Pioneering early stage researchers selected for NIDA’s 2016 Avenir awards

Awards recognize cutting edge HIV/AIDS and epigenetics research

Red ribbon to represent HIV/AIDResearch and a DNA molecule to represent Genetics or Epigenetics research
Image by NIDA

The National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA), part of the National Institutes of Health, today announced seven recipients of its two Avenir Award programs for HIV/AIDS and genetics or epigenetics research. The awards will support exciting approaches with tools such as genome editing and smart phone technologies, as well as studies of epigenetic changes in brain cells and couples-based HIV prevention. The Avenir (the French word for “future”) Awards provide grants to early stage investigators who propose highly innovative studies. Each of the seven scientists will receive up to $300,000 per year for five years to support their projects.

The five HIV/AIDS projects receiving awards propose to explore a wide range of approaches, including: using a novel immunization strategy to develop a HIV vaccine for individuals with substance use disorder; utilizing a new genome editing technique to identify genes required for HIV latency to support development of therapeutic targets; evaluating the cost-effectiveness of strategies aimed at improving awareness of HIV status and subsequent linkages to care; testing the effectiveness of smart-phone mobile health technology to collect patient information that may aid in HIV treatment adherence; and developing and evaluating a couples-based HIV prevention program for young substance-using males. The genetics and epigenetics research awardees are focused on two areas: identifying novel roles for the neurotransmitter dopamine in the regulation of patterns of neuronal gene expression to allow for development of more effective therapeutics; and examining epigenetic changes that occur in different types of brain cells to understand the interaction between cannabis abuse and other psychiatric disorders.

"NIDA is very pleased to support these pioneering approaches to advancing addiction science in the areas of epigenetics and HIV/AIDS," said NIDA Director Nora D. Volkow, M.D. "It’s extremely gratifying to be able to support investigators in the early stages of their scientific careers."

The Avenir Award Program for Research on Substance Abuse and HIV/AIDS supports scientists interested in pursuing pioneering research approaches for improved prevention and treatment, long term retention in care, and ultimately, eradication of HIV within substance using populations infected with, or at risk for, HIV/AIDS. The Avenir Award Program for Genetics or Epigenetics of Substance Abuse supports early stage investigators engaged in promising research in the field of genetics or epigenetics of substance abuse. Epigenetics studies how environmental factors influence changes in gene expression without altering the DNA sequence.

Awardees are listed below:

HIV/AIDS Research

Daniel Lingwood, Ph.D., Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
Project: Defining and Exploiting a Genetic Template for an HIV Vaccine

Alexander Marson, Ph.D., University of California, San Francisco
Project: Functional Testing of Host Genes That Control HIV Latency in Primary Immune Cells

Michael Newcomb, Ph.D., Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois
Project: A New Approach to Integrating Primary and Secondary HIV Prevention in Young Male Couples

Sunil Solomon, Ph.D., Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore
Project: Reaching the Hardest of the Hard-to-Reach

Ryan Westergaard, Ph.D., University of Wisconsin-Madison
Project: Optimizing HIV Care for Patients with Substance Use Disorders using Predictive Analytics in a Mobile Health Application

Genetics or Epigenetics Research

Ian Maze, Ph.D., Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York City
Project: Roles for Histone Monoaminylation in Cocaine-Induced Transcriptional and Behavioral Plasticity

Francesca Telese, Ph.D., University of California, San Diego
Project: Epigenomic Approaches to Study the Gene Networks Underlying the Cannabis Effect on Genetic Vulnerability to Psychosis

Read more about the Avenir Award Program. For information about NIDA’s AIDS Research Program, go to  Read more about NIDA’s Genetics and Molecular Neurobiology Research Branch.

Lingwood, Marson, Newcomb, Solomon, Westergaard, Maze, and Telese are funded under grant numbers DA042422, DA042423-01, DA042417, DA040244-01, DA042424-01, DA042078-01, and DA042232-01, respectively.

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