Despite the extensive research efforts of academia and the pharmaceutical industry, progress in understanding and treating brain disorders has been disappointingly slow, indicating a need for new paradigms and perspectives. At the same time, the incidence of brain-related diseases such as Alzheimer’s and autism continues to grow.
The Brain Research and Integrated Nutrition (B.R.A.I.N.) Center at Nova Southeastern University's Barry and Judy Silverman College of Pharmacy is focusing its research efforts on the metabolic pathways that support the unique functions and energy demands of the brain. This focus includes antioxidant requirements as well as the interconnecting pathways that support epigenetic regulation of gene expression.
NSU is the only university in the United States to launch a research Center focused on brain metabolism and the crucial roles of antioxidant and nutritional factors across the lifespan.
Effective treatment of brain disorders occurring over the lifespan requires a new perspective that incorporates recent research findings demonstrating the central role of nutrition in development, metabolic aspects of aging, as well as the cumulative impact of genes and toxic environmental exposures. While nutrition is a well-recognized factor in supporting brain development and function, the underlying mechanisms are just beginning to be identified.
Leveraging our unique collaborative expertise and combining basic and clinical research projects, the B.R.A.I.N. Center will develop novel nutraceutical and non-nutraceutical treatment approaches for a number of neurological disorders of high concern, including:
Additionally, the B.R.A.I.N. Center will take a leadership role in providing neuro-metabolism and nutrition-related educational programs for health care professionals and the public. This constellation of basic and applied clinical research, drug and nutraceutical development, along with educational engagement, will give the NSU’s B.R.A.I.N. Center a unique role in improving the quality of life for individuals suffering from brain disorders.
Richard Deth, Ph.D., is a Professor of Pharmacology in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, NSU's Barry and Judy Silverman College of Pharmacy. Dr. Deth received his Ph.D. from the University of Miami in 1976 and joined Nova Southeastern University in the Fall of 2014, after serving as a faculty member at Northeastern University in Boston for 38 years. During his tenure at Northeastern he served as Chairman of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences and Director of the Pharmacy Program. He has published more than 100 research articles and book chapters and a monograph.
During his more than four decades of academic research experience, Dr. Deth has extensively investigated molecular mechanisms underlying cellular regulation, including an ongoing interest in neurotransmitter receptor signaling pathways. In 1998 his detailed understanding of conformational changes in G protein-coupled receptors induced by binding of neurotransmitters such as epinephrine, enabled Dr. Deth to discover a novel signaling activity of the D4 dopamine receptor. This unique phospholipid methylation activity allows the D4 receptor to modify the physical environment of its surrounding membrane in response to dopamine, affecting synaptic activity and modulating neuronal firing. As outlined in his 2003 monograph “Molecular Origins of Human Attention: The Dopamine-Folate Connection”, this novel D4 receptor signaling mechanism changes the frequency of neural networks in a manner that produces attention. Subsequent investigations revealed that a number of environmental toxins, each of which lowers antioxidant levels, potently interfere with D4 dopamine receptor methylation activity, providing a metabolic link to neurodevelopmental disorders such as attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism.
The micronutrients vitamin B12 and folic acid provide crucial support for the methylation process, and in 2016 Dr. Deth published a landmark study showing that brain levels of vitamin B12 decrease more than 10-fold across the lifespan, and the decrease is especially prominent after 50 years of age. Importantly, brain vitamin B12 levels were prematurely decreased in both autistic subjects and subjects suffering from schizophrenia. Dr. Deth has been extensively involved with several parent/practitioner-based autism organizations, including the National Autism Association and the Autism Research Center. These and other observations lay the groundwork for recognizing the fundamental role of oxidative stress and impaired methylation in a number of brain disorders, opening the way to novel metabolic treatment approaches, some of which are already showing promise in clinical trials. As described below, the B.R.A.I.N. Center at NSU aims to be a leader in advancing the research and treatment opportunities emanating from this emerging perspective.
