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Meet our team

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Leadership

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Elizabeth Thompson joined SDRI in January 2024 as Chief Executive Officer. Her experience spans global brands, national mission-driven organizations and important community initiatives with success developing and executing on solutions for start-ups, mid-life, and mature organizations with revenue bases from $300K – $450M.

Elizabeth’s reputation has been built creating stronger missions, developing vital fundraising programs, turning around cultures and operations, and strengthening governance and ethics policies. Her success is rooted in an approach that is data-driven, systems and process-oriented, and that embraces the talents, abilities, and ambitions of people. After more than 25 years leading for-profit and for-purpose organizations, she is focusing her energies on consulting and sharing the knowledge learned in creating and sustaining healthy, dynamic, organizations.

Elizabeth partners with boards and executive staff to face change and embrace the future.

  • The National Osteoporosis Foundation sought mission clarity, an energized fundraising base, and an operations and culture shift. In the two year assignment, she stood up the National Bone Health Policy Institute with an investment of $1.2M, brought together thirteen national organizations to work on policy and strategy for patients—a first of its kind collaboration in the bone health space, overhauled the financial and development systems producing a clean audit and a revitalized fundraising platform for individual donors, developed a social media platform that showcased the work of the Foundation, educating the target market and engaged donors, and transformed the staff structure and culture.

  • The Hearing Industries Association needed strategy around succession planning for the CEO, revitalizing the brand, and a policy strategy that would be structured to be positive for manufacturers and patients. Over the one year assignment, she conducted an organizational assessment producing the basis for change, worked with the executive committee of the board on a succession plan for the CEO, transitioned the organization from their association management firm to a free standing organization, led the successful search for the new CEO, initiated a brand campaign, produced a national meeting for members that was rated “best in class”, and provided coaching and leadership to new industry executives as they served for the first time as national directors for the board.

  • President George H. W. Bush and his wife, Barbara, contacted Elizabeth to help them determine the right structure and path for their think tank, C-Change. As a leader in the cancer nonprofit space, and a long-time member of the organization, they felt her knowledge would provide unique and important insights about its future and direction. Her assessment led to the positive conclusion of mission achieved—with assets transferred to a “sister organization,” the CEO Roundtable on Cancer. President and Mrs. Bush were grateful to know this part of their legacy had been managed responsibly and thoughtfully.

  • She has also served as a strategic advisor to Pink Ribbon/Red Ribbon (the first global initiative President George Bush, ’43 was involved with post office) raising $85M in 6 months to launch, the Women’s Heart Alliance (Barbara Streisand’s organization), the Association of Women’s Health, Obstetric and Neonatal Nurses, the CEO Roundtable on Cancer, Children’s National Medical Foundation, Barbara Bush Literacy Foundation, Friends of Cancer Research, and the Smith Center.

  • As a staff person, Elizabeth was highly successful in her role as President of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, leading the organization through its most dynamic fundraising and mission investment years (more than $1.2B invested in research, community health and global programs). At the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network, she developed the National Action Plan, the research and policy strategy for the organization that was foundational for increasing federal investments in research. And, early in her career, she served as the founding Executive Director of the Susan Love Breast Cancer Research Foundation, standing up The Army of Women.

Elizabeth is quick to tell you that this success story is one that is shared—and was made possible because of the bright, committed individuals she met, was mentored by, and that she had the sense and fortune to hire. Creating leaders gives Elizabeth great joy and continues to build her personal legacy. Eighteen women from teams she built are now CEOs and entrepreneurs in their own right; more than 30 additional women and men serve in significant roles at nonprofits leading development, mission, operations, and systems roles.

At the heart of all this work are the people. Elizabeth’s relationships are dynamic and ongoing with strong bonds formed out of shared purpose, mutual integrity, and hard work.

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Born in the California Central Valley, Kristin Castorino, DO, obtained her medical degree from Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in the California bay area after graduating with a degree in Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology at University of California, Santa Cruz. Dr. Castorino completed an internship in Family Medicine at University of Nevada, Reno, followed by a residency in Internal Medicine in Santa Barbara where she met Dr. Jovanovic and the team here at Sansum Diabetes Research Institute.

 Dr. Castorino joined SDRI in 2009 and has been an instrumental part of many programs including the Diabetes and Pregnancy program, and the Artificial Pancreas program. Dr. Castorino is dedicated to ensuring that all women with diabetes and pregnancy receive the care they deserve, thus leading a GDM clinic at the Santa Barbara County’s Health Care Center.

