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Visionary Force Behind UCLA Pancreatic-Cancer Research

  Ronald S. Hirshberg Translational Pancreatic Cancer Research Laboratory and the Ronald S. Hirshberg Chair in Translational Pancreatic Cancer Research
  Agi Hirshberg (center) with (from left) UCLA Drs. Vay Liang W. Go, Guido Eibl, F. Charles Brunicardi, Howard Reber and Joe Hines (RES ’97) at the Agi Hirshberg Symposium on
Pancreatic Cancer at the UCLA Faculty Center.
Photo: Courtesy of Agi Hirshberg

It takes a visionary philanthropist with a strong conviction about what is possible to recognize the potential of pioneering research. Agi Hirshberg is one such person. Her nearly $5-million investment in UCLA over an 18-year period has yielded a return of more than 11 times that amount in support of novel investigations that have had a profound impact on pancreatic-cancer research and care. Following the loss of her husband Ronald S. Hirshberg to pancreatic cancer in 1997, Hirshberg was determined to respond in a meaningful way. She founded the Hirshberg Foundation for Pancreatic Cancer Research, which focuses on advancing pancreatic-cancer investigations and on supporting pancreatic-cancer patients and their families with information and resources.

UCLA was the beneficiary of the foundation’s first gift, which established the Ronald S. Hirshberg Translational Pancreatic Cancer Research Laboratory and the Ronald S. Hirshberg Chair in Translational Pancreatic Cancer Research. “Agi’s vision, dedication and key support have made UCLA pancreatic research one of the premier programs in the nation,” says Vay Liang W. Go, MD, distinguished professor of medicine, director, UCLA Center for Excellence in Pancreatic Diseases in the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and editor-in-chief of the journal Pancreas.

The Hirshberg Foundation Seed Grant Program, established in 2000, is an extremely successful program that provides start-up funds for scientists with innovative ideas, enabling them to pursue new research that will lead to improved diagnosis, new treatments and a greater understanding of pancreatic-cancer cell biology. The seed funding allows researchers to take investigative risks and compile the necessary data needed to apply for funding from the government and other agencies. The foundation estimates this has resulted in $45 million in additional support for its national awardees.

Hirshberg received the 2013 American Pancreatic Association Distinguished Service Award for her commitment to pancreatic-cancer research, which includes the annual Hirshberg Award supporting young investigators in the field. Since 2010, she has hosted the Hirshberg Foundation Keynote Symposium, which assembles top researchers in the field of pancreatic cancer to discuss vital topics. The foundation sponsors the LA Cancer Challenge, an annual (October) 5K/10K walk/ run launched in 1998, and the Tour de Pier, which started in 2013, both of which were created by Lisa Manheim and Jon Hirshberg in memory of his father.

A dynamic UCLA supporter, Hirshberg is the president of Women & Philanthropy at UCLA and serves on the UCLA Foundation Philanthropy Committee and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA Board of Visitors. “Agi Hirshberg has had a major role in the growth and development of one of the busiest and most-successful clinical programs for the multidisciplinary treatment of pancreatic cancer in the country,” says Howard A. Reber, MD, distinguished professor of surgery, chief of gastrointestinal surgery and director of the Center for Pancreatic Diseases at UCLA. “She has turned her personal loss into a powerful positive force to help patients afflicted with this dreaded disease and their families.”

 





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