About Dr. DeWitt

I received my B.S. degree from Michigan State University (go Spartans!) through the Lyman Briggs College, where I majored in Biology and Environmental Science. After I graduated, I took graduate-level classes in resource development (including environmental and resource economics, waste management, and environmental policy!) and worked in landscape entomology as well as in the campus health and safety office as a chemical safety assistant. Working in entomology opened my eyes to the world of pesticides and while working on the Chemical Hygiene Plan for MSU in my chemical safety job, I discovered toxicology.

Toxicology is an amazing blend of the sciences, environmental policy, and public health. I found the perfect doctoral program at Indiana University-Bloomington in the School of Public and Environmental Affairs. At “SPEA,” I was able to describe the effects of environmental contaminants on the developing nervous system while taking classes in environmental science and policy. I also completed an additional doctoral degree in the Program in Neural Science (now known as the Neuroscience Program) to round out my knowledge of the nervous system.

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See the graduate student cheering for toxicology?

After a postdoctoral stint in my doctoral adviser’s lab to evaluate developmental cardiotoxicity in passerine birds exposed to polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), I moved to Durham, NC for a postdoc at the National Health and Environmental Effects Research Laboratory where I dove into immunotoxicology. I started out evaluating potential immunotoxic effects of organotins found in PVC piping and eventually moved into studying the immunotoxicity of perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), a perfluoroalkyl substance used to manufacture all sorts of products.

Here at ECU I’m trying to bridge my various areas of study by asking questions about how perturbations to the developing immune system lead to downstream effects on other systems such as the nervous system. We do “traditional” environmental toxicology using tools from developmental toxicology, immunotoxicology, and neurotoxicology to understand effects of perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, particulate matter, pharmaceutical and personal care product pollutants, and other emerging contaminants. Our focus is on how exposure to these agents changes physiological processes, so while we are interested in the toxicants themselves, we also use them to better understand how living organisms function under normal situations and situations of stress induced by contaminant exposure. Most recently, we have been using our toxicological approaches to understand how early-life exposure to toxicants might be associated with neurodevelopmental disorders, such as autism spectrum disorders, as well as neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer’s disease. We have been grateful to receive funding from a variety of external sources, including the Department of Defense, Alzheimer’s North Carolina, the University of Nevada at Las Vegas (who was funded by the Bureau of Land Management), and the Center for Human Health and the Environment at North Carolina State University. We also have received internal funding from the Harriet and John Wooten Laboratory for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Disease Research, The Brody Brothers Endowment, the ECU Division of Research and Graduate Studies via an East-West Research Collaboration Award and an Interdisciplinary Research Collaboration Award, and from the Brody School of Medicine with an internal seed grant.

If you are hoping to become a graduate student in my lab, I do not accept graduate students into my lab directly. You need acceptance into our department’s doctoral program or to the MS in Biomedical Science program before you can do a rotation in my lab. If you are an undergraduate student at ECU who needs/wants laboratory experience, you may contact me directly. If you are looking for a postdoctoral position, none are available in my lab at this time.