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Alumna Inspires Future Scientists

Harvard Researcher Returns to Alma Mater to Share HIV Research
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When Harvard Medical School senior scientist Navid Madani started at Cal State Fullerton in the late 1980s, she aspired to become a physician. But that changed once she stepped into the laboratory of Maria C. Linder, professor of chemistry and biochemistry and a Harvard University alumna.

“Dr. Linder had a big influence on me. In working in her laboratory, I fell in love with doing basic science research. She set the foundation for my career as a scientist. She taught me to be curious about science, to become a critical thinker, and as a woman, mentor and teacher, she taught me about other things in life, like literature and music. She has become part of my family,” said Madani.

Through the years she has kept in touch with Linder, but Madani had not returned to campus until this spring, when she made the trek from Boston to attend the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry’s first “Alumni Day.” The Iranian-American gave a seminar on her cutting-edge HIV research, and a keynote address about her passion for promoting HIV education and research collaboration in the Middle East and North Africa.

Madani ’90, ’92 (B.S. biochemistry, M.S. chemistry) earned her doctorate from Oregon Health Sciences University, followed by a research fellowship at Harvard Medical School and Dana-Farber Cancer Institute. As a senior scientist at the cancer institute, she studies HIV mechanisms and potential treatments, as well as teaches in Harvard’s Department of Global Health and Social Medicine.

The CSUF alumna is married to fellow classmate, Kirk Tanner ’93 (B.S. chemistry) who earned his doctorate at UC San Diego and is a research fellow at Vertex Pharmaceuticals.

How did CSUF prepare you for Harvard?

The rigor of Cal State Fullerton’s courses and professors, and the opportunity to present my research at national conferences, prepared me well for graduate studies and research work. I’m often asked how I became a researcher at Harvard. I tell people it is because of my foundation at Cal State Fullerton and mentorship by Professor Linder. I am so grateful for my undergraduate and graduate school research mentors.

What advice do you have for budding scientists?

There are so many more opportunities today in industry, government and public health if you have a science degree. I tell students to put themselves out there and work with the best scientists who can help them advance their research interests, goals and career.

What is the focus of your research?

I’m working to design — and find — an inhibitor that stops HIV at the site of infection before it enters the target cell. It’s a potential preventive methodology.

My goal is two-pronged: I hope that we can biochemically design an inhibitor and prevent the virus from transmission, and secondly, build scientific collaborations and infrastructure in the Middle East and North Africa to continue to educate and reduce the spread of HIV, AIDS and other emerging infectious diseases. I travel regularly to the area to give educational talks about the HIV epidemic in the region.

What do you enjoy most about your work?

I profoundly enjoy the curiosity involved in scientific discoveries, along with mentoring and educating the next generation of scientists in the United States and abroad — because that is what Dr. Linder did for me.