Avenir Awards for HIV/AIDS Research

NIDA’s Avenir Awards are designed to stimulate innovation and potentially transformative research from early stage investigators. “Avenir” is the French word for “future,” and these awards represent NIDA’s commitment to supporting researchers who represent the future of addiction science.

NIDA has two Avenir award programs, one for HIV/AIDS and another on the genetics and epigenetics of substance use. The Avenir Award Program for Research on Substance Use Disorders and HIV/AIDS supports creative individuals who wish to pursue innovative research at the nexus of substance use and HIV/AIDS. Awardees receive up to $375,000 per year for 4 years to support their projects. The applications do not require preliminary data. Avenir program is designed for new and/or early stage investigators as defined by NIH: Early Stage Investigator Policies | grants.nih.gov.

The Avenir Award Program for Research on Substance Use Disorders and HIV/AIDS (DP2)

2021 HIV/AIDS Research Avenir Award Winners

Matthew Akiyama, M.D., M.Sc.

Matthew Akiyama

Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center

Matthew Akiyama, M.D., M.Sc., is an Assistant Professor of Medicine and physician-investigator at Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center. In addition to providing care to people living with HIV, HCV, and substance use disorders, Dr. Akiyama conducts interdisciplinary research focusing on HIV and HCV among socioeconomically marginalized populations with emphasis on models of HIV and HCV care in resource-limited settings. Dr. Akiyama is the recipient of a K99/R00 award from NIDA to develop and test an innovative strategy to improve linkage to and retention in HCV treatment among individuals recently released from jail. He is the recipient of additional institutional and NIH funding including an NIDDK P30 pilot grant focused on HCV Transmission Networks Among People Who Inject Drugs. Dr. Akiyama completed his Infectious Diseases Fellowship at New York University/Bellevue Hospital and a Master of Science in Medical Anthropology at University College London. 

Project: Leveraging HCV Phylogenetic Networks to Prevent HIV and Other Blood Borne Infections Among People Who Inject Drugs. Engaging people who inject drugs is essential to ending the HIV epidemic and eliminating viral hepatitis. Needle and syringe programs and medications for opioid use disorder have been challenging to implement in low- and middle-income countries due to significant cost and complex logistics. Efficient strategies to prevent HIV and other blood borne infections are needed as harm reduction services are scaled up. The goal of Dr. Akiyama’s project is to characterize HCV phylogenetic networks to identify PWID who are highly central in injection networks and model the impact of targeted approaches to prevent HIV and other blood borne infections in Kenya, East Africa. 

 Hansel Tookes, M.D., M.P.H.

Hansel Tookes

University of Miami Miller School of Medicine

Hansel Tookes, MD, MPH is Assistant Professor of Medicine at University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. His research focuses on innovative interventions to improve health outcomes in people who inject drugs (PWID). His harm reduction research seeks to innovate and enhance the reach of syringe services programs through the testing of innovative delivery models of low barrier care.  He has leveraged his own research in launching a campaign to bring syringe services programs to Miami and ultimately the entire state of Florida. Dr. Tookes received his medical and public health degrees from the University of Miami and his bachelor’s degree from Yale University. He completed his training as an internist at Jackson Health System, Miami’s public hospital, with a focus on HIV primary care and hospital medicine for the HIV and substance use disorder syndemics.

Project: Tele-Harm Reduction for Rapid Initiation of Antiretrovirals in People who Inject Drugs: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Tele-Harm Reduction seeks to engage people who inject drugs (PWID) into HIV care by bringing healthcare out of the traditional healthcare system and leveraging syringe services programs as trusted venues to deliver telehealth-enhanced access to antiretrovirals, medications for opioid use disorder, and hepatitis C cure. We urgently need a strong evidence base to prove that Tele-Harm Reduction can help us End the HIV Epidemic in PWID and save lives. We seek to set the foundation to build a new standard of care to treat HIV among PWID in the COVID-19 era and beyond.

2020 HIV/AIDS Research Avenir Award Winners

Jacqueline Barker, Ph.D.

Jaqueline Barker, Ph.D.
Drexel University College of Medicine

Jacqueline Barker, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Pharmacology and Physiology at the Drexel University College of Medicine. Her graduate training in the Interdepartmental Neuroscience Program at Yale University and postdoctoral training in the Department of Neuroscience at the Medical University of South Carolina have provided a strong background in neurocognitive function and substance use disorders. Her lab investigates the neural circuits and molecular substrates regulating behavioral and cognitive flexibility and their dysregulation in disease states. To accomplish this, her work combines circuit- and cell-type specific approaches with novel pharmacological tools and animal models to assess acquired impairments following HIV infection and chronic drug and alcohol exposure.

