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Katharine J. Bar

Distinguished Alumni Award for Early Career Achievement (2019)

Katharine J. Bar


Originally from Iowa City, Katharine Bar is currently assistant professor of medicine and director of the Virology Core at the Penn Center for AIDS Research at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Her research focuses on the basic mechanisms of transmission, pathogenesis, and persistence in HIV and other chronic viral infections. As part of a research team, Bar led a trial to explore the potential of a novel monoclonal antibody to suppress the AIDS virus in a group of patients taken off standard antiviral drugs. The results of this research, published with Bar as first author in the New England Journal of Medicine in November 2016, indicate that combinations of neutralizing antibodies may be needed for long-term control of the virus.

It is not an exaggeration to say that Katie Bar grew up at the UI Carver College of Medicine. Her father, Robert Bar, MD, is emeritus professor of internal medicine who served as director of the endocrinology and metabolism division for 30 years.

“The UI Carver College of Medicine always felt like home to me. I left Iowa for undergraduate school and was really excited to return for medical school. My dad was one of my lecturers my first year and is a model of the physician-scientist,” Bar says.

Growing up in the 1980s and ’90s, Bar was acutely aware of the impact of HIV and AIDS on vulnerable populations. Her awareness was heightened during undergraduate school at Northwestern University, where she studied biochemistry and African history.

Upon returning to Iowa for medical school, Bar was inspired by her academic experiences and instilled with a strong sense of service to the community. She received a scholarship to serve a four-month rotation at Tumutumu Hospital in the Central Highlands of Kenya at a time when antiretroviral medications were just becoming available. She also credits her early research work in urology with enhancing her understanding of how HIV is transmitted and its implications for important prevention strategies.

After completing a residency in internal medicine at the Medical College of Virginia Hospitals, where she was chief resident, and a fellowship focused on infectious diseases at University of Alabama Hospital, Bar joined the faculty at the University of Pennsylvania, where she directs the Center for AIDS Research Virology Core. She has dedicated her career to pursuing prevention and cure strategies for HIV and AIDS.

“In the U.S., there are still 30,000 to 40,000 new infections every year. Despite many advances, more people are infected with HIV in the world each year than are started on therapy. A cure is still in its infancy, but we are making important strides with new strategies to treat and cure the disease,” Bar says.

She advises current medical students to focus not only on their end goal but to look for joy in their day-to-day experiences with patient care or new scientific discoveries.

“Medical training is a big investment. Enjoy the process!” she says.