Netanya Utay, M.D.
Netanya Utay, M.D.

The Campbell Foundation named Netanya Utay, M.D., assistant professor in the Department of Internal Medicine, as the recipient of a $75,000 grant to study the role lymph node fibrosis may play in HIV eradication.

The grant will go toward researching the contribution of the Interleukin 13 (IL-13) and Interleukin 33 (IL-33) pathways of fibrosis and different cell types to changes in lymph node fibrosis. Utay and her research team have been testing telmisartan, a drug that can decrease or even prevent fibrosis in other conditions. While the drug was found to have no effect, lymph node fibrosis decreased in some patients but not in others with antiretroviral drugs alone. Utay aims to use IL-13, which activates cells involved in tissue repair and contributes to fibrosis in other diseases, and IL-33, which stimulates other cells as well as IL-13 production.

“Lymph node fibrosis appears to decrease the amount of antiretroviral drugs that reach the virus in the lymph node, enabling HIV to persist there,” Utay said in a press release. “Therapies to prevent and treat fibrosis are limited. Our research could identify new approaches to decrease fibrosis in lymph nodes and potentially other tissues in people living with HIV.”

Lymph node fibrosis, or scarring of a person’s lymph nodes, is one of many complications that come with being infected with HIV. This scarring can begin within days of HIV infection and makes it difficult for lymph nodes to respond and even cause irreversible damage to the immune system.

“Ultimately, this could result in better ART penetration into lymphoid tissue, decreased HIV burden in the lymphoid tissue and better immunologic responses,” The Campbell Foundation’s executive director Ken Rapkin said. “It also may result in the creation of new therapies that could reverse fibrosis.”

Utay completed her undergraduate degree in Molecular Biophysics and Biochemistry at Yale University in 1998 and attended medical school at Baylor College of Medicine. She completed her residency at the University of Washington and fellowship at the National Institute of Health. Utay joined the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston and later McGovern Medical School.

The Campbell Foundation was established in 1995 by the late Richard Campbell Zahn as a private, independent, nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting clinical, laboratory-based research into the prevention and treatment of HIV/AIDS. It focuses its funding on supporting alternative, nontraditional avenues of research.