Elena Martinelli conducts research at the Population Council’s Center for Biomedical Research in New York. She investigates how HIV is transmitted from host to host through the vaginal mucosa. In particular, her work focuses on understanding the role of integrin alpha-4 beta-7—a type of HIV receptor she helped discover—and other similar receptors in HIV transmission. These molecules may guide HIV/SIV from mucosal tissues on the body’s surface to deep within the gut. Once HIV enters the gut, it begins to replicate quickly and attack the immune system. She also studies how genital herpes infection modulates this process and increases the risk of HIV acquisition.
Understanding how these receptors work and why sexually transmitted infections like herpes increase the risk of infection could provide a key to preventing HIV transmission.
A new area of focus includes studying the effect of sex hormones on susceptibility to HIV.
Before joining the Council in 2009, Martinelli was a postdoctoral fellow in Anthony S. Fauci’s laboratory at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, where she and her colleagues discovered the integrin alpha-4 beta-7 receptor.
Martinelli received her laurea in pharmaceutical biotechnology from the University of Bologna, Italy, and her PhD in clinical and experimental immunology from the University of Genoa, Italy. She is a Johns Hopkins global health scholar and received her MPH in international health policy and financing from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.