Accepting Applications Now
Accepting Applications Now
The objective of this award is to stimulate interest in digestive disease research among applicants from groups underrepresented in biomedical research through mentored research experience with a goal of encouraging promising students to pursue careers in science, medicine, and specifically basic and/or clinical digestive disease research to expand the pipeline of investigators from diverse backgrounds.
- Applicants in good academic standing enrolled in undergraduate programs in North America that lead to a bachelor’s degree and who are continuing in the following fall (i.e., no graduating seniors) are eligible to apply.
- Applicants must identify with a group traditionally underrepresented in biomedical research, including:
- Racial and ethnic groups: African Americans or Blacks, Native Alaskans, Native Americans, Native U.S. Pacific Islanders, and those of Hispanic origin.
- Individuals with disabilities.
- Individuals from disadvantaged backgrounds, i.e., those meeting two or more of the following criteria:
- Current or former homeless.
- Those who were in the foster care system.
- Those who were eligible for the Federal Free and Reduced Lunch Program for two or more years.
- First generation college students.
- Those who were or are currently eligible for Federal Pell grants.
- Those who received support from the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children.
- Those who grew up in a U.S. rural area according to the Health Resources and Services Administration or a Low-Income and Health Professional Shortage Area according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
- Applicants may not hold similar salary-support awards from other agencies (e.g., American Liver Foundation, Crohn’s and Colitis Foundation, NIH).
- This award is not intended to provide salary support for laboratory technicians.
- Past recipients may reapply in subsequent years provided the required scientific progress report and any follow-up surveys were submitted following the previous funded project and other eligibility requirements are still met.
- Applicants must identify, contact and secure support from a research mentor. Applicants may choose from one of our participating mentors listed below or apply with faculty mentor you already work with, provided they are an AGA member.
- A letter of support from the mentor is required (limited to two-pages). The letter should:
- Detail the mentor’s involvement in creating the research proposal, plan for mentoring the applicant, and the portion of the proposed research the applicant will reasonably complete during the fellowship award period.
- Indicate explicitly that the mentor’s institution will allow an un-enrolled undergraduate to perform research within their laboratory.
- Describe what existing institutional activities or programs the applicant may benefit from during the research period, in particular those oriented towards undergraduates and/or underrepresented groups.
- Briefly justify the need for the $1,000 in mentor lab support or indicate that this funding is unnecessary.
- An abstract and proposal (limited to two pages) describing the research you will perform during the award period. The proposal should include sections for background information, specific aims and a research plan.
- A letter of reference from a current or past professor speaking to the applicant’s qualifications and engagement. Applicants will supply the contact information for the referee who will submit their letter directly to AGA. One individual cannot serve as both the applicant’s mentor and reference.
- A personal statement (limited to one-page) describing:
- Your career goals.
- Your research background, if any. Previous research experience is not a requirement for consideration.
- Your interest in digestive disease research.
- How the SURF award will benefit your academic and career goals.
- Your involvement in creating the research proposal.
- Transcript(s), unofficial are acceptable provided all courses and credits are clearly legible.
The mentors listed below have expressed interest in recruiting students to apply for this opportunity and you are encouraged to reach out to those mentors who you would want to work with. You can send an introductory message to any of the mentors below from within the application portal (click “Apply Now” above and follow the prompts). This list is not exhaustive; applicants may apply with the support of any AGA member as their mentor.
Research: I lead a research program in the field of gastrointestinal (GI) epithelial cell and developmental biology. My lab uses cutting-edge organoid and animal models to delineate fundamental mechanisms involved in GI development, homeostasis, and disease. Our current projects focus on GATA transcription factors and their roles in normal GI development, metaplasia, and cancer.
Project(s): An undergraduate student will participate in our studies of GATA4 function using human GI organoid models derived from normal, metaplastic, and malignant GI tissues. In addition to gaining experience in cutting edge organoid culture systems, the undergraduate will gain proficiency in molecular biology techniques including transcriptional profiling and chromatin immunoprecipitation.
