ABOUT Nathalia Holt

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Nathalia Holt, Ph.D. is an HIV fellow at the Ragon Institute of MGH, MIT and Harvard University. Nathalia is interested in how the personal experiences of patients and researchers influence medical research. She is most excited by current interdisciplinary work in virology, engineering and gene therapy. Nathalia lives in Boston, MA.


Nathalia Holt: All Posts


The Ripple Effect: Katherine Bain

Posted 19 March 2014 by Nathalia Holt

  A group of physicians sat around a table. In front of them were the medical records of two children. The policies of their hospital would likely kill one of the infants. Just entering the world in St. Louis, Missouri were two babies: one African-American, one white. They were born premature and without an incubator, their newborn lives were at risk. But there was only one incubator. As the group discussed the problem, one of the physicians offered the only reasonable... Read more

Engineering a Cure for HIV

Posted 10 March 2014 by Nathalia Holt

Twelve people in Pennsylvania are taking part in a highly experimental gene therapy clinical trial. Their blood is drawn, their immune cells isolated and then altered. Molecular scissors precisely cut the DNA in their cells. This transformation shuts the door on HIV. When the cells are re-infused into the Pennsylvania patients’ bodies they create an immune system that looks like that of an elite group of people. But the future of gene therapy for HIV does not rest on the... Read more

The Storm Within

Posted 29 December 2013 by Nathalia Holt

This spring the flu emerged along the Yangtze River on China’s Eastern shore. This particular strain of the flu has an unusually high mortality rate. Of the 134 people it’s infected, its killed 44. At a hospital in Shanghai two men were admitted with this flu, called H7N9. The men were similar in age, 53 and 56-years old respectively. They were both fit with no underlying medical conditions. Yet one man would leave the hospital healthy while the other would... Read more

How Mandela Wore a T-shirt in 2002 and Saved Millions of Lives

Posted 9 December 2013 by Nathalia Holt

Nelson Mandela shocked the world in 2005 when he announced that his only surviving son, Makgatho Mandela, had died of AIDS. In a country where HIV diagnoses are often hidden behind stigma and shame, the announcement was felt deeply. Mandela explained why he needed to publicly announce the cause of his son’s death by saying, "Let us give publicity to HIV/AIDS and not hide it, because the only way to make it appear like a normal illness like TB, like... Read more

The Rise and Fall of the Boston Patients

Posted 8 December 2013 by Nathalia Holt

A little over a year ago I first wrote about the Boston patients. These two men took us on an unusual journey this year. It began in 2010 when Timothy Henrich, then a fellow at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, was looking for a new research project. What he stumbled onto was a novel way of pursuing a cure for HIV. This week we learned that two men who were once considered as nearing a cure are actually not. Although it... Read more

The Initials Project: JR-CSF and JR-FL

Posted 29 October 2013 by Nathalia Holt

For two years I worked with a strain of HIV called JR-CSF. Although I was well versed in how the virus behaved in human cells grown in a flask, I had no idea where the strain came from or how it received its name. The initials project was inspired by the work of Rebecca Skloot and her investigation of Henrietta Lacks, known in the lab only as HeLa. In this series we’ll explore the people and science that made the... Read more

The Goldilocks Approach to Vaccines

Posted 9 October 2013 by Nathalia Holt

Last month, a study published by Louis Picker and his colleagues at Oregon Health & Sciences University generated a lot of excitement. The study tested a vaccine for SIV in monkeys already infected with the virus. After receiving the vaccine, 9 out of 16 monkeys cleared the infection. The NYTimes described it under the headline “New Hope for H.I.V. Vaccine.” This data builds on Picker's 2011 study that found 13 of 24 monkeys receiving the vaccine were protected from the... Read more

From Nature to Clinic

Posted 18 January 2013 by Nathalia Holt

One late evening in a coffee shop near McGill University, Jeff Karp overheard two students talking about drug delivery and tissue engineering. Jeff, an undergrad, listened closely as the students discussed two graduate level courses. At the time Jeff was questioning his major. He had switched from biology to chemical engineering but found himself bored in class; uninterested in the details of how refrigerators work. That night at the coffee shop Jeff learned about two classes that he became desperate... Read more

The Beauty of Negative Results and Hot Peppers

Posted 19 December 2012 by Nathalia Holt

You know that burning, painful feeling that comes when you eat chili peppers? It comes from a molecule within the pepper called capsaicin, a colorless, odorless compound capable of causing an extreme, and not always pleasant, sensation. First isolated in 1846, by the late 1990s, scientists all over the globe were on the hunt for the elusive capsaicin receptor. These receptors are special because they’re located on sensory neurons which, when activated by capsaicin, transmits the painful stimulation to the... Read more