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Nair Symposium honors extraordinary career

Nair Symposium honors extraordinary career

Story by Elizabeth Fite

The finale for the UGA Conference on Drug Discovery was an all-star tribute to Dr. Vasu Nair, who retired in July after serving as an eminent scholar, director of the UGA Center for Drug Discovery and associate dean for research in the College of Pharmacy.

“When Dr. Nair came to us, he had an already extremely successful scientific career, which provided an outstanding foundation for building a very successful second research career at Georgia,” said Svein Øie, dean of the College of Pharmacy.

Nair’s knowledge and leadership skills helped the college grow its research enterprise, particularly by establishing the Center for Drug Discovery, which allowed faculty to connect and collaborate with other researchers inside and outside the University, Øie said.

The symposium featured presentations by four former students that Nair mentored during his more than 30-year career at the University of Iowa and UGA.

“I’m not going to tell you about the scientific accolades of Dr. Nair--go Google him--by the time you get past ‘Na’ you’ll find out an encyclopedia about him,” said Eric Bonsu, assistant professor at Bowie State University, who shared behind-the-scenes stories from working in Nair’s lab at UGA. The auditorium resounded with laughter as Bonsu revealed the “secret drag-racing antics” of Nair and Dean Øie.

Nair’s scientific accomplishments include pioneering work on inhibitors that target DNA and RNA viruses, including HIV. One of these potent inhibitors is now ready for clinical trials.

In addition to his significant scientific achievements, Nair is revered as an exceptional teacher, leader and mentor.

“He was the kind of adviser who made you want to work for him,” said Col. Arthur Lyons, who leads operational research on viral diseases at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. “Professor Nair was always there to be that rock that we gathered around.”

Former students Tamera Jahnke, dean of the College of Natural and Applied Sciences at Missouri State University and Arthur Cox, assistant dean and chair of the department of pharmaceutical sciences at Sullivan University, shared their own memories and thanks to their mentor. University System of Georgia Chancellor Hank Huckaby also came to honor Nair.

In the final moments of the symposium, Nair thanked all those who helped him throughout his career. “Retirement from this magnificent university is difficult and bittersweet,” he said. “I have been very happy here.”

Elizabeth Fite is a first-year health and medical journalism student at UGA’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication and a reporter for Graduate Newsroom.