According to the National Cancer Institute, almost 40% of people will be diagnosed with cancer sometime in their lifetime. It’s a sobering statistic, but great strides are being made to combat all types of cancer right here in St. Louis. Every year, the Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital hosts the Illumination Gala to support the Cancer Frontier Fund and research at the Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine. T&S spoke with a foundation representative to learn more about the event and the life-saving research it helps fund.

Tell me about the Cancer Frontier Fund?
The Cancer Frontier Fund is a vital part of cancer research support for Siteman Cancer Center. It is similar to a venture capital fund. Donor “seed funding” allows physician-scientists to explore promising, early ideas and gather critical data. Each year, the Cancer Frontier Fund helps launch about a dozen new research projects. These initiatives often become fire starters, creating exciting momentum that allows researchers to be more competitive in securing larger funding from other agencies for clinical trials. Ultimately, philanthropic investment in the Cancer Frontier Fund is the catalyst that speeds research progress toward better treatments that save lives.

What makes the Illumination Gala such a unique fundraiser?
The Illumination Gala is hosted annually to benefit The Alvin J. Siteman Cancer Center, and it raises critical dollars for the Cancer Frontier Fund. Since 2007, we have raised more than $42 million to support research projects focused on new ways to prevent and treat cancer. Recognized as a premier event with extraordinary community and corporate support, Illumination is one of the highest grossing fundraisers in St. Louis. Celebrity guests over the years have included Steve Martin, Jason Alexander and Wayne Brady.

What kind of return on investment is there for donations?
The impact of each gift is significant. For every $1 donated, Siteman physician-scientists secure nearly $7 in additional research funding from larger agencies, such as the National Cancer Institute. That’s an impressive 7:1 return on each investment made.

What types of cancer research does the gala help fund?
Through the funds raised at the Illumination Gala, we support more than 140 cancer research projects focused on a variety of cancers, including breast cancer, prostate cancer, pancreatic cancer, leukemia, lymphoma and many others. These projects are driving new personalized therapies, improving health equity and eliminating disparities of health care. Recently, Siteman researchers supported by the Cancer Frontier Fund made a significant discovery in treating metastatic breast cancer using a two-pronged immunotherapy approach. The next step is developing a clinical trial to investigate this promising strategy. This progress wouldn’t be possible without donor support of the Cancer Frontier Fund.

What can people look forward to from this year’s Illumination Gala?
The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital is thrilled to partner with Penny Pennington, managing partner at Edward Jones, as our 2023 Lead Ambassador. We also look forward to welcoming Colin Jost, writer at Saturday Night Live and co-anchor of Weekend Update, as our celebrity guest host for an evening of hope, entertainment and philanthropy.

You recently hosted your Frontier Night event.
It is the prelude to Illumination. This year, Frontier Night showcased the inspiring progress four physician-scientists supported by the Cancer Frontier Fund: Katherine Weilbaecher, M.D.; Foluso “Bisi” Ademuyiwa, M.D., MPH, MSCI; Joseph Ippolito, M.D., Ph.D.; and Eric Kim, M.D. They each shared their journey from early-stage research to clinical trials to lifesaving patient outcomes—all of which are made possible through philanthropy at the Illumination Gala. If people want to learn more or watch a full recording of the event, they can visit the Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital’s YouTube channel.

How can people support the foundation?
To learn more about Illumination, the cancer research it supports, or the other fundraising initiatives at The Foundation for Barnes-Jewish Hospital, visit or call 314.286.0602.