Students assisting with coral reef research

Areas of Research

Nova Southeastern University’s scientists are engaged in exciting interdisciplinary research projects to make discoveries and produce new knowledge in healthcare, biotechnology, life sciences, environment and social sciences. NSU faculty are using more than $82 million in externally provided funding to work on projects that advance the university’s mission of research, academic excellence, and public service. They are working on more than 205 basic, applied and clinical research projects to improve patient care, make new drug discoveries, reduce mental health disorders, and examine the forces that impact our oceans. In the fall of 2012 NSU opened the Center for Excellence for Coral Reef Ecosystems Science Research Facility at its Oceanographic Center. Funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, America’s premier coral reef research center will be solely dedicated to coral reef ecosystem research.


NSU College of Osteopathic Medicine professor Nancy Klimas,M.D.,one of the world’s leading chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encepahalomyelitis (CFS/ME) and Gulf War Illness (GWI) researchers, examines a patient.Chronic fatigue syndrome/myalgic encepahalomyelitis (CFS/ME) is a debilitating immune disorder that affects more than one million Americans. A majority of CFS/ME sufferers are women, who remain mostly untreated. The disease damages the patient’s immune system and causes symptoms such as extreme fatigue unabated by sleep, faintness, widespread muscle and joint pain, etc. NSU’s Institute for Neuro-Immune Medicine ---- led by NSU College of Osteopathic Medicine professor Nancy Klimas M.D., one of the world’s leading CFS/ME and Gulf War Illness (GWI) researchers --- is studying these and other neuro-inflammatory disorders. The Institute uses the integration of research, training and clinical care to advance the needs of patients suffering from CFS/ME and GWI.  By bringing together some of the best scientific minds in the world, the facility acts as both a think tank and a working institute for research, training new clinicians, and providing diagnostic and therapeutic clinical care.

Florida has been at the center of the nation’s prescription drug epidemic for the past decade, experiencing tremendous increases in prescription drug-related overdoses and mortality. NSU’s Center for Applied Research on Substance Use and Health Disparities is a national leader in confronting this alarming public health problem by investigating prescription drug abuse and diversion.  Center Co-Directors Steven P. Kurtz, Ph.D. and Hilary L. Surratt, Ph.D., are currently conducting four large research projects to stem this crisis: 1) A national survey of law enforcement investigators that monitors the incidence of  prescription drug diversion; 2) A study of more than 1,500 prescription drug abusers that tracks drug-related health consequences and sources of abused medications; 3) A project that examines the emerging black market in medications to treat HIV infection; and 4) A clinical trial testing the effectiveness of brief interventions to reduce prescription drug abuse among South Florida’s young adults.

NSU’s College of Pharmacy professors Jean Latimer, Ph.D., (right) and Stephen Grant, Ph.D., (left) examine breast cancer cells in their laboratory.There are almost 200,000 new cases of breast cancer annually in the U.S.  The 10-year mortality rate of breast cancer is 48 percent.  A research team at NSU’s College of Pharmacy led by professors Jean Latimer, Ph.D. and Stephen Grant, Ph.D., have developed a unique method of growing breast cancer cells from tumors at early stages of the disease, enabling further studies into the causes of tumors and indicating when and what kind of chemotherapy should be used.

Researchers at NSU’s Center for Psychological Studies (CPS) and The Mailman Segal Center for Human Development, led by CPS professor F. Charles Mace, Ph.D., The Unicorn Children’s Foundation Endowed Chair, are conducting research to understand why successful treatment of severe behavior disorders sometimes results in treatment relapse and recurrence of severe behavioral problems in children with autism.  The aim of the research is to discover new ways to reduce or avoid treatment relapse and improve long-term outcomes for the treatment of severe behavior disorders.

Many people with non-severe alcohol problems can resolve their problems without treatment. Based on that fact, NSU’s Center for Psychological Studies researchers Linda Sobell, Ph.D. and Mark Sobell, Ph.D., are using an intervention method conducted entirely by mail to help facilitate self-change with problem drinkers. Respondents to advertisements in 48 states were mailed materials to help them evaluate and change their drinking problems on their own. Results showed that many successfully changed. Such interventions could help many people, while minimizing costs to the national health care system.