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Kara joined Sansum Diabetes Research Institute (SDRI) in 2017 and has been instrumental in revitalizing fundraising opportunities for the organization. As the Director of Development, Kara oversees revenue streams for SDRI. Prior to this role, Kara managed signature events for SDRI including the 75th Anniversary Gala and the Dinner with the Winemakers series.

Kara is truly passionate about improving the lives of those living with diabetes as she has lived with type 1 diabetes (T1D) since the age of 6. Her son Lucas was diagnosed with T1D at the age of 2 and in December of 2022, her daughter Kamryn was also diagnosed with T1D. After Lucas’s diagnosis, Kara was inspired to switch gears, ending her 12-year career in school counseling to prioritize making a positive difference for those who also live with diabetes.

She has participated in several leadership programs, including a seminar through Harvard University and Leading from Within’s 10-month “Emerging Leaders” program, which develops the next generation of nonprofit and social sector leaders in Santa Barbara County.

Kara earned her bachelor’s degree from Cal Poly, San Luis Obispo and her master’s degree in Guidance and Counseling from Cal Lutheran University.

Kara enjoys living in Santa Barbara and spending time with her husband Jeff and their two children, Lucas and Kamryn.

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Rebecca has over 20 years of experience working in the healthcare industry supporting and leading regulatory activities. Prior to working at SDRI, she spent several years in the arena of government-funded health insurance under State authorities, and also has experience working in both regulatory and clinical research roles for manufacturers of FDA regulated medical devices. She is certified in Healthcare Research Compliance and received her undergraduate degree from UC Santa Barbara.

Rebecca is excited to contribute to SDRI’s mission as many years in health insurance has laid bare the urgency to address metabolic health challenges and diabetes management throughout the population. She is a 4th generation Santa Barbaran, and with her husband and son enjoys the many amenities the Central Coast has to offer.

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As the Director of Marketing at SDRI, Katie Haq is focused on driving the vision and branding for the organization while staying true to its mission of improving the lives of people impacted by diabetes through research, education, and clinical care.

Katie joined SDRI in 2017 and has lived with type 1 diabetes (T1D) since 1985. Her passion for working in the diabetes community began at a young age when she became a T1D mentor at City of Hope and Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. In addition, Katie volunteered for several years at Camp Conrad Chinnock, supporting the medical team.

Katie has significant experience across marketing and website platforms, event management branding, organizational design and innovation, graphic design, and digital and content marketing. Prior to working at SDRI, Katie worked for JDRF and was able to work cultivate strong relationship with the T1D community on the central coast, and established and marketed integral programs to support people living with diabetes.

Katie earned her bachelor’s degree in Sociology from UC Santa Barbara. She lives in the Santa Ynez Valley with her husband and two children.

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Andrew Koutnik is a Research Scientist at Sansum Diabetes Research Institute. Dr. Koutnik received a degree in Exercise Physiology from Florida State University, as well as the Atlantic Coast Conference Meeting of Minds Award, Bess Ward Thesis Award, and Honors in the Major Medallion while investigating how neurological disease and mental health status influence the cardiovascular and nervous systems. Dr. Koutnik went on to receive the Presidential Fellowshipto join the Metabolic Medicine Laboratory at the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine where he examined the role of endogenous and exogenous ketosis in animal models of disease and extreme physiologic stress. During this time, Dr. Koutnik also led two investigations on NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations (NEEMO) 22 & 23 exploring the multiday adaptive response to living underwater for 10 days.

During his time at USF, Dr. Koutnik received three USF Research Awards, the NASA NEEMO 22 Topside Support Crew and Research Team Award and was inducted into the University of South Florida Academy of Inventors. From 2019-2022, Dr. Koutnik served as a Research Scientist at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition where he was the Task 4, 5, 6 and 7 Principal Investigator/Project Leads for United States Special Operation Command (USSOCOM) Phase 2 Ketone Esters for Optimization of Operator Performance in Hypoxia and also assist on multiple other research projects with a focus on military healthspan and resilience, including Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Measuring Biological Aptitude (MBA), Office of Naval Research, and other Department of Defense programs investigating key cardiometabolic phenotypes and biological pathways to help elite operators improve resilience and career longevity. Dr. Koutnik currently is a Visiting Research Scientist at the Institute for Human and Machine Cognition.

Dr. Koutnik is actively investigating the role of therapeutic culturally tailoredlifestyle interventions and carbohydrate restriction in both diabetes management and prevention, as well as exploring therapeutic options that regulate the multisystem impacts of glycemia and hyperinsulinemia. Together this work (https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=2BzUjqkAAAAJ&hl=en) has resulted in >70 publications/abstracts, >1000 citations, >45 presentations/webinars, and 18 mentees.