Project: Integrating preclinical models to develop converging mechanistic data in co-occurring HIV and substance use: Dr. Barker’s Avenir project will apply these strategies to the investigation of glutamate system dysfunction during uncontrolled drug seeking in preclinical models of progressive HIV infection and cART treatment. These findings will move toward the goal of identifying robust, translatable targets for the rescue of neurocognitive impairments in people living with HIV.

Joshua A. Barocas, M.D.

Dr. Joshua Barocas, M.D.
Boston Medical Center

Joshua A. Barocas, M.D., is Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine and Infectious Diseases physician at Boston Medical Center. He leads an interdisciplinary research program that is specifically aimed at improving health outcomes for patients with infectious diseases including HIV and HCV, substance use disorders, and other vulnerable populations. His research uses clinical epidemiology, health economics, simulation modeling, and cost-effectiveness methods to inform clinical-decision making and health policy. Dr. Barocas received his medical degree from the George Washington University School of Medicine and Public Health. He completed his Internal Medicine residency and was subsequently Chief Resident at the University of Wisconsin Hospitals and Clinics. He then completed a fellowship in Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital and Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA and a post-doctoral fellowship in Dr. Benjamin Linas’ research lab before joining the faculty in 2018.

Project: Development of a novel community-based, high-performance surveillance network for drug use. Dr. Barocas’ project will create a novel surveillance network for people who use drugs utilizing an interdisciplinary approach that combines community engaged research, machine learning, indirect estimation, and dissemination science. Through this process, communities will gain a more complete understanding of context- and community-specific risk factors and the true scope of the problem. This network will facilitate rapid knowledge transfer to communities, directly informing clinical care and local policy decisions regarding service planning and resource allocation as they seek to respond to the ongoing drug epidemic in the U.S.

Sara Gianella Weibel, M.D.

Sara Gianella Weibel, MD
UC San Diego

Sara Gianella Weibel, M.D., graduated from the University of Zurich (Switzerland). After her residency in Internal Medicine and Infectious Disease in Switzerland, she began her fellowship in the Department of Infectious Disease and Hospital Epidemiology of the University Hospital of Zurich in 2007. She moved to UC San Diego in 2009 to work as a postdoctoral fellow with Drs. Douglas Richman and Davey Smith. She joined the faculty of the Department of Medicine (Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health) in 2013, and currently works both at the UC San Diego Antiviral Research Center, and in her laboratory on the UC San Diego campus, where she performs bench research. Additionally, Dr. Gianella Weibel directs the San Diego Center for AIDS Research (SD CFAR) Translational Virology Core, a position she has held since 2017.

Project: The HIV-associated Opioid Micro-Environment (HOME) Project: The proposed “HOME” project is designed to define how HIV persists in the body, and how the immune system responds to HIV in the presence of opioid use. To achieve her goals, Dr. Gianella Weibel will leverage data and tissue samples from the Last Gift cohort (http://lastgift.ucsd.edu). By characterizing the HOME in key tissues at the cellular level, she will be able to chart the places where the virus hides and understand some of the mechanisms by which it persists. The resulting blueprint of the HOME will guide the development of new methods to minimize conditions that may co-occur with HIV, such as depression or certain cancers (co-morbidities). Dr. Gianella Weibel further anticipates that the HOME study will inform strategies for HIV cures.

Jacqueline Linnes, Ph.D.

Jacqueline Linnes, Ph.D.
Purdue University

Jacqueline Linnes, Ph.D., is the Marta E. Gross Assistant Professor in the Weldon School of Biomedical Engineering at Purdue University. Her research lab focuses on solving diagnostic challenges with immediate health applications for underserved populations. These projects include developing point-of-care diagnostics for pathogen detection and wearable technologies for substance use monitoring. This work emphasizes the translation of fundamental microfluidics and biological assays into point-of-care diagnostics using human-centered design principles. Dr. Linnes’s experience in translational research includes co-founding and managing early-stage field-testing and user feedback for multiple startup companies. She has developed and tested mobile diagnostics and wearable devices for use in community settings in the United States and throughout the world.