Research: As a physician-scientist I am interested in discovering the cells and molecules involved in normal gut motor and sensory function, and how they are disrupted in disease, such as irritable bowel syndrome. Current efforts in the lab are focused on a sensory pathway we call “gut touch,” because this sensory circuit is very similar to the skin touch circuit. We use a range of cutting-edge techniques in enteric neuroscience that range from examinations of single molecules to studies in animals and humans.
Our group is a part of the Mayo Clinic’s Enteric Neuroscience Program (ENSP), which has a long and distinguished history in the field, and is composed of several labs, so there are always many interesting collaborations and discussions.
Project(s): We have several projects ongoing that we will tailor to the students’ needs and interests. These include microscopy approaches, (immunofluorescence, super-resolution microscopy), in vitro studies looking at cell and tissue function by electrophysiology and calcium imaging, and in vivo studies that ask what the gut touch system’s role is in gut physiology.
Dr. Helen Burton Murray is a research scientist at Massachusetts General Hospital and Assistant Professor at Harvard Medical School in Boston, MA. She is the director of the GI Behavioral Health Program in the Center for Neuorintestinal Health and her research is focused on two areas—(1) behavioral health treatments for gastrointestinal (GI) conditions, particularly disorder of gut-brain interaction (formerly called functional GI disorders); and (2) the intersection of problematic eating behaviors and GI disorders (e.g., avoidant/restrictive food intake disorder).
Projects in Dr. Burton Murray’s lab include an NIH-funded research project that investigate biological and behavioral markers of problematic eating behaviors in patients with disorders of gut-brain interaction, and clinical trials of behavioral interventions for GI disorders (U01 DK112193; K23 DK131334). Undergraduate student trainees have been involved in all aspects of the research process, including study development, recruitment, assessment, data management, data analysis, and publication.
Research: The role of serotonin transporter (SERT) as a therapeutic target for inflammatory bowel diseases and gut-brain disorders such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Project(s): Investigate how intestinal serotonin transporter plays a role in influencing gut microbial metabolites production and impacting behavior.
Research: Professor Seema Khurana has over three decades of research experience studying gastrointestinal biology and pathophysiology. Her expertise in mucosal biology has led to advancement of research in intestinal injury-repair mechanisms in IBD, therapeutic targeting of mucosal healing in IBD, epithelial-mesenchymal-transitions and their contribution to intestinal injury-repair and colitis associated colorectal cancer. During her entire research career Professor Khurana has collaborated closely with gastroenterologists at Johns Hopkins University, The University of Tennessee Health Science Center and now at Baylor College of Medicine to translate discoveries in these areas into innovative therapeutics that improve patient outcome in IBD and colorectal cancer. Her laboratory has used state-of-the-art, innovative approaches that integrate systems biology data directly from IBD patient samples with artificial intelligence for clinical translation. A major novelty of her approach for new, highly effective Drug Discovery for mucosal healing in IBD is the development of high-throughput robust and relatively inexpensive image based cell profiling platforms that can be applied directly to IBD patient derived organoids. This approach harnesses the data processing efficiency of cell morphology systems biology approach that can be combined with transcriptomic data directly in patient-derived organoids to address the needs of personalized medicine in IBD. Drug Discovery for IBD is impeded by the lack of screenable phenotypes in scalable cell models. By combining phenotypic profiling with other large systems biology data (such as transcriptomic data) and applying machine learning, her research aims to rapidly and cost-efficiently identify new highly effective therapies for mucosal healing in IBD.
Project(s): Students could work with colorectal cancer cell lines to monitor changes in fascin-expressing or fascin-null cells using confocal microscopy. The student could learn to use mouse models of colorectal carcinomas. Alternatively, the student could learn how to culture, maintain and study ex vivo cultures of mouse and human enteroids/colonoids.
Research: My research group focuses on gut sensation and motility disorders which are common medical problems that include gastroesophageal reflux disease, stomach pain, chronic nausea and vomiting, gastroparesis, irritable bowel syndrome, constipation, cyclic vomiting syndrome and eating disorders. We strive to understand what the connections are between the brain and the gut that cause symptoms and how to cope with them. We also study gut physiology to understand what affects how the gut moves things from one place to the other, whether it be too slow or too fast. We have projects trying to understand the impact of these diseases in underserved communities. As a result, we work on the gut microbiome and metabolites, human physiology experiments with devices and MRI, database analysis/epidemiology/healthcare services research studies, and clinical trials.
