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A Second Act

Sanjay Maggirwar, PhD, MBA, Hopes to Lead MITM Department in Novel Directions

By Katherine Dvorak

After serving as vice chair for the Microbiology Department at Rochester University for many years, Sanjay Maggirwar, PhD, MBA, knew it was time to consider moving into a full chair job, to at least test the waters of what was possible, but he didn’t want to go just anywhere.

The George Washington University (GW) School of Medicine and Health Sciences (SMHS) was the only institution to which he applied.

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Sitting in his office in Ross Hall mere weeks into his tenure as chair of the Department of Microbiology, Immunology, and Tropical Medicine (MITM) at SMHS, Maggirwar seemed confident and comfortable in his decision. He was drawn to GW, he says, for many reasons, but two in particular stood out: The DC Center for AIDS Research (DC CFAR) and the school’s work in HIV/AIDS.

“The CFAR here is much older and much bigger in scope and size than at Rochester, and I was involved with the CFAR there for almost 10 years. I strongly believe in the philosophy behind the center,” Maggirwar says. “Also, as an HIV researcher, I wanted to come to a city that would offer a lot of research opportunities in that field.”

His main research focus is on the inflammatory secondary complications of HIV infection experienced by those living longer with the disease. One of his major research projects looks at the inflammatory mechanisms associated with HIV-1 dementia. He also leads research projects looking at platelet-mediated neuroinflammatory responses to HIV and accelerated vascular aging in those undergoing combination antiretroviral therapy.

However, Maggirwar’s career trajectory could have looked much different had he followed his first passion, acting. It’s clear that the theater was a place where his easy laugh and penchant for storytelling could shine.

“My path … it’s very unique. I never planned or had a dream to become a professor. Never. I was not a scholar in college, I was not studious, I was lucky to go to the next year,” he says with a broad smile and quick laugh. “My interest was in theater, and so I was very active on stage and involved with the professional theater for quite a long time in India.”

Eventually, however, Maggirwar’s father sat him down and asked him what he really wanted to do with his life. “I needed that talk,” he recalls, “and I started studying very seriously and my path started to become clearer.”

He earned his master’s degree and then an MBA, which led him to a job at a pharmaceutical company in production planning and control.

Soon Maggirwar was spending most of his time in the quality control labs and conducting part-time research there in the evenings. One thing led to another, and he found himself with a PhD and on a path to medical research. “Since then I’ve never looked back, and I really enjoy what I do now,” he says.

Now at GW, Maggirwar is excited to make his mark on the MITM Department, starting with contributing to graduate education. He’s seeking to bring National Institutes of Health T-32 grants to GW, which support research training for groups of pre- and postdoctoral fellows.

“It’s a wonderful tool to recruit good graduate students into our program. So one focus is to enhance our footprint, both the number of students and quality of students who come here,” he says. “It would be the first T-32 at SMHS, and I would love to make that happen.”

He adds that he would like to shape the research in the department and take it in novel directions, including enhancing collaborations within the department and with the basic science departments.

“I’d also like to enhance our immunology footprint, as well as the virology component. We have really good researchers here, HIV researchers, but if we can get somebody with a background in flu research, that would be great, or in human immunology — those are the ideas I would like to think of for recruiting new faculty members,” he says.

Maggirwar says that even while pursuing his research career, he continued to dabble in the theater, including putting on shows in Rochester. However, with the opportunities and excitement of his new position ahead of him, he won’t be on stage anytime soon.

That doesn’t mean he won’t be in the audience, though, taking in everything this city has to offer.