AGA Family of Websites:

GI leaders recognized by AGA’s prestigious recognition prizes

Bethesda, MD (Feb. 4, 2020) — The American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) has announced the 2020 recipients of the annual recognition prizes, given in honor of outstanding contributions and achievements in gastroenterology.

“AGA Recognition Prizes allow members to honor their colleagues and peers for outstanding contributions to the field of gastroenterology,” said Hashem B. El-Serag, MD, MPH, AGAF, president of the AGA Institute. “The 2020 AGA Recognition Prize winners are just a few of the distinguished and talented members who help make AGA such an accomplished organization. We are honored that such esteemed individuals are representatives of AGA.”

The AGA Recognition Prizes will be presented during Digestive Disease Week® 2020, May 1-5, 2020, in Chicago, Illinois.

Julius Friedenwald Medal

AGA bequeaths its highest honor, the Julius Friedenwald Medal, to Gail Hecht, MD, MS, AGAF, for her substantial contributions to the field of gastroenterology and AGA. The Julius Friedenwald Medal, presented annually since 1941, recognizes a physician for lifelong contributions to the field of gastroenterology.

Dr. Hecht is internationally renowned for her pivotal contributions to the understanding of the important diarrheal pathogen, enteropathogenic E. coli. She is also a passionate advocate for the science and practice of gastroenterology, including serving as AGA Institute President. Dr. Hecht’s collegial and generous spirit, her past and continued leadership roles in AGA, her passion for and contributions to science and clinical medicine, and her dedication to both her patients and trainees have strengthened the specialty of gastroenterology, and also inspired and shaped the next generation of investigators and gastroenterologists. Dr. Hecht is currently assistant dean, medical student research and professor of medicine and microbiology/ immunology at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, and a staff physician at Hines VA Medical Center, Chicago, Illinois.

Distinguished Achievement Award in Basic Science

AGA recognizes R. Balfour Sartor, MD, with the AGA Distinguished Achievement Award in Basic Science, for his major accomplishments in basic science research, which have significantly contributed to the understanding of the pathogenesis of inflammatory bowel diseases (IBD). Dr. Sartor’s seminal observations throughout his career helped launch the area of inquiry that led to the recognition that the microbiome is a key to metabolic disease, IBD, intestinal neoplasia and hepatic disorders. Dr. Sartor is the Margaret W. and Lorimer W. Midgett Distinguished Professor and a professor, departments of medicine, microbiology and immunology, University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill.

William Beaumont Prize

AGA honors two individuals with the William Beaumont Prize in Gastroenterology, which recognizes individuals who have made unique, outstanding contributions of major importance to the field of gastroenterology.

Dennis Ahnen, MD, AGAF, had made many contributions to the field of gastroenterology that have significantly advanced the care of patients through clinical and translational research into the pathobiology of colorectal cancer and its prevention. Dr. Ahnen, has provided exemplary service to AGA. He is director of genetics at Gastroenterology of the Rockies and Professor Emeritus of medicine at the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus School of Medicine, Aurora.

Peter Kahrilas, MD, AGAF, has worked tirelessly and creatively to characterize the function and pathophysiology of the esophagus and has written the esophageal papers upon which a large portion of current research is based. Dr. Kahrilas has also dedicated many years of service to AGA and is currently the Gilbert H. Marquardt Professor of Medicine in the division of gastroenterology at the Feinberg School of Medicine, Northwestern University, Chicago, Illinois.

Distinguished Educator Award

AGA honors Robert Fontana, MD, with the Distinguished Educator Award, which recognizes an individual who has made outstanding contributions as an educator in gastroenterology on both local and national levels. Dr. Fontana’s greatest teaching impact has been the establishment of one of the most highly successful transplant hepatology fellowship training programs in the country. He has taught countless medical students, residents and fellows, as well as faculty members via his clear, concise, and well-organized lectures and presentations. Dr. Fontana is a professor of medicine, medical director of liver transplantation, and director of transplant hepatology fellowship ACGME-accredited training program at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor.

Distinguished Clinician Awards

The AGA Distinguished Clinician Awards recognize members of the practicing community who, by example, combine the art of medicine with the skills demanded by the scientific body of knowledge in service to their patients.

AGA presents the Distinguished Clinician Award in Private Practice to Kimberly Persley, MD, AGAF. Dr. Persley made a huge impact on patient care in her community as the first IBD-specialty trained private practice gastroenterologist in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Texas, region. She was sought out by gastroenterologists and patients throughout the region for her thorough, kind and holistic care. Dr. Persley is a partner at Texas Digestive Disease Consultants and assistant clinical professor of medicine at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical School, Dallas, Texas.