Project: Pont-of-use Acute HIV Infection Diagnostic for Substance Using Populations: The goals of this research are to understand how systemic barriers to care limit HIV testing and treatment among people who use drugs and to develop and evaluate a novel, highly sensitive handheld diagnostic for acute HIV infection. This research integrates user-centered design and community-based participatory research to inform the technology development. The proposed sample-to-result molecular diagnostic test would enable community-based testing for acute HIV infections from whole blood with high sensitivity, specificity, and accuracy. This new approach to diagnose acute HIV is designed to engage people who use drugs in the care continuum at the earliest stages of infection and prevent HIV transmission.

Pablo Penaloza-MacMaster, Ph.D.

Pablo Penaloza-MacMaster, Ph.D.
Northwestern University

Pablo Penaloza-MacMaster, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor at Northwestern University. He completed his graduate studies at Emory University in the laboratory of Dr. Rafi Ahmed, where he demonstrated the suppressive effects of T regulatory cells in chronic viral infections (JEM, 2014). He then completed his postdoctoral studies at Harvard University in the laboratory of Dr. Dan Barouch, where he investigated unexpected detrimental effects by CD4 T cell-based vaccines (Science, 2015). He started his laboratory at Northwestern University in the summer of 2016, and his research has been focused on understanding adaptive immune regulation following natural infection and vaccination. His laboratory recently demonstrated the concerted role of immune checkpoints and innate immune pathways in regulating T cell exhaustion during chronic viral infection (PLOS Pathogens, 2019).

Project: Interferon-modulated vaccines against HIV: Dr. Penaloza’s Avenir proposal is aimed at developing interferon-modulated vaccines against HIV. He will develop antigenically tailored HIV vaccines containing diverse envelope sequences derived from HIV+ individuals who inject drugs, with the goal of improving immune coverage in this population.

2019 HIV/AIDS Research Avenir Award Winners

Ian W. Holloway, Ph.D.

Ian W. Holloway, Ph.D.
University of California, Los Angeles

Dr. Holloway is a licensed clinical social worker and an associate professor of social welfare at the University of California, Los Angeles. His applied behavioral health research examines the contextual factors that contribute to health disparities among sexual and gender minority populations. He is an expert in social network analysis and how social media and new technologies can be harnessed for health promotion and disease prevention. Dr. Holloway has been a principal investigator on research studies funded by the Department of Defense, the California Tobacco Related Disease Research Program and the California HIV/AIDS Research Program. He holds master’s degrees in social work and public health from Columbia University and a Ph.D. in social work from the University of Southern California. More about Dr. Holloway

Gregg Steven Gonsalves, Ph.D.

Gregg Steven Gonsalves, Ph.D.
Yale University

Dr. Gonsalves is an Assistant Professor of Epidemiology (Microbial Diseases) at the Yale School of Public Health and a member of the Public Health Modeling Unit. He is also an Associate (Adjunct) Professor of Law at Yale Law School, where he co-directs the Global Health Justice Partnership. His research uses quantitative models to improve the response to the syndemic of substance use, infectious diseases and social inequality. For more than 30 years, he worked on HIV with organizations around the world, including the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power and the AIDS and Rights Alliance for Southern Africa. He is a 2011 graduate of Yale College and received his Ph.D. from Yale Graduate School of Arts and Sciences in 2017. He is a 2018 MacArthur Fellow. More about Dr. Gonsalves

Alon Herschhorn, Ph.D.

Alon Herschhorn, Ph.D.
University of Minnesota

Dr. Herschhorn is an assistant professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases and International Medicine at the University of Minnesota. Dr. Herschhorn received his Ph.D. from Tel Aviv University in Israel, completed his postdoctoral training at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute / Harvard Medical School (DFCI/HMS), and joined the DFCI/HMS faculty as Instructor in Microbiology and Immunobiology in 2013. He uses interdisciplinary approaches at the interface of synthetic and molecular virology, immunology and cell biology to develop a comprehensive research program for studying virus-host interactions at the molecular and cellular levels, with the aim of translating new insights into novel therapies and vaccines to treat and prevent viral infections. Dr. Herschhorn’s Avenir application is focused on delineating and targeting the pathways used by HIV to escape broadly neutralizing antibodies. More about Dr. Herschhorn

Annick Bórquez, Ph.D.

