By: Joslyn Cassano | Published: March 9, 2023
Miami CTSI KL2 graduate Lunthita Duthely Ed.D., MS, has spent more than 25 years at the University of Miami in roles driven by her passion to make a positive impact for women with HIV.
As a student in the early days of the HIV/AIDS crisis, Dr. Duthely says she felt a stigma around her Haitian heritage. “Back then, just being of Haitian ancestry put you at risk for contracting HIV,” she says. “I benefited from the privilege of being a U.S.-born, middle class college student. However, I witnessed a lot of bias in the news and in the community, and I always wanted to do something meaningful related to HIV/AIDS.”
With several new research projects underway, the Research Assistant Professor in the departments of Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Sciences and Public Health Sciences is pushing forward a path to better treatment adherence for women with HIV in Miami.
Most recently, she secured a National Institutes of Health R34 award to continue her work combining technology with patient navigation to keep women with HIV engaged with their medical care.
Her primary collaborator, Steven Safren, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology, who has mentored Dr. Duthely since 2018, will be guiding the patient navigation training.
“Dr. Duthely has been successfully leveraging her background and expertise to fully utilize the resources here at UM to emerge as an investigator,” said Dr. Safren, who is also Director of the UM Center for HIV and Research in Mental Health. “It is clear to me that her work grows from a place of passion and real caring for the community.”
For the three-year NIH grant, Dr. Duthely’s team brings together experts in psychology, public health, and statistics to pilot test mCARES, a multilingual texting platform designed for women at the highest risk of falling out of HIV care — a project stems from work Dr. Duthely began as a Miami CTSI KL2 Scholar.
Dr. Duthely says her research endeavors related to women’s health go back more than three decades, when she met JoNell Potter, Ph.D., who helps lead the Participant and Clinical Interactions Program of the Miami CTSI and who is a well-known advocate in the community for underserved women and families.
“My interest is to take a tech-equity approach to my work,” says Dr. Duthely, who credits the Director of UM Ethics Programs Ken Goodman, Ph.D., for opening her eyes to the ethical considerations around technology and healthcare. “We need to be careful regarding the assumptions we make about who has access to technology, and we need to be aware of who we are leaving out.”
A loyal “Cane”, Dr. Duthely worked as a database analyst in women’s health and HIV/AIDS at the University of Miami before pursuing her doctorate degree in educational leadership. She then pivoted her career to focus on research and leading her own projects.
In May 2021, she completed the M.S. in Clinical and Translational Investigation (MSCTI). “The MSCTI program helped bridge my doctoral work with my desire to conduct translational research in a medical environment,” she said.
Over the years, Dr. Duthely has leveraged many Miami CTSI resources such as those in grant writing, biostatistics support, and networking to great success. Resources that have helped her secure funding for several new projects serving women with HIV in the Miami community, in addition to the R34 award.
“Her passion, perseverance, positive attitude and inquisitive mind are at the core of her success,” says CTSI KL2 Co-Director Alessia Fornoni, M.D. “She is the perfect example of how resources offered through the CTSI can help a junior investigator to transform public health knowledge to serve our vulnerable patient population locally as well as globally.”
During a CTSI networking event in 2018, Dr. Duthely met Alex Sanchez-Covarrubias, M.D., who became her research assistant. The two continue to collaborate and publish their findings. “She showed me the importance of research and how it can impact different populations,” says Dr. Sanchez-Covarrubias. “I look forward to continuing working with her towards improving the life of these women and other populations with HIV and cancer at UM.”
The Miami Center for AIDS Research (CFAR) has recently awarded Dr. Duthely with a grant to look at ways to reduce the co-morbid conditions of women living with HIV who are at risk for developing cervical cancer.
Her team, which includes a psychoneuroimmunologist, a psychologist, and a gynecologic oncologist, are tailoring an existing intervention being used in Chicago to this patient population in Miami. The originators of the intervention, who are based at Northwestern and University of Chicago, are guiding the project’s implementation.
“I looked around at the work being done in HIV, and I saw that women at risk for cervical and anal cancer were not being focused on in terms of their psychosocial needs,” says Dr. Duthely. “Often, substance use or mental health challenges put these women at risk of being lost to care.”
To build on her growing body of work in the field, University of California, San Francisco’s Visiting Professor’s (VP) program, has invited Dr. Duthely to participate in a three-year fellowship during which she will reside at UCSF in the summers and work with a team on using self-collected hair samples to measure antiretroviral levels in women with HIV.
In addition to her research work, Dr. Duthely teaches meditation and yoga in the community and at the University of Miami wellness center. “In the academic field, we’re keeping our minds quite active, but we need to balance that,” she says. “Yoga and meditation are mind-body practices where the focus is more introspective as opposed to outward, so that balance is achieved.”
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