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College of medicine founding professor Madhavan Nair retires
Madhavan Nair, Ph.D., in his lab at the Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine.

College of medicine founding professor Madhavan Nair retires

First FIU researcher to earn a MERIT Award from the National Institutes of Health

June 25, 2024 at 9:30am

The Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine's first faculty hire is hanging up his lab coat. After nearly half a century as a biomedical researcher, the last 18 years at FIU, Distinguished University Professor Madhavan Nair is retiring.

Nair leaves with a "feeling of high accomplishment for having worked with great faculty and administrators." There were many other exceptional accomplishments, including over $25 million in career funding and more than 300 publications.

An internationally renowned expert in nanotechnology and HIV research, Nair was the first FIU researcher to earn a prestigious MERIT Award from the National Institutes of Health, which recognizes outstanding competence and productivity in research.

"As Dr. Nair embarks on a well-deserved retirement, we celebrate a distinguished career that has left an enduring legacy. His groundbreaking discoveries and innovations will no doubt continue to improve outcomes for patients battling diseases like AIDS and Alzheimer's and fuel further scientific exploration," said Wertheim Medicine Dean Dr. Juan Cendan.

In August 2006, just a few months after Governor Jeb Bush signed Florida Statute 1004.385 authorizing a new college of medicine at FIU, Nair was the first faculty member recruited. "The NIH referred me to then-Provost [Ronald] Berkman, and he appointed me," said Nair.

At the nascent Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine, Nair became the founding chair of the Department of Immunology and served as associate vice president of nanomedicine, associate dean of biomedical research and director of the Institute of NeuroImmune Pharmacology.

In the nearly two decades since, Nair has authored 170 publications at FIU, edited two scientific books and earned 17 U.S. patents. An additional patent is pending. In 2019, he was named a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors.

Nair's career began in his native India, where he received his Ph.D. in cancer immunology from Tata Memorial Cancer Center at Bombay University. He also trained at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. He later joined the faculty of the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Michigan. Subsequently, he worked at the Department of Medicine and Microbiology at SUNY Buffalo State University as a tenured professor and director of research in allergy and immunology. He is a Fellow of the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology. It may be less known that Nair is also a certified Clinical Nutrition Specialist and a Fellow of the American College of Nutrition.

Researcher Madhavan Nair holding glass flask and magnet.

Nair demonstrates the concept behind his patented technique using magneto-electric nano particles
to guide drugs past the blood-brain barrier. August 2012.

Here, the retiring scientist discusses his career and offers advice to young investigators:

What inspired you to pursue a research career?  

There is a very high incidence of oral cancer in people addicted to tobacco chewing in parts of India. My research focused mainly on increasing the innate immune response to prevent cancer metastasis in these patients. That later led to the hypothesis that substance abuse played a major role in the emergence of HIV incidence and progression to AIDS. Thus, we established a direct link between drug abuse and HIV infection and AIDS. Since the HIV virus resides in the brain and drugs cannot gain access to the brain due to the blood-brain barrier, we developed nano-technological approaches to deliver HIV drugs to the brain.

What do you consider to be your most significant contributions to your field?

    • Early reporting of reduced natural killer (NK) cell activity in HIV patients
    • Stimulation of immune response in HIV patients with IL-2 to resist HIV infection
    • Linking substance use and HIV incidence
    • HIV drug delivery to the brain using nanotechnology

What advice would you give to young researchers entering the field? 
Work hard.

Nair's last day at FIU is June 28. His retirement plans include a pilgrimage to Hindu temples in India.