Reflecting on 25 Years of Groundbreaking Gastric Cancer Research

Robert “Bob” Funderburg was well-known in Rockford, IL, and throughout the state as a successful businessman and philanthropist. Both Bob and his wife, Sally, were active in many charitable causes in Rockford and Chicago, particularly focusing their efforts in the areas of health care, the arts and education.

In the spring of 1990, Bob’s life took an unexpected turn when he learned he had gastric cancer. Over the next two years, he sought the best medical advice and treatment, but succumbed to the disease in July 1992. Just prior to Bob’s death, the Funderburgs decided to make a significant investment in gastric cancer research.

The AGA-R. Robert and Sally D. Funderburg Research Award in Gastric Cancer supports established investigators working on novel approaches in gastric cancer research, whose efforts will enhance the fundamental understanding of the disease process and ultimately contribute to a cure. Administered through the AGA Research Foundation, this grant currently provides $100,000 over a two-year period.

Cellular and Molecular Gastroenterology and Hepatology is pleased to honor the 25th anniversary of the AGA-R Robert and Sally Funderburg Research Award in Gastric Cancer with a compendium of reviews and commentaries written by recipients of this award. Visit to see this special article collection.

To date, there have been 26 recipients of the Funderburg award, and since the first award in 1992, there has been a dramatic improvement in the understanding and treatment of gastric cancer. The Funderburg award has been instrumental in providing funding for a field of research that traditionally has been underfunded in the U.S. Even though each recipient has addressed different aspects of the disease, the award has served as a springboard for recipients, enabling them to obtain larger grants and become clear leaders in the field.

For the past 25 years, some of the most gifted researchers in North America have competed to receive the AGA–R. Robert and Sally D. Funderburg Research Award in Gastric Cancer. The 26 recipients comprise an honor role of distinguished national leaders in gastroenterology. Funderburg recipients now serve as chiefs of the GI divisions at institutions including Baylor University, Columbia University and the University of Pennsylvania. Others have become directors of GI fellowship programs and full professors at institutions such as Brown University, Johns Hopkins University, Mount Sinai, University of Michigan, University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, University of Washington at St. Louis, Vanderbilt University and others. Many have also served in AGA leadership, including on the governing board and as presidential officers. Most importantly, the research conducted by the Funderburg recipients is making real headway in the science that will lead to effective treatments and cures. Recipients are developing cancer screenings, H. pylori vaccines, tools to integrate personal and family medical history to determine an individual’s risk of colorectal cancer, and rational therapeutic strategies for stomach and esophageal cancer.

AGA is currently accepting applications for the 2018 Funderburg award. Learn more at

According to Dr. Steven Moss, 2002 Funderburg recipient and professor of medicine and GI fellowship program director at Brown University, “We are fortunate that focused research funding via the Funderburg award has stimulated many physician-scientists early in their independent research careers to provide innovative approaches to this disease, which remains all too common and still usually fatal, especially in the most underserved communities.”

“The Funderburg award played a crucial role in my career,” stated Dr. Jim Goldenring, 2004 Funderburg recipient and professor and vice chairman of surgery and professor of cell and developmental biology at Vanderbilt. “While we had been working for some time on the etiology of precancerous metaplasia in the stomach, we had been unable to obtain funding for the work from NIH on five separate attempts, largely due to a lack of enthusiasm or interest in research on gastric cancer, which is relatively rare in the U.S. compared with the rest of the world. I was frankly ready to terminate our work on gastric cancer when I received the Funderburg award. The Funderburg award allowed me to perform our first studies of gene expression profiling of microdissected metaplastic lineages in mice. These studies and those that followed have led to the validation of a rather unexpected hypothesis that metaplasias evolve from mature chief cells through transdifferentiation. This work has now received funding from both the NIH and the VA. None of this would have been possible without the Funderburg award, and I dare say that the others winners of this award would have similar stories.”

Continuous funding from the Funderburg family through the AGA Research Foundation has provided the opportunity for gastric cancer research discoveries that otherwise would not have been funded. Dr. Jason Mills, associate professor at Washington University at St. Louis and 2010 Funderburg recipient states, “The field is greatly indebted to the Funderburg family. Gastric cancer, by most metrics, is the least funded cancer relative to the burden it costs society, which makes it tough to stay focused on stomach and to attract bright young scientist to the field.”

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