Elena Martinelli
Elena Martinelli, PhD

The Third Coast Center for AIDS Research congratulates Elena Martinelli, PhD, for receiving an R01 award from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). Martinelli is a research professor of cell and developmental biology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and co-director of the CFAR’s Viral Pathogenesis Core.

The biggest obstacles to curing HIV include the vast heterogeneity of the HIV reservoir and resistance to killing the HIV reservoir. Martinelli’s project, “Turning off HIV White Noise: Switching from Long-Lived to Short-Lived Reservoir,” aims to test a therapeutic strategy that has the potential of overcoming both these challenges and bring us closer to an HIV cure.

HIV persists in all treated individuals, and in most cases, viral rebound occurs when antiretroviral treatment is interrupted. Tissues are major sites of HIV persistence during combination antiretroviral therapy. However, a lot is still unknown about the mechanisms of viral persistence in tissues. TGF-β is an important immune suppressor factor, which orchestrates tissue immunity. Martinelli’s project will focus on blocking TGF-β, which her team hypothesizes will not only increase the frequency of latency reversal events, but also enhance the elimination of the viral reservoir by increasing its susceptibility to immune and viral-mediated cell death.

“TGF-β inhibitors are being explored in cancer as well and there are several compounds in clinical trials or about to reach the clinic,” said Martinelli. “The potential for this therapeutic strategy to reach the clinic in people living with HIV is very high, and I am optimistic that my team’s research will make this happen.”

Serving on the CFAR’s Viral Pathogenesis Core has allowed Martinelli to meet and collaborate with faculty focused on HIV and related research at Northwestern University.

“As I was helping these investigators with their studies, I got to know their skills and found a way to leverage them in my own studies,” said Martinelli.

Judd Hultquist, PhD, will serve as lead co-investigator for this project. Vipul Shukla, PhD, Ramon Lorenzo Redondo, PhD, and Yogesh Goyal, PhD, are additional co-investigators. Each investigator will play an integral role in conducting studies to support Martinelli’s project.

“I look forward to building on these collaborations and developing new ones to advance these potentially impactful studies,” said Martinelli.

Prior to her current appointment, Martinelli worked at the Population Council’s Center for Biomedical Research. She completed her postdoctoral fellowship at NIAID and received her PhD in clinical and experimental immunology and vaccinology at the University of Genova.