Dr. Roberta Rizzo, PhD was awarded the 2017 Caroline B. Hall Young Investigator Award at the 10th International HHV-6 & 7 Conference. Dr. Rizzo is currently an assistant professor at the University of Ferrara in Italy.

Dr. Rizzo began her research focusing on the roles of human leukocyte antigen-G (HLA-G) molecules in early stages of pregnancy. She has published extensively on HLA-G molecules and their roles in pregnancy as well as in many diseases, including multiple sclerosis (MS), arthritis, and nasal polyposis. She recently discovered the potential association between HHV-6A and unexplained female infertility (Marci 2016) and continues to investigate the mechanisms behind it.

Building on her previous findings that suggested a role for NK cells in HHV-6-associated dysfunction in the thyroid and endometrium, Dr. Rizzo characterized the interactions between HHV-6A infected endometrial epithelial cells and NK cells. At the 10th International Conference, she presented her group’s findings and demonstrated that endometrial epithelial cells modulate NK cell ligand expression in response to HHV-6A infection. She also described the modulation of host-cell transcription factors and miRNA expression resulting from HHV-6 infection of NK cells and demonstrated that while both HHV-6A and 6B are able to infect NK cells, their effects on intracellular pathways differ. Dr. Rizzo’s research on NK cells advances our understanding of the mechanisms that HHV-6 utilizes to evade immune detection as well as the pathology that may develop in response to the immunomodulation.

The Young Investigator Award was named after Caroline Hall, MD, a pediatric infectious disease specialist who was a pioneer in the study of HHV-6B in children. Previous awards went to Joshua Hill, MD of University of Washington (2015) and Yoshiki Kawamura, MD of Fujita Health University (2013).