Annick Borquez, Ph.D.
University of California, San Diego

Dr. Bórquez is an HIV and drug use epidemiologist whose research seeks to better understand, predict and respond to intersecting epidemics of drug use disorders and associated health harms, with a focus on social and structural determinants of health. She develops and integrates mathematical modeling methods with health economics and qualitative research methods to inform effective policy decision making in this field. Dr. Bórquez’s project will focus on enhancing public health preparedness to emerging drug use epidemics in the United States and will pilot an online outreach intervention to facilitate linkage to health and harm reduction services in the context of emerging drug use epidemics. Dr. Bórquez has a background in medical microbiology from the University of Edinburgh and holds a MSc and a Ph.D. in epidemiology from the department of Infectious Disease Epidemiology at Imperial College London. More about Dr. Bórquez

2018 HIV/AIDS Research Avenir Award Winner

Ashley Buchanan

Ashley Buchanan, DrPH
University of Rhode Island

Ashley Buchanan, DrPH, is an Assistant Professor of Biostatistics at the University of Rhode Island, where she specializes in the areas of Biostatistics and Epidemiology. She received her Doctorate in Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2015 and was a Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health in 2016. She has domestic and international experience collaborating on HIV/AIDS research to develop and apply causal methodology to improve treatment and prevention of HIV/AIDS. Dr. Buchanan’s research program focuses on causal inference, including generalizability and interference, observational studies, and network science. Dr. Buchanan’s Avenir application is focused on the advancement of HIV prevention and treatment research by studying drug users who are part of social networks or communities that may exert biological or social influence on their members.

2017 HIV/AIDS Research Avenir Award Winner

Zachary A. Klase

Photo of Zachary A. Klase, Ph.D
The University of the Sciences in Philadelphia

Zachary A. Klase, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at The University of the Sciences in Philadelphia. He received his doctorate in Immunology and Tropical Medicine at the George Washington University in 2009, received postdoctoral training at the Laboratory of Molecular Microbiology, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, and joined the faculty of USciences in 2014. Dr. Klase’s research program focused on the molecular pathogenesis of HIV-1, with a particular emphasis on cure research. He has expertise in examining the intricacies of chromatin modification at the integrated provirus, and his laboratory has developed new tools to visualize the chromatin landscape as it relates to viral latency. His Avenir application is focused on examining how drugs of abuse may alter the epigenetic landscape in HIV-1 infected individuals.

2016 HIV/AIDS Research Avenir Award Winners

Michael E. Newcomb

Photo of Michael E. Newcomb
Northwestern University

Michael E. Newcomb, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor in the Department of Medical Social Sciences at Northwestern University and the Associate Director of Scientific Development of the Northwestern Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing (ISGMH). He received his doctorate in Clinical Psychology at the University of Illinois at Chicago in 2012. Dr. Newcomb’s research program broadly focuses on health disparities in lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) adolescents and young adults. He has particular expertise in HIV and substance use prevention among young gay and bisexual men and prioritizes understanding the interpersonal contexts that lead to resilience against negative health outcomes, including healthy romantic relationships and family functioning. Dr. Newcomb's research program seeks to develop interventions that mitigate health disparities by capitalizing on these resiliencies.

Daniel Lingwood

Photo of Daniel Lingwood
Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard

Daniel Lingwood, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at The Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard and is a faculty member in the Virology Program at Harvard Medical School. Dr. Lingwood received his Ph.D. from the Max Planck Institute for Molecular Biology and Genetics, conducted postdoctoral work at the Vaccine Research Center at NIH, and joined the Ragon faculty in 2014. Dr. Lingwood has garnered international recognition for his discovery that humans possess genetically-encoded antibody sequences that when properly presented as germline B cell receptors, naturally engage conserved sites of viral vulnerability and serve as substrates upon which broadly neutralizing antibodies can be developed. Dr. Lingwood’s lab now centers on defining how this germline antibody 'pattern recognition' can be harnessed as a genetic template for vaccine design.

Alexander Marson

Photo of Alexander Marson
University of California, San Francisco

Alexander Marson, M.D., Ph.D., is currently a Sandler Faculty Fellow and a clinical fellow in infectious diseases at UCSF and will become assistant professor in the UCSF Department of Microbiology and Immunology in July, 2016. He completed his M.D./Ph.D. training at Harvard and MIT and internal medicine residency at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. He is also affiliated with the UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center and the Innovative Genomics Initiative. Dr. Marson’s research integrates systems-scale investigations of human CD4+ T cell circuitry with functional perturbation studies. His laboratory has developed new tools for experimental and therapeutic genome engineering in primary human T cells using CRISPR/Cas9 ribonucleoproteins (RNPs). These studies are designed to develop targets for a new generation of HIV therapeutics aimed at eradicating latent virus from patients.