This disease is the number one killer of Americans. A research team led by NSU College of Pharmacy Professor Robert Speth, Ph.D. has characterized a brain protein that forms a hormone that lowers blood pressure, which could eventually help reduce incidents of heart disease. The team has also developed a novel radioactive drug to study another brain protein that forms this blood-pressure lowering hormone.

There is no widely available drug for treatment and prevention of pandemic outbreaks. Development of antiviral drugs to combat outbreaks involves the stimulation of cells that are capable of eliminating pathogens without harming patients. NSU College of Pharmacy Researcher Paula Faria-Waziry, Ph.D., conducts research on drugs that can increase the production of critical antiviral proteins in nuclear pores, which are targets of viruses such as HIV and influenza. Boosting this protein can potentially counteract viral actions to allow patients to better fight infections.


NSU scientist Appu Rathinavelu, Ph.D., who is the Executive Director of NSU’s Rumbaugh Goodwin Institute for Cancer Research (RGICR) and also one of the Associate Deans at the College of Pharmacy at NSUNSU scientist Appu Rathinavelu, Ph.D., who is the Executive Director of NSU’s Rumbaugh Goodwin Institute for Cancer Research (RGICR) and also one of the Associate Deans at the College of Pharmacy at NSU, is finding new therapeutics to treat deadly cancers. After 10 years of work and collaboration with the scientists at the Lombardi Cancer Center of Georgetown University, Dr. Rathinavelu discovered two new drugs about 7 years ago. His team is conducting pre-clinical trials at the RGICR with the two new drugs that received US patent in spring of 2012. These drugs are designed to destroy blood vessels that supply oxygen and nutrients through blood circulation to cancer tissues. This will eventually shrink and destroy the cancer tissues. Once the pre-clinical trials are completed these drugs could enter into clinical trials for breast, lung, prostate, ovarian and colorectal cancers.

Peter E. Murray, BSc (Hons), Ph.D. is a Pathologist, Professor, and the Director of NSUs Regenerative Medicine Laboratory at Nova Southeastern University College of Dental MedicinePeter E. Murray, BSc (Hons), Ph.D. is a Pathologist, Professor, and the Director of NSUs Regenerative Medicine Laboratory at Nova Southeastern University College of Dental Medicine. Dr. Murray’s research focuses on isolating stem cells from patients, and growing teeth, gum, bone, and other tissues that a patient might need because of trauma or disease.  New teeth have been grown in NSUs laboratories, which gives hope to patients who are missing their natural teeth.  This technology is being used in clinical trials at NSU to regenerate injured teeth in children.  The research is already paying dividends by saving the teeth of the children.  Dr. Murray and research students at NSU anticipate a future, where healthcare providers have a much improved ability to regenerate lost or damaged tissues for their patients.  They expect the increasing use of stem cell therapies will bring an end to disability and provide improved cures for diseases.

Jeffrey Y. Thompson, Ph.D., director of the Biosciences Research Center at NSU College of Dental MedicineThe synthetic ceramic zirconia is an important material in dental and orthopedic restorative treatments because of its excellent biocompatibility and durability.  Jeffrey Y. Thompson, Ph.D., director of the Biosciences Research Center at NSU College of Dental Medicine, is developing novel surface treatments to enhance the adhesion, efficacy and reliability of zirconia in a variety of dental applications. This work is funded by two grants from the National Institutes of Health.

Life Science

Mahmood Shivji, Ph.D., Director of the Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI) at NSU’s Oceanographic CenterThe increasing demand for shark products, especially shark fins, has led to enormous fishing pressure on sharks worldwide, and considerable concern about the long-term health of shark populations. Mahmood Shivji, Ph.D., Director of the Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI) at NSU’s Oceanographic Center is addressing these concerns by developing cutting-edge DNA-based forensic techniques and markers to rapidly identify shark carcasses, dried shark fins, and other products obtained from shark fisheries and fin markets. Using these forensic approaches, GHRI and its research partners (S. Clarke, Imperial College, UK, and the Wildlife Conservation Society) are conducting a survey of the world’s largest shark fin market in Hong Kong. This survey is aimed at establishing relationships between trade categories for fins and the shark species from which the fins were derived. These data, together with trade information available for some fin categories is also being applied to estimate the contribution of key pelagic shark species to the trade.

