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Maria Pyra Joins the ISGMH Faculty

Maria Pyra, Ph.D., has joined Northwestern University’s Institute for Sexual and Gender Minority Health and Wellbeing (ISGMH) and the Department of Medical Social Sciences (MSS) at Feinberg School of Medicine as an assistant professor.

Pyra comes to ISGMH from the Chicago LGBTQ health care provider Howard Brown Health and the University of Chicago, where she was a research assistant professor. Pyra completed her PhD in epidemiology at the University of Washington in 2018. She then completed her postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Chicago.

Before joining Northwestern, Pyra previously collaborated on projects with ISGMH faculty members and is looking forward to expanding her work in implementation science.

At ISGMH, Pyra’s work is going to continue to build on implementation science and sexual and reproductive health. She mentions that though the people and work she is doing sparks the most excitement, it feels like a bonus to be coming back to Northwestern as she completed her undergraduate degree at Northwestern’s Evanston campus.

“Everyone says ‘Chicago is like a small town in a big city.’ I knew a lot of folks at ISGMH, had seen their work and had even collaborated with them on a couple of projects,” Pyra said. “I am really excited for this opportunity and I’m thrilled to continue working with great colleagues.”

When public health and epidemiology sparked Pyra’s interest she thought she was going to study infectious diseases, such as the great influenza of 1918, and that perhaps she’d be a respiratory infectious disease epidemiologist. That took a turn when she took a class focused on sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) in her MPH program at the University of Illinois Chicago.

“STI’s are so interesting, from the biology to the social networks to the treatments and prevention,” said Pyra. “I became a sexual and reproductive health researcher and I got the chance to work with some amazing people at the University of Washington who were focusing on HIV prevention, particularly around PrEP. At the time PrEP was just moving from trials to the real world and I got a lot of great experience and epidemiology skills around PrEP.”

After building those skills, Pyra wanted to come back home to Chicago and continue her work with PrEP. Pyra’s research on PrEP availability and uptake focuses mainly on black cisgender woman, a population that overrepresented in HIV diagnoses and underrepresented in PrEP use.

Pyra is also interested in new prevention methods that are being developed around syphilis and looking at the implementation of those. She will collaborate with the Implementation Science Coordination Initiative (ISCI) at Northwestern and expressed her enthusiasm to learn more about what the initiative has accomplished and is meeting with team members to figure out where she can join in and build on the implementation research efforts.

“I’m excited to be engaged with ISCI, particularly around the initiative’s Ending the HIV Epidemic (EHE) supplement projects, how we can use the information from those projects to better understand implementation strategies and how we figure out the right strategy for the right context and the right barrier,” she said.

Pyra’s appointment at Northwestern began September 1, 2022.