Project(s): We have several faculty members as well as research coordinators and many trainees who would work as a team with the student. The research work for this program would be clinical/translational with patient data including data acquisition and clean up as well as analysis under our guidance. The goal would be to actively engage in the clinical research project with a topic and would hopefully lead to presentation of results and involvement in publications. We also have a specialized clinic taking care of patients which will provide opportunities to shadow and appreciate the challenges with these medical issues.
Research: Dr. Levine’s research is focused on tri-molecular communication in the gastrointestinal tract among  the luminal microbiome,  the barrier epithelium, and  the immune cells in the underlying lamina propria.
Projects: Several projects are available to students and include:
- Co-culture of primary cell derived human T lymphocytes with organoids of intestinal epithelial stem cells or fully differentiated epithelial cell monolayers.
- Transcriptomic and bioinformatic analysis of changes in gene expression and molecular pathways induced by co-culture.
- Modulation of normal cell-cell communication due to inflammatory bowel diseases.
Research: A remarkable feature of the GI tract is that it has its own intrinsic nervous system that can function rather independently to regulate a wide variety of digestive functions. The goal of our laboratory is to understand how neurons and glial cells in this enteric nervous system (ENS) interact with other cells in the gut to regulate motility, pain and immune responses. We use mouse genetic models, in vivo and in vitro assays to tackle these questions. Our work is motivated by the conviction that a better understanding of enteric neurobiology will advance the diagnosis and treatment of digestive disease.
Project(s): The student will work on an independent project under the joint mentorship of Dr. Rao and a postdoctoral fellow or senior Ph.D. student with the goals of learning how to design, perform and interpret experiments, give effective presentations, and participate in the process of authoring a manuscript for publication. Projects may involve molecular biology, cell culture, tissue dissections, analysis of genomics data, microscopy, and mouse behavioral assays, depending on the student’s interests and experience.
Research: Neurogastroenterology and motility– understanding the mechanisms of disease and novel diagnostics and treatments for irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), gas/bloating, constipation, fecal incontinence, and gastroparesis. Current projects in the lab include 1. Neuromodulation Therapy for fecal incontinence (FI); 2. Gut and brain interactions; 3. Home Biofeedback Therapy for Dyssynergic defecation & FI; 4. Food intolerance; 5. Vibrating capsule for Motility disorders.
Project(s):Students could work on projects (1) examining bidirectional gut-brain interactions in IBS and constipation, FI; (2) Novel Capsules for GI Motility diagnosis and therapy, or (3) body posture and defecation dynamic.
The Rustgi lab investigates the fundamental biology underlying gastrointestinal cancers, including esophageal, pancreatic, and stomach (gastric) cancers. Using an interdisciplinary approach, Dr. Rustgi’s research involves studies of the tumor microenvironment to uncover how tumors initiate and metastasize. Dr. Rustgi’s lab aims to translate their discoveries into improving molecular diagnostics and finding new experimental therapeutics for patients.
Project(s): Available projects can be individualized to the student’s interest. In summer 2023, the Rustgi lab is only able to accept students in a virtual capacity.
Dr. Staller’s research group interrogates clinical and epidemiological aspects of functional gastrointestinal diseases and disorders, in particular irritable bowel syndrome and chronic constipation. Epidemiological research involves better understanding the intersections of gender, eating disorders, diet and lifestyle on constipation, bloating, fecal incontinence, and gastrointestinal symptoms.
Research: Clinical and translational research on inflammatory bowel disease (IBD), specifically Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
Project(s): (1) Impact of education on IBD prognosis on women with IBD. (2) Evaluate barriers to access health care resources and education in minority women with IBD. (3) Genetics in familial IBD. (4) Pregnancy and fertility in women with IBD.