AGA is honored to present the Distinguished Clinician Award in Clinical Academic Practice, to Gary Lichtenstein, MD, AGAF. Dr. Lichtenstein is a renowned physician, educator, and investigator whose local, regional, and national prominence is remarkable. Patients and physicians throughout the country seek his consultation and advice in IBD. Dr. Lichtenstein is a professor of medicine and director of the IBD Center at the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia.

Distinguished Mentor Award

AGA bestows the Distinguished Mentor Award to Juanita Merchant, MD, PhD. This award recognizes an individual who has made a lifelong effort dedicated to the mentoring of trainees in the field of gastroenterology and for achievements as outstanding mentors throughout their careers. Dr. Merchant is an exceptional mentor, providing guidance to multiple learners to jump start, enhance and guide their careers as scientists in gastroenterology. Many of her trainees are faculty in institutions around the world who have also stimulated young learners to pursue careers in science. Dr. Merchant is professor and chief of gastroenterology and hepatology at the University of Arizona, Tucson.

Research Service Award

AGA honors Peter Perrin, PhD, with the Research Service Award, which recognizes individuals whose work has significantly advanced gastroenterological science and research. As a program director at the National Institute of Diabetes, Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), National Institutes of Health (NIH), Bethesda, MD, Dr. Perrin has had a huge impact on NIH-funded digestive diseases research. At NIDDK, he has the largest portfolio of grants that have high impact in digestive diseases, in topics including immunology, microbiology, infectious diseases and IBD, barrier and transport functions, and AIDS/HIV.

Outstanding Service Award

AGA honors the Funderburg family with the Outstanding Service Award, which was created in 1972 to honor an individual(s) who has contributed significantly to society’s health and welfare. The family, which includes Rob and Cathy, Alex and Patty, and Hugh and Gail, has significantly contributed to the AGA Research Foundation through their personal philanthropy. Their parents established the AGA – R. Robert and Sally Funderburg Research Award in Gastric Cancer in 1992. In total, the family has given $3 million and with their most recent gift, they have permanently endowed their research award in gastric cancer.

The family encourages collaboration and communication between and among the Funderburg recipients and as a result, AGA established the annual Funderburg Symposium at DDW. This symposium allows leaders in the gastric cancer field, many of whom are past Funderburg recipients, to come together and learn about the latest advances and findings in gastric cancer research.

Young Investigator Awards

The AGA Young Investigator Awards recognize two young investigators, one in basic science and one in clinical science, for outstanding research achievements.

AGA honors Jennifer Lai, MD, MBA, with the Young Investigator Award in Clinical Science. Dr. Lai has pioneered a research program in frailty in hepatology that is changing the way that gastroenterologists and hepatologists manage patients with liver disease. She has carved out a niche at the junction of aging and hepatology research that is particularly timely given the influx of older patients with cirrhosis being seen in clinical practice, as well as the rapid rise in cirrhotic patients with multiple co-morbidities and frailty seeking liver transplantation. Dr. Lai is an associate professor of medicine in residence and director of the Advancing Research in Clinical Hepatology Group in the division of gastroenterology and hepatology, at the University of California, San Francisco.

AGA honors Nobuhiko Kamada, PhD, with the Young Investigator Award in Basic Science. Dr. Kamada is known for his innovation combining fields examining the microbiota and the immune system in IBD, specifically, the interplay between diet, commensal and pathogenic microbes, and the immune system. He has published stellar findings that have been highly cited within short periods of time due to their innovation. Dr. Kamada is an assistant professor in the division of gastroenterology at the University of Michigan Medical School, Ann Arbor.

# # #

Media contact: Aimee Frank, [email protected], 301-941-2620

About the AGA Institute

The American Gastroenterological Association is the trusted voice of the GI community. Founded in 1897, the AGA has grown to more than 16,000 members from around the globe who are involved in all aspects of the science, practice and advancement of gastroenterology. The AGA Institute administers the practice, research and educational programs of the organization.

AGA is now on Instagram.
Like AGA on Facebook.
Follow us on Twitter @AmerGastroAssn.
Check out our videos on YouTube.
Join AGA on LinkedIn.

About Digestive Disease Week® (DDW)

Digestive Disease Week® (DDW) is the largest international gathering of physicians, trainees, researchers and academics in the fields of gastroenterology, hepatology, endoscopy and gastrointestinal surgery. Jointly sponsored by the American Association for the Study of Liver Diseases (AASLD), the American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) Institute, the American Society for Gastrointestinal Endoscopy (ASGE) and the Society for Surgery of the Alimentary Tract (SSAT), DDW takes place May 2-5, 2020, at McCormick Place, Chicago, Illinois. The meeting showcases more than 5,000 abstracts and hundreds of lectures on the latest advances in GI research, medicine and technology. More information can be found at

Follow us on Twitter @DDWMeeting; hashtag #DDW2020. Become a fan of DDW on Facebook.