FIU College of Medicine professor conducts groundbreaking Neuro-AIDS research

Madhavan Nair, chair and associate dean of the Department of Immunology in the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, and his research group are conducting groundbreaking research that may lead to more effective treatment and new hope in the battle against Neuro-AIDS. This research was featured on the front cover of the August 2009 issue of the Journal of Neuro Virology.

Professor Madhavan Nair

Nearly all AIDS drugs administered orally or by injection are prevented from reaching the brain by the blood-brain barrier – a unique regulatory system that protects the brain environment by separating it from direct contact with the circulating blood. In doing so, it impedes the transport of drugs to the brain. Currently, delivery of therapeutic medications in the brain often involves highly invasive techniques, such as drilling small holes in the skull.

Nair and his team have developed magnetic nanoparticles that cross the blood-brain barrier and allow guided and precise delivery of medicine to the brain. These nanoparticles will deliver two HIV medications simultaneously, with a third opioid receptor blocker across the blood-brain barrier, with the use of an external magnetic field. This magnetic field acts as a kind of remote control, directing the nanocarriers to the targeted area. Although this technology has been used in treating cancer brain tumors, it has not been applied in the treatment of HIV/AIDS.

If HIV medications can be successfully delivered to the brain with this unique nanocarrier system of delivery of drugs, patients would require much smaller amounts of medication, with lesser incidence of toxicity and side effects. This technology could reduce the formation of drug-resistant HIV strains in infected individuals. It may also prove invaluable in the treatment of other diseases of the central nervous system, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s disease, and epilepsy, in which the blood brain barrier blocks transport of medications to the brain.

Nair’s research is funded by a $3.3 million, five-year NIH grant for in vitro and preclinical animal model studies. Depending on the outcome of these studies, Nair plans to seek another NIH grant or obtain funding from a pharmaceutical company for a clinical trial.

“The potential impact of this specific drug-targeting research may change the whole concept of drug targeting to the brain and transform our efforts to treat not only HIV infection and associated neuro-AIDS, but also various related diseases of the central nervous system and substance abuse addiction,” said Nair. “FIU has been in the forefront of this kind of research, and has applied for a Patent Cooperation Treaty (PCT) application for this technology.”

Professor Nair was the first researcher who received a MERIT Award while at FIU. MERIT Awards from the National Institutes of Health recognize outstanding contributions and productivity in research. Dr. Nair’s award is for the period 2008-2018. He has published more than 100 papers as first and/or senior author, and mentored more than 50 undergraduate, graduate, postdoctoral fellows, high school and minority students. His research is currently supported with four major NIH grants.

— Susan Feinberg

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