Malav S. Trivedi, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor of Pharmacology in the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences, NSU's Barry and Judy Silverman College of Pharmacy. Dr. Trivedi joined Nova Southeastern University in the Fall of 2015 after completing his Doctoral and Post-Doctoral research in Neuropharmacology at Northeastern University.
“You are what you eat.” Dr. Trivedi’s research is focused on investigating the effects of nutrition and dietary peptides on cognitive and gastrointestinal health. He has investigated molecular mechanisms underlying the effects of several food-derived peptides on cellular functions, especially on the brain and the gastrointestinal tract. This research has improved our understanding of the benefits of gluten- and casein-free dietary interventions in autistic and schizophrenic patients.
Of particular local interest, Broward County and Miami Dade County in Florida are rated highest in opioid drug addiction. Dr. Trivedi’s preliminary research identifies the combined effects of an individual’s genes as well as the environmental exposure. This is a unique approach in understanding molecular mechanisms underlying drug addiction. Such research indicates that current treatment approaches might be benefited by supporting the metabolic imbalances especially in relation to antioxidant status in affected drug addicts.
Dr. Trivedi has extensive experience in monitoring and coordinating preclinical and clinical research focusing on dietary interventions. Collaborators include the Food and Behavior group at Oxford University, the Liggins Center in New Zealand and the Chinese Military Academy in Shanghai. Dr. Trivedi has had successful grant funding, contracts, and has peer-review publications in the field of neurometabolism.
Benedict C. Albensi, Ph.D., BCMAS, CRQM is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Pharmaceutical Sciences. He is best known for his work with factors involved in ageing, cognition, and Alzheimer's disease (AD), such as nuclear factor kappa B (NF-kB), a mediator of inflammation but also a required molecule for memory.
He obtained his Ph.D. in Neuroscience from the University of Utah's Medical School in 1995. Subsequently, he was awarded a Postdoctoral Fellowship at Georgetown University in Washington, DC, working with Drs. Faden and Pekar, where he developed MRI methods for investigating head trauma and cognition. He then went on to work as a Postdoctoral Scholar with Dr. Mark Mattson, an internationally recognized leader in neurodegenerative research, at the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging - University of Kentucky where he was the first to show NF-kB is required for hippocampal synaptic plasticity in mammals. Other appointments have included the Cleveland Clinic, NPS Pharmaceuticals, Pfizer, Case Western Reserve University, St. Boniface Hospital Research Ctr., and the University of Manitoba.
Over the last few years, his work has largely focused on mitochondrial dysfunction in AD. Recently, the Albensi lab has shown very early deficits and sex-based differences in mitochondrial function before the appearance of plaques and tangles, the classic hallmarks of AD. He has been ranked in the top 1% worldwide by Expertscape.com for his number of publications from 2010-2020 in 7 areas including Alzheimer Disease (0.48%), neurocognitive disorders (0.76%), tauopathies (0.98%), dementia (0.85%), NF-kappa B (0.42%), memory (68%) & energy metabolism (0.68%).
Lynn Lafferty, Pharm.D., is a doctor of Pharmacy and licensed pharmacist, naturopath, herbalist, nutritionist and chef who is committed to finding the safest and most effective means to promote health and wellness over disease and illness. She is an Assistant Professor in the Integrative Medicine Department at Nova Southeastern University College of Osteopathic Medicine and Faculty in the M.S. Nutrition Program. She is Director of the Functional Clinical Nutrition and Herbal Medicine practice in the Nova Southeastern University Clinic Pharmacy, and created a certificate program for Medical and Osteopathic Doctors, Pharmacists, Dentists, and other licensed health care practitioners within the M.S. Nutrition program. She is proud to serve on the boards of the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, Broward County Pharmacy Association, and commissioner on the Broward County Substance Abuse Task Force. Her research is focused on natural medicine and supplementation therapy and is currently conducting research on Antibiotic Resistance and Natural Immune Builders, Herbal considerations in the elderly populations, discrimination of patients, and genomics.