Scientists are asked frequently asked about which coral reefs are important in terms of biodiversity --- the number of species that inhabit them.  NSU Oceanographic Center professor James Darwin Thomas, Ph.D., is investigating small species of crustaceans that tell the evolutionary history of how the species impacted the reefs. He’s currently organizing a team of scientists to investigate the Madang Lagoon off Papua New Guinea’s north coast. This small lagoon is the most diverse reef system ever documented and it’s in danger from impact caused by mankind.  Thomas’ research mission is timely because a multinational mining corporation has received permission to dump thousands of tons of mining waste in a river that drains into the lagoon.  Thomas and his team of scientists will document certain groups of indicator species in the lagoon before the mining operation commences. Any adverse impacts from mining can then be measured.

NSU Oceanographic Center (OC) professor Richard Spieler, Ph.D., holds a piece of coral in front of NSU’s Center for Excellence for Coral Reef Ecosystems Science Research Facility.Coral reef ecosystems support a variety of marine species including fish, invertebrates, and crustaceans. NSU Oceanographic Center (OC) professor Richard Spieler, Ph.D. uses applied sciences and laboratory studies to examine coral reef restoration and coral reef fish distribution. He co-led a team of researchers with OC Assistant Professor David Gilliam, Ph.D., that received the Gulf Guardian Award for their work surveying endangered reefs and fish species at the Veracruz Coral Reef System National Park in Mexico.

Social Science

Coastal communities in Florida are facing a range of issues related to the impacts of climate change and development, and social science research plays a critical role in identifying stakeholders, understanding their experiences and perspectives, and engaging them in effective decision-making processes on the personal, professional, and community-wide levels.  Robin Cooper, Ph.D., Assistant Professor in the School of Humanities and Social Sciences (SHSS), with funding from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is working with the Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve (RBNRR) in its effort to establish one or more mechanisms for working collaboratively with the community on adaptive management decision-making in the context of fresh water usage.  The purpose of this qualitative research project is three-fold: 1) to understand attitudes and behaviors related to water usage among residents in the Rookery Bay region; 2) to explore how community members have engaged in water-related decision-making in personal and professional contexts; 3) to describe community members’ experiences of receiving and responding to educational information related to water conservation. Based upon the research findings, the project will then encompass designing and implementing a measurably effective approach to communicate with and include water stakeholders into community-wide water decision-making, and designing and implementing a measurably effective approach to increase wise water use decision-making, such as an education, outreach or training program or campaign.  Several doctoral candidates in the Department of Conflict Analysis and Resolution (DCAR) are assisting with the research as part of Dr. Cooper’s research team.

Dr. Christine Ajayi, Assistant Professor of Family Therapy at SHSS, is conducting a study to compare the experiences of American and Chinese college students' perceptions and experiences of relational conflict in light of their perceptions of their parents' relationships. Previous research has made links to subsequent relationship conflict and family of origin relationship dynamics. This study is in collaboration with Dr. Linyuan Deng at the Beijing Normal University to examine the effect of the transgenerational process on later romantic conflict. An innovation of the current study is its cross-cultural comparative dimension. Investigators have made connections to intergenerational relational processes on the experiences of young adults, but this is the first study to explicitly assess the experiences of both American and Chinese emerging adults, with support from NSU’s President’s Faculty Research & Development Grant and participation of student researchers. This is important, as both China and America are currently responding to critical clinical needs for emerging adults who are experiencing challenges in their romantic relationships. Although there are empirically-supported prevention and intervention models, it is critical that prevalence and experiences are understood contextually, as to apply the best methods of intervention for these emerging adults. The investigators will disseminate the results both in America and China.