News and Events

Researchers Discover that Toxin Exposure Influences the Behavioral Expression of Autism

A Duquesne University research team has created accurate biomarker measurements which relate chemical toxin exposure to behavior in children with autism and may help identify children who are developing autism.

These biomarker readings allow doctors to medically assess the trending of a child and enable early intervention in the child’s care to improve the patient’s health in many cases.

“One of the issues was that doctors couldn’t treat autism without a diagnosis, but by that time brain damage had already occurred,” said Dr. Howard “Skip” Kingston, professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Duquesne’s Bayer School of Natural and Environmental Sciences. “We may be able to intervene and treat patients before brain pathology worsens.”

The Duquesne research team is in the process of validating 21 biomarkers that help identify neurodevelopmental, neuropsychiatric, and neurodegenerative diseases.

Working with Dr. Scott Faber, a scholar in residence in the chemistry and biochemistry department and a medical doctor who specializes in Developmental Pediatrics and autism, the team conducted a variety of studies during the past 13 years, many focused on the chemical and heavy metal toxin levels and immune systems of children with autism.

“More than a decade ago, it was believed that autism was a solely genetic, psychiatric disorder,” Kingston said. “Since then, our research team, along with others in this field, has found that autism is a physical disease and as a result, autism is covered by health insurance in Pennsylvania and many other states.” In a study published in Analytical Chemistry, the researchers created a way to accurately measure glutathione in two states (reduced and oxidized) simultaneously.

In a study published in Free Radical Biology and Medicine, children with autism had lower levels of reduced / oxidized glutathione ratios in their blood, making them more susceptible to neurological damage from exposure to toxins in their daily lives.

Another study from the research team, published in Nature Scientific Reports, demonstrated for the first time that accumulated toxins known as persistent organic pollutants in the blood of children with autism places them higher in behavioral severity on the Autism Diagnostic Observation Schedule.

Today, the Duquesne team is developing biomarker testing methods where a mother can draw blood from a finger prick and place it on an absorbent paper in a blood card, which are then measured by a mass spectrometry detector to determine levels of glutathione and other biomarkers. From the instrument’s readings, researchers may be able to identify children at risk of developing autism. The test results can then be used to guide medical professionals in their therapeutic intervention regimens early in the disease progression. Applied Isotope Technologies and QualeVita Diagnostics are two companies preparing to make these biomarkers tests commercially available.

“This is the future of medicine,” said Kingston, noting that several universities and medical schools are following Duquesne’s lead by acquiring extraction and mass spectrometry instruments to conduct biomarker testing following the scientific papers published by Duquesne University’s team.

Currently in the United States, one in 50 children have Autism Spectrum Disorder, which is up from one in 150 children in 2001, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Congratulations Dr. David Seybert

Dr. Seybert Excellence Award in Service to the Mission

On Tuesday, September 17, Dr. David Seybert was honored as a recipient of the President's Award for Faculty Excellence in Service to the Mission.


ACS Outstanding Chapter Award

Congratulations to our ACS Student Chapter and their advisors from last year, Dr. Jeffrey Evanseck, Dr. Paul Johnson and Dr. Nithya Vaidyanathan, for winning the Outstanding Chapter Award and the ACS Green Chemistry Award again.


Welcome Drs. Bloomfield and Montgomery

The department is excited to welcome two new faculty. Aaron Bloomfield from the Crabtree Lab at Yale University and Thomas Montgomery from the Amos Smith Lab at the University of Pennsylvania will joined us as tenure-track faculty in Summer 2018.


4+1 B.S. in Chemistry to M.S. in Chemistry

This new opportunity allows students earning their B.S. in Chemistry to earn their M.S. in Chemistry with one additional year. According to the ACS Salary Survey, chemists with master's degrees may earn an average of $19,000 more than those with a bachelor's degree. This opportunity prepares students to graduate with the skills employers require to meet the growing need for master's level professionals.

Although a Master of Science degree usually takes two years after earning a bachelor's degree, the 4+1 program will allow students to maximize their Duquesne undergraduate degree by earning a M.S. with just one additional academic year of courses.

Apply as a chemistry major. Once you have submitted your deposit to become a Duquesne student, you can tell your advisor that you want to pursue the 4+1 track. You will officially apply to the program between the fall of your sophomore year and the fall of your junior year.


ACS Students

Congratulations to Our Award-Winning ACS Student Members Group! 

ACS Outstanding Student Chapter Award SEVENTH year in a row!
2012 - 2018

ACS Green Chemistry Chapter Award FOURTH year in a row!
2015 - 2018