Faculty Scholars

Faculty Scholar Peter Van Den Hurk, Ph.D. at  Clemson University, Clemson South Carolina

Peter Van den Hurk, Ph.D.

Associate Professor
Program Coordinator Graduate Program in Environmental Toxicology
Department of Biological Sciences
Clemson University

Contact: 864-656-3594 or pvdhurk@clemson.edu  

Who is Professor Van den Hurk?

Peter Van den Hurk is an Associate Professor at Clemson University, where he teaches and performs research in the fields of general and environmental toxicology, and is the Program Coordinator for the Graduate Program in Environmental Toxicology. He received his MS degree in Zoology at the University of Amsterdam, worked for 7 years with environmental consultancy companies in the Netherlands, and then came to the US to earn a doctorate in Environmental Toxicology at the College of William and Mary. In 1998, he was studying the interactive toxicological effects of heavy metals and aromatic hydrocarbons in fish. He was a postdoctoral fellow at the College of Pharmacy at the University of Florida, investigating inhibition of detoxification enzymes by environmental pollutants, until his appointment as faculty member at Clemson University in 2001. His current research focuses on unraveling the evolutionary history of detoxification pathways in vertebrates, the use of biomarkers of exposure and effect in environmental applications, and investigations into possible environmental causes for the development of gallstones in young adults. These studies are performed in close collaboration with other researchers within Clemson University, and with other SC researchers at institutions like Furman University, Greenville Health System and MUSC. Peter is an adjunct faculty member at the Medical University of South Carolina, has served on the Graduate Fellowship Review Panel at NSF, and is a board member of the SE chapter of the Society of Toxicology. He is author/co-author of over 30 publications, including peer-reviewed articles, book chapters and research reports.

How Professor Van den Hurk's research is transforming health care

In recent years, a significant increase in gallbladder surgeries has been observed. This has become a very common abdominal disease, with an estimated prevalence of 10-15% in the adult population. Especially among young adults (< 20 years), the increase of gallbladder problems has been dramatic. Most gallbladder diseases are linked to the formation of cholesterol precipitates in the form of gallstones or biliary sludge. A number of both genetic as well as environmental factors have been attributed to the development of gallbladder disease. Recent studies have revealed that the functioning of a trans-membrane transporter (MDR3) plays a key role in the development of gallstones. This membrane pump in hepatocytes is responsible for the excretion of phospholipids into the bile. Together with bile salts these phospholipids keep cholesterol in solution and thus avoid the formation of cholesterol deposits. In some gallbladder patients, the gene for MDR3 is mutated, which results in less phospholipids being excreted. In addition, steroid hormones appear to be playing a role in the formation of gallstones. Pregnant women, and women using synthetic hormone therapies are more prone to development of gallstones. Peter hypothesizes that hormone-like compounds, in the form of synthetic hormones or environmental pollutants, play a role in the increase of gallbladder disease. Higher levels of hormone mimicking compounds in food items may explain the observed correlation between gallbladder disease and poor dietary habits in young adults. Peter is studying whether patients who undergo gallbladder surgery have a higher level of hormone-like compounds in their bile, and if this correlates with lower levels of phospholipids and bile salts. The results of this study will further the knowledge of the underlying mechanisms that are causing the observed increases in gallbladder diseases.

Health Research Expertise Keywords

Toxicology, Gastroenterology, Hepatology, Epidemiology, Enzymology, Biotransformation, Detoxification Pathways