Personally, Andrew Koutnik has lived with Type 1 Diabetes for over 14 years. Type 1 Diabetes has and continues to give an incredible in-depth personal journey into the world of our metabolism, how it works, how day-to-day life (sometimes moment-by-moment choices) influences it, and how these changes on metabolism can have far-reaching effects over other aspects of our physiology. This combination of researching nutrition, exercise, and medicinal intervention, but also dealing with its benefits and consequences daily as a person living with Type 1 Diabetes, created a strong appreciation for the cardiometabolic role each can play into disease prevention and management. Dr. Koutnik lives in Santa Barbara, California with his wife and two boys.

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physicians

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Born in the California Central Valley, Kristin Castorino, DO, obtained her medical degree from Touro College of Osteopathic Medicine in the California bay area after graduating with a degree in Molecular Cellular and Developmental Biology at University of California, Santa Cruz. Dr. Castorino completed an internship in Family Medicine at University of Nevada, Reno, followed by a residency in Internal Medicine in Santa Barbara where she met Dr. Jovanovic and the team here at Sansum Diabetes Research Institute.

Dr. Castorino joined SDRI in 2009 and has been an instrumental part of many programs including the Diabetes and Pregnancy program, and the Artificial Pancreas program. Dr. Castorino is dedicated to ensuring that all women with diabetes and pregnancy receive the care they deserve, thus leading a GDM clinic at the Santa Barbara County’s Health Care Center.

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Ashley Thorsell, MD was diagnosed with type 1 diabetes in 2000, and has been involved at SDRI as a patient, intern, and clinical researcher since her diagnosis. She graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Microbiology from Cal Poly in San Luis Obispo and obtained her Medical Degree from St. George’s University in Grenada. Dr. Thorsell completed her internal medicine residency at Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital and fellowship training at Scripps Clinic in San Diego. She has worked as a clinical Endocrinologist on the Central Coast for the past 8 years, providing care to thousands of patients with Diabetes. She has published papers with Dr. Lois Jovanovic regarding “The Fidgety Fetus Hypothesis” and benefits of continuous glucose monitoring as a steppingstone in the journey towards a cure for diabetes. From 2012 to 2014, Dr. Thorsell was the principal investigator for an IRB-monitored study examining the impact of prescribed physical activity on diabetes, obesity, cardiovascular profiles, and quality of life.

As an Endocrinologist with type 1 diabetes, Dr. Thorsell is intimately aware of the challenges of the disease and can provide her patients with the compassionate care that is needed. She aspires to bring her personal and clinical expertise to the forefront of diabetes research, motivated by a passion to improve the lives of those living with type 1 diabetes. She hopes to disseminate her proficiency in developing and integrating novel approaches to the management of type 1 diabetes, with a focus on nutrition, exercise, innovative technology, and pioneering uses of oral and injectable diabetes treatments.

Dr. Thorsell was born and raised in Santa Barbara. She is married and has 2 children. On the weekends, you might find her hiking the foothills of Santa Barbara, at the beach surfing, or riding bikes with her family.

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all staff

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Beatríz (Betty) Angeles joined Sansum Diabetes Research Institute in 2017. Betty is one of the first Especialista and has been a promotora in other health programs for over 5 years. Betty traces her inspiration to be a promotora back to her mother. During Betty’s childhood years in Peru, her mother would throw “parties” to feed those short on food so that they would not feel it was a handout. Betty carried her mother’s giving spirit with her to college, as many friends would often confide in her about their struggles. Rather than giving out money, she would help people find jobs, information, and resources.

An active parent in the schools of her four children, Betty has decades of experience volunteering as a way to give back to her community. Since then, she has become especially passionate about her work at SDRI because of the need for greater investments within Latino communities. To Betty, education is a crucial part of diabetes prevention and management. She feels that most people are so concerned with taking care of their family that they don’t think about themselves, which is why education will is so foundational.

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Sarintha Bell, MSN, FNP-C, is a Clinical Nurse Practitioner at SDRI, providing critical support to our clinical trials. Sarintha, whose background lies in ICU nursing at Cottage Hospital, joined SDRI as a part-time RN in 2021 while pursuing her master’s degree at UCLA. Her introduction to research at SDRI and the collaborative team left a lasting impression, and she eagerly accepted a full-time position as a Nurse Practitioner at SDRI in 2023. Sarintha’s passion for diabetes research is driven by its potential to make a significant positive impact on the community’s health.
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Wendy is most passionate about her work with people who have type 1 diabetes and the artificial pancreas. Her mission is focused on helping improve the lives of people with type 1 diabetes.

