Who We Are

The Last Gift study at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) is a research study committed to understanding the behavior of Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) in the human body by studying participants who are terminally ill. One of the primary aims of this study is to identify where HIV hides in an infected individual. This study is intended for eligible individuals who are willing to provide consent to regular blood draws and a full body donation at the time of death. The study is especially unique because it give scientists the rare opportunity to learn from organs such as the brain, which is not possible to study with living individuals. A participant’s legacy will live on and be accessible to researchers for fifty years after death. Because participants are gracious enough to give back to science at the end of their lives, their efforts are considered their Last Gift to the world.

Our Participants

Participants of Last Gift give new meaning to the human qualities of kindness and altruism. Their contribution allows scientists access to biological information impossible to collect otherwise.

Through weekly blood draws and a full body donation, participants give researchers and the HIV community the gift of knowledge which will prove invaluable in our effort to better understand HIV and where it hides in the body.

Our Leadership Team

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Davey Smith, M.D., M.A.S.

Dr. Davey Smith is the lead investigator for the Last Gift study.  He is currently the Head of the Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). In addition, Dr. Smith serves as the co-director of UCSD’s Center for AIDS Research (CFAR).

 

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Sara Gianella Weibel, M.D.

An Assistant Professor of Medicine at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD), Dr. Gianella Weibel leads the Last Gift Study. Dr. Gianella Weibel specializes in HIV and translational virology, holding positions of leadership within the UCSD Center for AIDS Research as director of the Translational Virology Core as well as the HIV Neurobehavioral Research Center as the NeuroGERM Core, Virology-Inflammation Unit director. Dr. Gianella is involved in every step of the Last Gift Study and in every step of protocol development. She works with recruitment, outreach, participant enrollment, and follow up. She is involved in the development of the rapid autopsy procedure and the creation of lab-based techniques to process blood and tissues in an effort to characterize HIV reservoirs.

 

Susan J. Little, M.D.
Dr. Little is a Professor of Medicine in the Department of Medicine, Division of Infectious Diseases, at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) and is Co-Director of the UCSD AntiViral Research Center. She has an extensive background in HIV clinical research including studies in the area of vaccines, treatment, prevention, aging, and cure. Dr. Little has worked closely with the Last Gift team to develop the study protocol and coordinate the care and management of study volunteers. She is committed to the importance of the Last Gift project and the invaluable contribution that these dedicated study volunteers provide.
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Susanna Concha-Garcia, B.A.

Susanna Concha-Garcia is the the senior community outreach supervisor for the University of California, San Diego HIV Neurobehavioral Research Center. She is also the Community Outreach Supervisor for the Last Gift study. She plays a major role in leading recruitment and enrollment for the study. She is the main point of contact for all participants and potential participants.

Stephen Rawlings, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Rawlings is an Infectious Disease Fellow at UCSD who works closely with the leadership team on the Last Gift project. He assists with recruitment, clinical visits, collection of data, and coordinating experiments on recovered tissues. Having been involved in HIV research for over a decade, he is excited to be a part of the Last Gift team and appreciates the incredible generosity of our patients and their families.

Karine Dubé, DrPH, MPhil

Karine Dubé is a Research Assistant Professor in the Gillings School of Global Public Health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She oversees the ethics and social sciences aspects of Last Gift. She develops essential surveys and questionnaires for participants and works actively to answer important ethical questions not only for the Last Gift study, but also for the HIV community as a whole.

 

Donna Hansel M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Donna Hansel is the Chief of Anatomic Pathology at the University of California, San Diego. She is also a Professor of Pathology at UC San Diego, working largely with bladder cancer.  She is involved in the development and logistics of the rapid autopsy protocol.  She is also supervising the autopsies and performing all pathological assessments.

 

DeeDee Pacheco
 
DeeDee Pacheco is a Clinical Research Lab Manager in the AntiViral Research Center at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD). She leads the Last Gift team of phlebotomists and ensures that blood draws occur in a safe and timely manner. Her extensive lab experience makes her an invaluable resource for all lab work related protocols.

 

Kushagra Mathur, B.S.

Kushagra Mathur is pursuing a medical degree at the UC San Diego School of Medicine. He is the lead student researcher for the Last Gift Study. He spends his time making participant visits, working in outreach, and creating recruitment material. Kushagra created the Last Gift introductory video featuring the very first Last Gift patient, Anthony Bennett.

Lab Technicians and Tissue Processing Team

(Back row left to right)

Brianna Scott, Magali Porrachia, Laura Layman, Andrej Vitomirov, Matt Strain, M.D.

(Front row left to right)

Yssabel Pangilinan, Caroline (Karole) Ignacio, Michelli Faria de Oliveira, Ph.D., Sarah LaMere D.V.M., Ph.D.

The lab technicians and tissue processing team ensure that the rapid autopsy procedure runs smoothly and efficiently. They are careful planners, making their contribution as a unit all the more valuable. Trained heavily in laboratory techniques, they are responsible for maintaining the integrity of biological samples. Some have worked together for years, allowing for a cohesive and effective team dynamic.

Community Representatives 

Jeff Taylor

A 35+ year HIV & AIDS survivor, Jeff has served as a community advisory to many research groups including with the UCSD AntiViral Research Center CAB, and the Community Scientific Subcommittee of the AIDS Clinical Trials Group.  He also serves on the AIDS Treatment Activists Coalitions Drug Development Committee–which meets regularly with pharmaceutical companies and the FDA on HIV drug development issues.  Locally, Jeff produces a monthly treatment education series on HIV treatment issues for HIV patients & providers, and is director of the HIV + Aging Research Project-Palm Springs to study aging in HIV.

Andy Kaytes

Student Team 

Sogol Javadi, Megan Lo, & Bryan Le

The student team plays an instrumental role in developing recruitment material and visiting participants. As the youngest members of the team, their energy and enthusiasm keep everything running smoothly. Stephanie, an undergraduate student at UC San Diego, aspires to go into medicine. Megan, also an undergraduate student at UC San Diego, will enter the UC San Diego School of Medicine in the fall of 2018. Bryan, having graduated from UC San Diego in 2017, is pursuing a career in the field of nursing.