved the case of domoic acid, a neurotoxic shellfish contaminant, that killed several people on Prince Edward Island in 1987.

Daniel Baden, director of the Marine and Freshwater Biomedical Center at the University of Miami. Baden will provide an overview of marine toxins, especially those that cause acute and chronic human health effects.

Franklin Johnson, research scientist in the environmental toxicology program at the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. He will summarize findings of the symposium and elicit discussion.

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