She joined Sansum Diabetes Research Institute in 1990 to work with then Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Lois Jovanovič on studies involving gestational diabetes and exercise, and other type 1 diabetes studies and research. In 1995 Wendy left SDRI to teach human physiology and anatomy part-time, work part-time for the YMCA, and raise her family.

She returned to SDRI in 2004 and started work on the development of the artificial pancreas system in collaboration with engineers at UC Santa Barbara. Wendy sees all of the patients and research subjects as the SDRI family, providing care, support and learning for one another.

Wendy attended high school in Santa Barbara and returned after school at UC Davis and the University of Oregon. She earned her Ph.D. at UC Santa Barbara in Biology – Human Physiology, and then completed her postdoctoral fellowship at the Stanford University School of Medicine.

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Born in Michoacán, Mexico, Veronica Carrillo has been involved with SDRI since 2018, and serves as an Especialista. She is a proud wife and mother whose dedication motivates her to go beyond her comfort zone. Veronica is an exemplary parent who has supported her husband since her immigration to the United States to improve the quality of life for her family. She is an outstanding leader in making Santa Barbara County’s Latino community aware of available resources and promoting diabetes health care. She aims to become an advocate for others, letting them know their rights and assisting them to achieve appropriate care. To Veronica, it is very important have access to health care, which is why her goal as an Especialista is to be a resource for diabetes research by assisting participants with questionnaires while maintaining confidentiality, ultimately being a bridge between education, research, and care that reaches all parts of the Latino community.

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Mei Mei Church started with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics and worked in Environmental Consulting, then switched careers and received her second Bachelor’s degree in Nursing. After working as a registered nurse and diabetes resource nurse for a few years at UCSF Medical Center, she attended UCSF School of Nursing and received her Master of Science degree in Nursing as a Family Nurse Practitioner. She is board certified with the American Nurses Credentialing Center (ANCC).

Her focus at SDRI is working with patients in Artificial Pancreas studies, using innovative technology to ultimately help people with type 1 diabetes spend less time managing their condition and more time enjoying their lives.

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Brandon joined SDRI in 2021, and is a Clinical Research Coordinator for the Innovation team. Brandon graduated from UC Santa Barbara with a B.A. in Biology from the College of Creative Studies where he focused in human physiology, neurology, and pharmacology. While there, Brandon was the president of Phi Delta Epsilon, a co-ed medical fraternity as well as working in the Ben Reese Lab being the lead undergraduate on a project observing glaucoma decay against various compounds. Whilst in school, Brandon also worked as an Introductory Biology, Chemistry, Physics, and Organic Chemistry tutor, an Emergency Department Scribe with Santa Barbara Cottage Hospital, as well as a Scribe/MA at Santa Barbara Orthopedics Associates under Dr. Romero. He intends to continue to medical school in the future, hoping to specialize in Emergency Medicine.

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Jamie joined SDRI in 2017. She left her first career as a Marine Biologist after realizing that her passion truly lies in preventive healthcare. Her father’s diagnosis of type 2 diabetes opened her eyes to the pitfalls of the typical Western diet, demonstrating the vital importance of healthy eating and lifestyle in disease prevention. Jamie has dedicated her life and career to mitigating the growing epidemic of this chronic disease, and to improving health outcomes for as many individuals as possible in the community. An interest in community-level change in the healthcare field led Jamie to pursue a Masters in Public Health at UC Berkeley.

After receiving her MPH and RD at UC Berkeley, Jamie worked in research, employee wellness, and nutritional counseling at UC Berkeley and UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland before returning to Santa Barbara and joining Sansum Diabetes Research Institute. Jamie is thrilled to be working as a Perinatal Nutrition Specialist and Certified Diabetes Educator at SDRI.

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With over 25 years of non-profit work and volunteer experience within the Santa Barbara community, Teri joined the SDRI team as our Planned Giving Manager.

Teri’s brings to SDRI community engagement, donor relations, event planning and human resource knowledge. She is a Court Appointed Special Advocate (CASA) for Santa Barbara County, volunteering to give children, in the foster care system, a voice.

Teri’s lives with her husband, Tom in the Orcutt area with their four dogs. After raising their five children, they took up traveling and staycations. Teri is excited to join the SDRI to help sustain the future of SDRI.