Sunil Suhas Solomon

Photo of Sunil Suhas Solomon
Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine

Sunil Suhas Solomon, MBBS, Ph.D., MPH, is an Assistant Professor in Medicine, in the Division of Infectious Diseases, at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. He completed his medical training at the Sri Ramachandra Medical University in Chennai, India and received a Masters in Public Health and a doctorate in Epidemiology from the Johns Hopkins University. His research is focused on epidemiology, clinical management and access to HIV and HCV care among vulnerable Indian populations such as people who inject drugs and men who have sex with men. His Avenir application is focused on identifying innovative cost-effective strategies that capitalize upon network-connectedness of People Who Inject Drugs (PWID) to identify viremic HIV-infected persons who may or may not be aware of their HIV or HCV status and link them to care centers.

Ryan Westergaard

Photo of Ryan Westergaard
University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health

Ryan Westergaard, M.D., Ph.D. MPH, is an assistant professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health. Dr. Westergaard attended medical school at Johns Hopkins University. He completed a primary care internal medicine residency at the University of Colorado at Denver, where he was also a staff physician at Denver Health Medical Center. He received fellowship training in infectious diseases at Johns Hopkins Hospital and the Johns Hopkins AIDS Service, and completed clinical research training at the Bloomberg School of Public Health under the mentorship of Dr. Gregory Kirk. His current research projects involve interventions to improve quality and continuity of care for HIV-infected patients, with special emphasis on people with psychiatric illness, people who use drugs and prisoners.

2015 HIV/AIDS Research Avenir Award Winners

Alejandro B. Balazs, Ph.D.

Photo of Alejandro B. Balazs, Ph.D.
Harvard Medical School

Dr. Alejandro B. Balazs is an Assistant Professor of Medicine at Harvard Medical School and a Principal Investigator at the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard in Cambridge, MA.  Dr. Balazs received his PhD from Harvard University and conducted postdoctoral research at the California Institute of Technology prior to joining the faculty at Harvard Medical School in 2014.  He leads a laboratory that explores the fundamental mechanisms by which the immune system prevents the establishment of infection by employing immunological engineering as a tool to dissect the underpinnings of protection mediated by the natural immune system. His group is focused on applying this understanding to the development and implementation of novel technologies to engineer immunity as an alternative approach towards preventing or treating infection.

Brandon D.L. Marshall, Ph.D.

Photo of Brandon Marshal, Ph.D
Brown University School of Public Health

Brandon Marshall, PhD is an Assistant Professor & Graduate Program Director in the Department Epidemiology at the Brown University School of Public Health. He received his PhD in epidemiology from the University of British Columbia, completed postdoctoral training at Columbia University, and joined the faculty at Brown University in 2012. His research focuses on substance use epidemiology and the social, environmental, and structural determinants of health of urban populations. His research group uses high-resolution computer simulations to identify new strategies that prevent HIV infection among people who use drugs. He has published more than 75 scientific publications, including articles in JAMABMJ, and The Lancet.

Christina S. Meade, Ph.D.

Photo of Christina S. Meade, Ph.D.
Duke University School of Medicine

Christina S. Meade, PhD, is Associate Professor of Psychiatry & Behavioral Sciences at Duke University, with secondary appointments in Global Health and Psychology & Neuroscience. Dr. Meade received her PhD in clinical psychology from Yale University and completed a NIDA-funded postdoctoral fellowship in drug abuse and brain imaging at McLean Hospital/Harvard Medical School. In 2008, she joined the faculty at Duke University. Dr. Meade has extensive expertise in the fields of neuroAIDS and addiction, with innovative projects in the United States and South Africa. Her program of research takes a multi-disciplinary approach that integrates state-of-the-art methodologies to investigate neuropsychiatric and neurobehavioral outcomes in drug users living with or at high risk for HIV infection.

Daniel Werb, Ph.D., M.Sc.

Photo of Daniel Werb, Ph.D., M.Sc.
University of California, San Diego School of Medicine

Dan Werb, PhD, is a proposed Assistant Professor in the Division of Global Public Health at the University of California San Diego. Dr. Werb received his PhD from the University of British Columbia, and was a Visiting Scholar at the University of California San Diego. Dr. Werb also holds appointments as a Research Scientist at the Centre for Research on Inner City Health at St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto and the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS in Vancouver. He has garnered international recognition for his investigations of the natural history of injection drug use – including his exploration of factors influencing the initiation of injection drug use – as well as for his analyses of the impact of illicit drug policies on HIV risk among people who inject drugs. Dr. Werb’s current focus is on developing structural interventions to prevent the initiation of injection drug use in an effort to prevent the spread of injection-driven HIV epidemics.