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Faculty Research in the PISB

As the new home of the Department of Biology, the Constantine Papadakis Integrated Sciences Building will facilitate cutting-edge research in areas ranging from ecology and environmental science to microbial pathogenesis and immunology. The complexity of the laboratories and classroom spaces is astounding due to the extremely varied and specialized nature of the research and teaching conducted by biology faculty. The following faculty members will have a lab in the PISB where they will pursue their research interests:

Shivanthi Anandan, PhD, associate professor, studies aquatic cyanobacteria, which produce biomass for the food chain and aggregate into large blooms in the ocean, generating nitrates and depleting oxygen. Understanding how to manipulate cyanobacterial genes, which resemble some mammalian proteins, may prevent the deaths of higher organisms.


Harold Avery, PhD, associate professor, focuses on terrapin conservation biology. He explores the survival of terrapin, a species of turtle native to the United States’ east coast, in local estuaries in Barnegat Bay, where Drexel has a field station. Human impact on the environment is especially important in his research.


Walter Bien, PhD, research professor, is a botanist who also works at the Barnegat Bay field station. He engages in restoration biology there, as well as in the New Jersey Pine Barrens, helping the environment to recover from human interventions.


Felice Elefant, PhD, associate professor, explores how epigenetic regulators control gene expression patterns that govern neurodevelopment, cognition and behavior, and various diseases. Unlike the previously accepted theory that permanent, genetic damage causes most cancers and developmental disorders, Elefant and her team are finding that alterations to epigenetic code might be reversible with treatments that are less invasive than those currently used.


Gail Hearn, PhD, research professor, leads a team on the west coast of Africa where they engage in conservation efforts with various species of primates through the Bioko Biodiversity Protection Program. Hearn’s group is also working to change the habits of the local people who hunt the primates.


Susan Kilham, PhD, professor, is an aquatic ecologist looking at extinction events in Central America. She studies how various species of frogs and salamanders are affected by global warming.


Kenneth Lacovara, PhD, associate professor, and his team are studying the most complete skeleton of a super-massive dinosaur, which they recently excavated from Patagonia, Argentina. They are looking at the dinosaur on a molecular level, a relatively new scientific endeavor.


Daniel Marenda, PhD, assistant professor and co-director of the Cell Imaging Center, researches human disease, particularly late-onset Alzheimer’s, in Drosophila models. He also studies other neurodevelopment diseases like CHARGE syndrome.


Donna Murasko, PhD, professor and dean, studies the effects of aging on the immune system. By determining how the immune system evolves with age, Murasko hopes to eventually improve the quality of life with advancing age.


Michael O’Connor, PhD, professor, studies the physiological and biophyscial ecology of animals, considering how environmental factors affect animals’ habitats. His research has focused on how gases in the air are exchanged with sea turtle eggs, and how these gases affect the development of the eggs, as well as how the ecology of reptiles might change under global warming.


Jacob Russell, PhD, assistant professor, studies symbiosis in insects, and how bacteria in the gut affect the evolution of organisms. His research on both ants and fish aims to determine the impact of microbes on their dietary evolution, revealing the mechanisms by which gut microbes can promote animal health.


Nianli Sang, PhD, associate professor, is a cancer biologist who looks at the metabolisms of cancer cells. His research aims to determine how cancer cells metabolize differently than normal cells, and how their metabolisms affect their ability to grow and metastasize.


Aleister Saunders, PhD, associate professor and associate dean, researches the genetic and molecular/cellular biology of Alzheimer’s disease. He and his team are trying to identify predictive factors and possible targets for drug intervention.


Elias Spiliotis, PhD, assistant professor and director of the Cell Imaging Center, studies the basic biology and pharmacology of a novel class of cytoskeleton-associated proteins, called septins. Spiliotis identified the mammalian form of septin proteins, and explores how these proteins contribute to both normal cell and cancer cell development and metastasis.


James Spotila, PhD, Betz Chair Professor of Environmental Science, works in conservation biology, studying sea turtle and other reptile species, fish, and amphibians currently in the Pacific coasts of Central America and in the Mediterranean. He is interested in the physiological and population ecology of these organisms and the molecular basis for temperature dependent sex determination in reptiles.


Jeffery Twiss, PhD, department head, looks at growth and regeneration of neural processes. His lab is working to determine the function of various proteins with the hope that regeneration of neurons is possible. This type of regeneration would allow scientists to improve recovery from brain and spinal cord injury and to fight various neurodegenerative diseases.


Through their varied research endeavors, faculty in the Department of Biology are significantly impacting the way we think about and interact with the world. The Papadakis Integrated Sciences Building facilitates cutting-edge research in areas ranging from ecology and environmental science to microbial pathogenesis and immunology.