Debra Moriarity, Ph.D.

Professor Emerita, Biological Sciences


301 Sparkman Drive
Shelby Center
Room 369D
Huntsville, AL 35899
Campus Map



What makes cells grow and divide and what makes them stop? These questions have always intrigued me. My research interests have been directed, in one way or another, to answering these questions. I have worked for years in the area of growth factor signaling, specifically, epidermal growth factor. I have been especially interested in the interaction of this polypeptide growth factor with liver cells, both normal and hepatoma-derived. More recently, my participation in the UAH Natural Products Research Group has led me to investigations of how plant-derived chemicals may function as inhibitors of tumor cell growth. My laboratory is very active in the culture of various human tumor cells, and in testing the plant extracts we bring back from The Monteverde Cloud Forest Reserve in Costa Rica,from North Queensland, Australia, from Abaco Island, The Bahamas and those we obtain from other tropical forests around the world. We assess the cytotoxic activity against various human tumor cell lines then use bioactivity-guided fractionation to isolate the active compounds from these plants. The structures of these active compounds are then determined by spectroscopic and/or crystallographic techniques such as NMR and X-ray crystallography. Studies of the mechanism of action of these potential new drugs are then done, including assaying for inhibition of topisomerases or ras –farnesylation, for interaction with growth factor signaling systems, for disruption of microtubule-related cell functions, and other cellular activities related to growth. Our goal is to discover potential new chemotherapeutic agents for the treatment of cancer.


  • Cell Biochemistry and Cell Biology
  • Regulation of Eukaryotic Gene Expression
  • Growth Factor Signaling
  • Natural Products Drug Discovery
  • Drug Discovery from Tropical Plants
  • Natural Products Research Group

Recent Publications

  • Dosoky, N.S., Moriarity, D.M. and Setzer, W.N. 2015. Phytochemical and Biological Investigations of Conradina canescens. Natural Products Communications, 11, 25-28

  • Satyal, P., Prajwal, P., A, P., Noura, D., Moriarity, D. M., Vogler, B. W., Setzer, W. N. (2014). Chemical Compositions, Phytotoxicity, and Biological Activities of Acorus calamus Essential Oils from Nepal. Natural Products Communications, 8, 1179-1181.

  • "The Medicinal Value of Tropical Rainforest Plants from Paluma, North Queensland, Australia." Pharmaceutical Biology. 39, 67-78. Setzer, M.C.; Setzer, W.N.; Jackes, B.R.; Gentry, G.A.; Moriarity, D.M. (2001).

  • "Lupeol is the cytotoxic principle in the leaf extract of Dendropanax c.f. querceti." Planta Medica. 64: 370-372. Moriarity, D.M., Huang, J., Yancey, C.A., Zhang, P., Setzer, W.N., Lawton, R.O., Bates, R.B. and Caldera, S. (1998).

  • "A cytotoxic diacetylene from Dendropanax arboreus." Planta Medica. 61,11-12. Setzer, W.N., Green, T.J., Whitaker, K.W., Moriarity, D.M., Yancey, C.A., Lawton, R.O. and Bates, R.B. (1995).

  • "Antimicrobial and cytotoxic activity of crude extracts of Araliaceae from Monteverde, Costa Rica." Bresnesia. 38, 123-130. Setzer, W.N., M.N. Flair, K.G. Byler, J. Huang, M.A. Thompson, A.F. Setzer, D.M. Moriarity, R.O. Lawton and D.B. Windham-Carswell (1992).

  • "Identification of human hepatoma-defined cell surface molecules." Hybridoma. 2, 39-47. Moriarity, D.M., N. Fox, D.P. Aden, J.R. Hoyer and B.B. Knowles (1983).

  • "Epidermal growth factor stimulation of ornithine decarboxylase activity in a human hepatoma cell line." Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA. 78, 2752-2756. Moriarity, D.M., D.M. DiSorbo, G. Litwack and C.R. Savage, Jr. (1981).

  • "Interaction of epidermal growth factor with adult rat liver parenchymal cells in primary culture." Arch. Biochem. Biophys. 203, 506-518. Moriarity, D.M. and C.R. Savage, Jr. (1980).

Affiliate Faculty

Hudson Alpha Institute for Biotechnology

Dr. Gregory Barsh

Research Faculty

Dr. Josh Clevenger

Research Faculty

Dr. Nick Cochran

HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology

Dr. Sara Cooper

Research Faculty

Dr. Gregory Cooper

Research Faculty

Dr. Jane Grimwood

Research Faculty

Dr. Jian Han

Research Faculty

Dr. Alex Harkess

Research Faculty

Dr. Neil Edward Lamb

Research Faculty

Dr. Elaine Lyon

Research Faculty

Dr. John Mayo

Professor Emeritus, Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center-New Orleans

Dr. Richard Myers

Research Faculty

Dr. Le Su

Junior Fellow HudsonAlpha Institute of Biotechnology

Dr. Kankshita Swaminathan

Research Faculty