Madhavan Nair became the first FIU professor to win a prestigious MERIT Award from the NIH for research that’s expected to help in the design of interventions for HIV-infected drug abusers.
By Grant Smith
Dr. Madhavan Nair, professor and chair of immunology and associate dean of biomedical research in the FIU College of Medicine, has won a coveted award from the National Institutes of Health (NIH), doubling the amount and duration of his current research grant focusing on cocaine users who have some of the most prevalent forms of the HIV virus.
Nair is the first FIU researcher to earn a prestigious MERIT (Method to Extend Research In Time) Award, given to investigators who have experienced outstanding competence and productivity and who are likely to continue performing at the same high level in the future.
Nair’s research investigates the damage done to the central nervous system in HIV-1B- and HIV-1C-infected cocaine users. (HIV-1B and HIV-1C are large subgroups of the HIV virus.) More than 50 percent of people infected with HIV-1 have the HIV-1C version of the virus, which is prevalent in Africa and Asia. HIV-1B is the predominant strain of the virus found in North America and Europe.
“We are making significant progress in understanding the role of drugs of abuse in HIV disease susceptibility and progression toward AIDS,” says Nair. “There is an entangled epidemic of drug use and HIV infection in the world. Drugs of abuse are known to increase HIV infection and lead the infected subjects rapidly to AIDS. We believe that cocaine will enhance the susceptibility to virus infection and cause differential neurological or cognitive impairments in people infected with HIV-1B and HIV-1C.”
He says, “The financial support from NIH through this MERIT award will allow me to pursue new and emerging state-of-the-art ideas.”
Nair’s current five-year, $1.6 million grant, which is one of five active NIH grants being led by the FIU researcher, has been extended to 10 years and approximately $3 million. Dr. Jag Khalsa, program director and chief of medical consequences of drug abuse at NIDA/NIH, says the organization has high hopes for the outcome of Nair’s research.
“It is anticipated that this research will help in the design of interventions (prevention and treatment modalities) for substance abusing patients infected with specific [types of] HIV.”