Velpandi Ayyavoo would tell any incoming student one of the most remarkable things about Pitt Public Health as a community is its resilience and ingenuity after this past year of pandemic. When viewing her career, it’s very easy to say the same thing about our interim chair for the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences. Following her passion for science at a young age, Ayyavoo has poured over 30 years into her HIV-1 research and her lab recently developed what will hopefully be groundbreaking technology in assisting research.
Q: What did you want to be when you grew up?
A: Scientist. I knew from a very young age that I wanted to be a scientist. It all started with my fascination of watching butterflies with beautiful colors and designs emerge from cocoons (I grew up in a house with a tropical garden). So, I was curious to know about how it got inside and came out.
Q: What's the most interesting place you've ever visited?
A: Sardinia, Italy. I spent a few days with more senior virologists and heard the untold stories of their careers and experiences. Also, the beautiful art market at the town square. It was an amazing experience.
Q: What was your “go to” recipe/meal over the last year?
A: Firecracker Salmon from the Costco Connection magazine.
Q: What’s the best book you’ve read over the last two years?
A: My readings are primarily scientific journal articles. Recently read the book When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi, a Neurosurgeon. A memoir describing Paul being the doctor and patient at the same time.
Q: What excites you the most about the new academic year?
A: Interacting with and advising a new group of students. It is an exciting time of the year and it is especially important this year, as we get to see the students and teach them in person.
Q: What are some career highlights you would want new students to know about?
A: As I was working on my doctoral dissertation on bacterial endotoxins and its impact on aquatic ecosystems, the world experienced the impact of initial effects of HIV-1 and AIDS. Reading and hearing about the virus changed my career forever. I decided to work on HIV-1 virus and have continued for the past 30 years. Even with new developments in treatments and better outcomes for patients, the questions we address in our research in this field are continually evolving and still we are learning so much more about the virus and its long-term effects on patients living with virus. Most recently, my laboratory has developed a novel 3D- brain organoid model that will be game changer for studying HIV-induced effects in brain. Another highlight is the opportunities to mentor my students and colleagues and watch them grow in their careers.
Q: What school/department accomplishment or milestone are you most proud of?
A: The resilience of our students, staff and faculty in the past year and half, which is anything but ordinary. The world changed in front of our eyes yet so many found new and inventive ways to stay connected and cope through the pandemic and excel.
Q: What's your favorite mantra/saying/motto/quote?
A: Sink or swim. I always tell my students to jump and take that chance.
Professor, Interim Chair of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences
Professor, Infectious Diseases and Microbiology
Graduate Programs Director, Infectious Diseases and Microbiology
Associate Dean for Research, Office of the Dean