Dr. Lafferty is a nationally renowned speaker on the topics of Food as Medicine, Genomics, Nutrigenomics, Natural Immune Builders, Meditation, Herbal Therapy and functional nutrition. Her goal is to educate and help as many people as possible to the many possibilities of combining the best of both worlds from modern medicine and age old traditional therapies.
Anna M. Castejon, Pharm.D., is an Associate Professor of Pharmaceutical Sciences at NSU, where she serves as Co-Chair of the Department and teaches pharmacology-related content to PharmD students as well as graduate program courses. Dr. Castejon is a pharmacist and a pharmacologist with basic and clinical research expertise in a range of fields from cardiovascular to autism spectrum disorders.
Recently, Dr. Castejon led the first investigator-initiated clinical trial conducted at NSU. This multidisciplinary study investigated the role of a nutritional supplement in increasing antioxidant capacity in autistic subjects and its impact in core areas of autism behavior. She is currently leading research projects investigating the neuroprotective role of oxytocin in brain cells, and novel cell death mechanisms in autism using repository cell lines isolated from neuro-typical and autistic individuals.
Lubov Nathanson, Ph.D., received her Ph.D. in Molecular Biology and Biochemistry from the Weizmann Center of Science, Israel. Her postdoctoral work at the University of Miami allowed her to gain a better understanding of cellular processes. As Manager and later Director of the Gene Expression and Microarray Core (2004-2010), she gained extensive hands-on experience of sample processing for microarray, Nanostring and NextGen sequencing analyses. As part of the Bioinformatics group (2010-2012) she used and evaluated many different bioinformatics software tools while gaining experience in analyzing large genomics datasets as well as conducting systems biology analyses, with additional expertise in bioinformatics, molecular biology, biochemistry and systems biology.
Much of Dr. Nathanson’s academic work in recent years has involved analyses of gene expression data from Nanostring, microarrays and RNA-seq. In 2012, Dr. Nathanson joined NSU as an Assistant Professor, which allowed her to lead her own research studies. She is a member of NSU’s Institute for NeuroImmune Medicine (INIM), where her work is focused on neuroinflammatory and neurodegenerative disorders such as chronic fatigue syndrome, Gulf War Illness, Parkinson’s disease, and multiple sclerosis using the newest proteomic, genomic, and computational techniques.
Drs. Deth and Trivedi have been intimately involved in characterizing the actions of casein-derived opioid peptides as well as the metabolic and epigenetic effects of a2 milk consumption.
a2 Milk is distinctive for the very limited release of opioid peptides from a2-type casein, which increases antioxidant production with multiple health benefits. The a2 Milk Company is in the business of introducing a2 Milk into the marketplace and making its unique health benefits understood and available worldwide.
Immunotec provides high-quality scientifically-based nutrition and wellness products which enhance quality of life and performance. Immunocal is a patented, unique and specially formulated whey-derived dietary supplement that has been clinically demonstrated to maintain the immune system. Whey proteins are rich in the amino acid cysteine, which increases synthesis of the antioxidant glutathione.
EmeraMed Limited is a biotechnology firm developing the antidote – heavy metal chelator and antioxidant – Irminix® (Emeramide). Chelation of mercury, iron and other metals by Emeramide has been shown to significantly increase levels of the antioxidant glutathione.
Solara has pioneered the use of advanced pharmaceutical development in the nutraceutical industry and is a leader in the production of private label nutraceutical supplements. Solara is assisting the B.R.A.I.N. Center in developing a nutraceutical to augment brain levels of vitamin B12.
Dr. Udell is a leading autism clinician with over 30 years of experience. Presently, Dr. Udell is practicing behavioral pediatrics in Davie, Florida, where he has focused on children with developmental disabilities including ADHD and autism.