Research: I am involved in clinical and translational research in Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD). Specifically, my main interests are in clinical outcomes and risk stratification among recently diagnosed IBD patients in order to understand the best way to care for patients early in their disease. In addition, I have an interest in the impact of COVID-19 on IBD patients, particularly the impact of IBD medications on COVID-19 outcomes.
Project(s): Utilize existing databases or create new database through chart review to investigate risk factors for poor outcomes among recently diagnosed patients or IBD patients with COVID-19. Organize, analyze and write up research results for abstract and/or publication in peer-reviewed journal. Activities would likely involve study design, data extraction, data cleaning, database organization/creation, and basic data analysis. Potential for cross-sectional study as well in our IBD center (administering surveys to IBD patients for example).
Research: Dr. Vélez’s clinical and research interests include the management of gastrointestinal manifestations of cystic fibrosis (CF) and is the first gastroenterologist embedded in the Massachusetts General Hospital Adult CF clinic. In addition, he is interested in improving access to gastrointestinal care in the Latino/a and LGBTQIA+ community through his work improving culturally competent care in medically underserved communities and better understanding functional and GI motility disorder manifestations.
Project(s): Students will support one of the following ongoing projets.
GI Manifestations of Cystic Fibrosis (CF)
- Characterization of Gastrointestinal Dysfunction in Patients with Cystic Fibrosis Related Diabetes – Cystic Fibrosis impacts multiple organ symptoms with gastrointestinal disease serving an important source of symptom burden. Diabetes causes similar chronic GI symptoms and is common in patients with CF, known as cystic fibrosis related diabetes (CFRD). This project aims to look at CF related gastrointestinal disease (CFGD) in patients with CFRD examining the symptoms of patients enrolled in a study looking at a “bionic pancreas” that improves the lost pancreas function in CF.
- NICE CF – Determining the efficacy of less invasive methods of colon cancer screening techniques in CF patients who are often at an average or above average risk of colon cancer.
- Improving Palliative Care for Patients with CF – Quality improvement research aimed at understanding and improving palliative care interventions for patients with CF involving systemic GI assessment to reduce symptom burden and improve overall GI symptoms.
Efforts to Improve GI Symptom Characterization in LGBTQIA+ and Medically Underserved Populations
- PRIDE – Research focused on improving LGBTQIA+ patient care and developing a better understanding of the common GI symptoms experienced by LGBTQIA+ individuals. In addition, Dr. Vélez spearheads several educational interventions aimed at developing more culturally competent care and improving healthcare provider knowledge of LGBTQIA+ healthcare.
- FDIMUA – Qualitative research examining the patient care experience of medically underserved English and Spanish speakers diagnosed with functional dyspepsia.
- Recipients are expected to devote full time effort to the summer research fellowship throughout the 10-week duration of the experience.
- Recipients must secure housing for the duration of the award term.
- A scientific progress report is required upon completion of the fellowship.
- Fellowship award recipients are required to acknowledge the AGA-Aman Armaan Ahmed Family SURF for Success in all testimonials, publications, abstracts and/or presentations that result from the award.
- Recipients must participate in follow-up surveys and are expected to participate in future events as alumni to the program.
- Recipients will receive a $6,200 stipend for the summer.
- Provided it is justified, mentor labs will receive $1,000 to offset costs.
- October 2023: Applications open.
- February 2024: Applications close.
- February–April 2024: Application review and recipient selection.
- April 2024: Applicants notified of status.
- May/June – August 2024: Recipients perform summer research with mentors.
- September 2024: Participants complete close-out report and first follow-up survey.
Recipients are selected based on their interest in biomedical and digestive disease research, engagement with the research proposal and proposed mentor, demonstrated need for the program, and likelihood of benefiting from the experience.
The application deadline is February 1, 2024. Applications are only accepted through the AGA Grants Management System. Click the “Apply Now” button to create an account and submit an application. You may preview the application as it will appear on the AGA Grant Management System before beginning an application. Please note that this preview is for reference only and all applications are completed online.
AGA gratefully acknowledges the Aman Armaan Ahmed Family for supporting this program.