Mission Statement

The GI Research Foundation (GIRF) is a non-profit 501(c)3 dedicated to raise funds to support the physicians and scientists at the University of Chicago Medicine Digestive Diseases Center in their efforts to provide outstanding care, train future leaders and perform innovative clinical and laboratory research in order to treat, cure, and prevent digestive diseases.

Board of Directors

As the governing body, the Board of Directors conducts the business of the GI Research Foundation. The Board of Directors host the foundation’s largest fundraiser, the annual ball in late spring, and lead several successful campaigns which have raised over $50 million dollars to date in order to improve diagnoses, treatments, and get us closer to a cure for digestive diseases.



Associates Board

Since 1997, the young professionals of the Associates Board have raised over $500,000 and supported ground breaking research conducted by investigators just starting out in their careers in digestive disease research. In addition to fundraising events, the Associates host social events and educational opportunities throughout the year.

Scientific Advisors

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Executive Staff

Deborah Barnard

Director of Major Gifts

Farrah Watson

Director of Finance and Operations

Silver Hannon

Development Associate

History of GIRF

–  In 1962, two Chicago businessmen, Martin N. Sandler and Joseph E. Valenti, Sr., joined Dr. Joseph B. Kirsner in establishing the Gastro-Intestinal Research Foundation.

– In 1963, GIRF hosted their inaugural dinner honoring Joseph B. Kirsner.

– By the spring of 1964, GIRF grew to over 325 members and increased their marketing presence within the clinic with the publication of the GIRF newsletter.

– In August of 1964, GIRF launched a Women’s Division, which established unique fundraising events including the annual spring fashion show, greeting cards, and well as the publication of a GIRF cookbook which was designed to help diversify the dull dietary routine of patients on a lengthy program of recovery. The GIRF cookbook sold 5,500 copies within the first two months and went into a second printing.

– During the winter of 1965, GIRF initiated an “equipment program,” which identified 27 important pieces of medical research equipment that could be purchased by individual members in support of the research.

– First announced in 1968, the Center for the Study of Digestive Diseases at the University of Chicago was established as a result of the efforts by GIRF, the results of which include an immunology laboratory.

– In the 1980s, through a partnership between GIRF and the University of Chicago, the construction of the Joseph B. Kirsner Center at the University of Chicago was completed.

– In the mid-1980s, GIRF contributed $500,000 over a three-year period to develop a new research program on the biology of the intestinal epithelium called The Cell-Tech Research Program.

– In the 1990s, GIRF established a research facility to investigate the scientific aspects of Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.

– In the fall of 1996, GIRF accepted the challenge of developing a research program on the genetics of inflammatory bowel disease. As a result of the money raised by GIRF, as well as through the generous support from other contributors, the first gastroenterology DNA research lab was established where Dr. Judy Cho was responsible for the studies that led to the discovery of the first gene known to be responsible for Crohn’s disease.

– In 1997, the Associates Board begins to raise money to support young investigators research just starting their career in digestive diseases. (Learn more about past Associates Board grants here)

– In the 2000s, GIRF raised over $7 million dollars for equipment and laboratories to further GI research

Click here for more details about the Board of Directors past funded grants and and Capital Campaign.

Past Videos

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