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Christian is passionate about improving the lives of people affected by diabetes. He serves as the Clinical Trial Manager for the Innovation and Pregnancy Team. Christian manages all of the device and drug trials run by the Innovation team.

Christian grew up in Valencia and attended UC Santa Barbara. He graduated from UC Santa Barbara in 2016 with a BS in Biological Sciences. During his time in UC Santa Barbara he worked on the bench staff here at SDRI and got his first exposure in working with clinical trials. He has a close relationship with type 1 diabetes, his grandfather had type 1 diabetes.

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Karla joined the SDRI team in 2022 as a Diabetes Research & Education Coordinator. Karla is a Registered Nurse and Certified Diabetes Care and Education Specialist. Over the past 10 years Karla has worked with individuals with prediabetes, type 1 diabetes, type 2 diabetes, gestational diabetes, and individuals with wounds related to diabetes. Karla is passionate about providing education and working with other diabetes specialists to meet the needs of the individuals she is caring for. She believes education is key and she considers herself a lifelong learner. Karla is excited to expand her knowledge in diabetes research, prevention, and ways that she can continue to contribute to the health of our community.

Karla was born and raised in Ventura county and lives in Oxnard with her husband and 2 girls. Karla loves running outdoors, and has completed many half marathons and 9 full marathons – one of her favorite things is run for charity so she can combine her love for running with her love for helping others!

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Miguel Grijalva has worked at Sansum Diabetes Research Institute for 28 years, making him the longest-serving employee on our team. Miguel’s professional passion for working with all things mechanical, especially autos, has served both Miguel and SDRI well. He is responsible for all on-site building repair and maintenance.

In 1986 he began working as the Animal Care Technician where he managed and took care of the extensive non-obese diabetic mouse colony. Miguel is from Guatemala, Central America where he graduated from the Fire Academy in 1968 and moved to Santa Barbara in 1983 to be near family. Prior to working at SDRI, Miguel worked for Applied Magnetic Corporation in Goleta while also taking English as a Second Language classes at the Santa Barbara City College.

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Paige joined SDRI in 2022, primarily serving as the Executive Assistant to the Director of Development and Executive Director. She grew up on Cape Cod, Massachusetts and graduated from the University of Connecticut in 2018 with a BA degree in Journalism and Human Rights. In her last year of school, Paige interned for the ACLU of Connecticut, where she grew a passion for non-profit and development work.

After moving to Santa Barbara in 2019, Paige continued to build her non-profit knowledge while serving as the Administrative Assistant and later, the Development & Events Coordinator, for the United Boys & Girls Clubs of Santa Barbara County.

Diabetes care is near and dear to Paige’s heart as her father and paternal grandmother live with type 2 diabetes, while her uncle and cousin both live with type 1 diabetes.

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Eliana joined SDRI in 2023 as a clinical research assistant for the Plant Forward team. In addition to the time she devotes to research, Eliana is a Biology B.S. student at UC Santa Barbara with an emphasis in biochemistry. She is also one of four hand-selected advisors in the pre-med department, a liaison between UCSB and UCLA School of Medicine, and on the Executive Board of Alpha Delta Pi sorority.
 
In the future, Eliana intends to go to medical school to specialize as a pediatric surgeon.
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Martina Martinez joined Sansum Diabetes Research Institute in 2017. Martina has been an Especialista for four years and has experience with health education at health fairs, schools, and events throughout Santa Barbara County. She began her work as an Especialista by volunteering countless hours to education programs and has since expanded her role to include a prominent position as an Especialista.

Martina’s inspiration comes from her love for education, which she believes is a fundamental aspect of helping the Latino community embrace necessary lifestyle changes for improving the lives of those with diabetes. She is committed to practicing her own healthy lifestyle behaviors in order to set an example for others in the community. For Martina, being an Especialista means putting your heart, soul, and mind into your work.

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Emma is an Ojai, CA native, she graduated from Nordhoff High School and then went on to earn her Bachelor of Business Administration and Master of Business Administration at Millsaps College in Jackson, MS. During college she found her passion for nonprofit work, with an emphasis in fundraising and development, while working at Make A Wish Mississippi.

She started her career in the healthcare field in the office of development at Mississippi’s only children’s hospital. There she continued to build her skills and knowledge of fundraising for healthcare organizations.

Emma has seen the impact diabetes has on people’s lives, as her paternal grandmother has lived with type 1 diabetes for the last fifty years and her maternal grandmother lived with type 2 diabetes for fifteen years.

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