Avenir Award - Sara Gianella

Sara Gianella Weibel, MD, Assistant Professor of Medicine in UC San Diego Division of Infectious Diseases & Global Public Health has received the highly prestigious Avenir Award offered annually by the National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA). Dr. Gianella Weibel will use her $2.3 million award over the next four years for the proposed “HOME” project (HIV-associated Opioid Micro- Environment). This project is designed to define how HIV persists in the body, and how the immune system responds to HIV in the presence of opioid use. To achieve her goals, Dr. Gianella Weibel will leverage data and tissue samples from the Last Gift cohort (http://lastgift.ucsd.edu). By characterizing the HOME in key tissues at the cellular level, she will be able to chart the places where the virus hides and understand some of the mechanisms by which it persists. The resulting blueprint of the HOME will guide the development of new methods to minimize conditions that may co-occur with HIV, such as depression or certain cancers (co-morbidities). Dr. Gianella Weibel further anticipates that the HOME study will inform strategies for HIV cures.

“Modern antiretroviral therapy (ART) has transformed HIV into a chronic disease for most people with HIV (PWH) who have access to care; however, PWH who use opioids continue to bear a significant burden of HIV disease, especially inflammation-related sequelae, such as strokes, heart attacks and cancer,” says Dr. Gianella Weibel. “Identifying the opioid-associated mechanisms that underlie HIV persistence and inflammation could help develop therapies that would benefit these PWH.”

Dr. Gianella Weibel graduated from the University of Zurich (Switzerland). After her residency in Internal Medicine and Infectious Disease in Switzerland, she began her fellowship in the Department of Infectious Disease and Hospital Epidemiology of the University Hospital of Zurich in 2007. She moved to UC San Diego in 2009 to work as a postdoctoral fellow with Drs. Douglas Richman and Davey Smith. She joined the faculty of the Department of Medicine in 2013, and currently works both at the UC San Diego Antiviral Research Center, and in her laboratory on the UC San Diego campus, where she performs bench research. Additionally, Dr. Gianella Weibel directs the San Diego Center for AIDS Research (SD CFAR) Translational Virology Core, a position she has held since 2017.

Along with the Division of Infectious Diseases and Global Public Health, the SD CFAR congratulates Dr. Gianella Weibel on her Avenir Award.

For more information about the Avenir Award and winners, please visit https://bit.ly/38zZ7Hd