Stanford’s Utz explores autoantibodies in COVID-19 at CTSI seminar

PJ Utz.

Published May 3, 2023

"Dr. Utz's dedication to team science, translational research, and mentoring the next generation, and his linkage to community health is truly a model for achieving the goals of the national CTSI network.”
Gene Morse.

The link between autoimmunity and infection is the focus of the June 7 University at Buffalo Clinical and Translational Science Institute (CTSI) Distinguished Speaker Seminar with PJ Utz, MD, Professor of Medicine and Associate Dean for Medical Student Research, Stanford University.

Utz will present “Autoantibodies in COVID-19” in-person from 4 to 5 p.m. on Wednesday, June 7, at the Murphy Family Seminar Room 5019 A&B, Clinical and Translational Research Center (CTRC). Register here to attend the presentation.

In addition, Utz is available to meet with faculty and research teams before his presentation. Individual meetings are available on a first-come, first-served basis; reserve a time slot here.

In his Stanford biography, Utz describes himself as a physician scientist who has dedicated his career to “understanding and curing human rheumatic diseases, and to building a physician scientist pipeline that extends from high school students all the way to scientists in academia, industry, and government.”

“Dr. Utz is an outstanding example of the individuals that are receiving training and research support through the UB CTSI programs such as the KL2 and pilot studies, and through the Community Engagement and Workforce Development Cores,” says Gene D. Morse, PharmD, SUNY Distinguished Professor, School of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences; Director, Translational Pharmacology Research Core, New York State Center of Excellence in Bioinformatics and Life Sciences; and a member of the CTSI Steering Committee and CTSI Workforce Development Leadership Team. “His dedication to team science, translational research, and mentoring the next generation, and his linkage to community health is truly a model for achieving the goals of the national CTSI network.”

A focus on COVID research

As Utz will explain on June 7, autoimmune diseases have long been postulated to be triggered by infections with a diverse cadre of pathogens, including bacteria such as streptococci, viruses including HIV, EBV, and dengue, and other microorganisms. The scale of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic has generated large cohorts of patients and extensive banks of biospecimens which has created an opportunity to test the hypothesis that a specific pathogen can induce new autoimmune manifestations or can exacerbate pre-existing autoimmunity.

The Utz lab at Stanford has used multiplexed protein microarrays to characterize autoantibodies in acute COVID-19; long COVID (termed post-acute sequelae of COVID-19, PASC); infections with other respiratory pathogens; and in vaccine responses. (Read the full seminar abstract here.)

UB’s Morse believes that Utz’s ability to assume a leadership role during the COVID-19 pandemic is a “great example how clinical and translational research programs can transition to meet the demands of a public health emergency.”

Outside of its work researching COVID-19, the Utz lab studies autoimmune diseases, including systemic lupus erythematosus; rheumatoid arthritis; scleroderma; myositis; primary biliary cirrhosis; Sjögren’s disease; Type I diabetes; vasculitis; multiple sclerosis; and mixed connective tissue disease. In addition, the lab is interested in developing bench-to-bedside technologies, including multiplexed diagnostics and therapeutics, for human immune diseases, and has developed novel technologies such as protein arrays, peptide arrays, EpiTOF, HIT, lysate arrays, and Intel arrays. Utz’s lab has also actively pursued research in influenza vaccine responses and therapeutic vaccines for autoimmunity.

A transformative experience at Roswell Park

Concurrent with his undergraduate studies at King’s College in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, Utz attended the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center summer program in 1985 and 1986 and received the Sidney Farber Research Award. In 2021 Utz reflected on his Roswell Park experience to Healio: “[I]n summer 1985, I worked with Pat Bealmear, a former nun who had a PhD in research and immunology and left the clergy to focus on science. It was there that I saw how little we knew about how to transplant someone who has severe combined immunodeficiency. But, maybe more importantly, I saw how it was possible to combine research and patient care.”

Utz is noted for his longstanding commitment to student and faculty training. He has been the program director of the Stanford EXPLORE Summer Students Program since 2007, the associate director of the Medical Scientist Training Program at Stanford University since 2007, and the program’s director since 2019.

In addition to his primary role as a physician scientist, Utz is Associate Dean of Medical Student Research, and Director Emeritus of the Stanford Medical Scientist Training Program. He founded and directs the Stanford Institutes of Medicine Research (SIMR) Program for economically disadvantaged and/or underrepresented high school students, which has hosted nearly 1,000 students in labs over more than two decades. Utz’s motivation for starting SIMR was his participation in Roswell Park’s summer program — two summers that transformed his career plans to become a practicing physician scientist.

The CTSI Distinguished Speaker Seminar series is supported by the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under award number UL1TR001412 to the University at Buffalo. For questions about the series, contact