In Memory of Robert Gillies, PhD

Tribute to Robert Gillies

Dear Molecular Imaging Community,

It is with a heavy heart that we pay tribute to the memory of Bob Gillies. Bob was a great friend to the World Molecular Imaging Society and one of its founders. He was a gold medal award winner in 2018, the program chair in 2020, and the President in the early years of the society who helped to craft the WMIS Bylaws. He will be very dearly missed.

He had a massive impact on the field, and his contributions spanned nearly all aspects and modalities of imaging, providing fundamental insight into the mechanisms that drive disease and pushing us to think outside the traditional scope of imaging. He was a true visionary who devoted himself to solving some of the most complex problems in molecular imaging.

We had the opportunity to interview him in 2021 about radiomics and his perspectives on the future of this burgeoning field which he was instrumental in creating. Here are some of the highlights of our conversation:


“I think the point of AI and radiomics is that it can pull subtle features out of images that are impossible to see with the naked eye.” “In each stage of a patient’s journey, the questions are different. Hopefully, we’ll get to a point where we’re also looking at survivorship and figuring out a way to image and predict where a disease may recur.”

He has left behind not only a profound legacy in the field, but he also leaves us with many fond memories as a friend and colleague. It is with sorrow that we bid farewell to a great leader and friend, yet we celebrate his life and how he shaped our field of molecular imaging.

If you have memories you would like to share please add them to the page below.

Member Statements

A Tribute to Dr. R. J. Gillies from Dr. Natarajan Raghunand and Dr. Zaver M. Bhujwalla

“In a great loss for our field of molecular imaging applied to cancer, and a deep personal loss for many of us around the world working in this field, Dr. Robert J. Gillies passed away on June 7, 2022. To his wife Christine, his daughters Julia and Jessica and their partners, and to his grandchildren, we express our profoundest sorrow for their grievous loss. Dr. Gillies was Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Diagnostic Imaging and Interventional Radiology, the Martin Silbiger Chair of the Department of Cancer Physiology, and Director of the Cancer Imaging and Technology Center of Excellence, at the Moffitt Cancer Center.

Both of us have cherished memories of Bob with friendships and collaborations that have lasted well over these three decades. Both of us are immensely grateful to have had Bob as a collaborator, friend and mentor over these 30 years. NR first met Bob in January 1988, as a fresh grad student at Colorado State University whose mentor, Bruce E. Dale, was collaborating with Bob on optimizing hollow fiber bioreactors for use inside an NMR spectrometer to study the metabolism of mammalian cells. Bob’s great ease in working at the interface of biology, engineering, and physics is exemplified by three papers that he published in a single issue of Biotechnology and Bioengineering in 1988.

ZMB recalls the first time she met Bob at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine around 1990. ‘As a Ph.D. student at the University of London working on tumor pH, I had read and re-read his manuscript on pH regulation in Ehrlich ascites tumor cells published in 1982 that described an alkaline intracellular pH as measured with 31P NMR spectroscopy. As a new postdoctoral fellow, it was wonderful to be able to finally meet him in person and to explain to him how excited I had been to read his paper. Bob was already a well-established faculty member by then and yet he happily and enthusiastically discussed tumor pH with me for a couple of hours. A true sports fan, Bob always joked that the baseball stadium in Baltimore was the reason why he wanted to collaborate. Bob was a great family man. Whenever we met at meetings he would proudly discuss the achievements of his family members, and talk with great delight about his grandchildren.’

A great research scientist, Bob was brilliant and creative, a visionary who forged new paths and mentored others along those paths. He was an extraordinary mentor, always available to discuss new ideas, and an extraordinarily kind human being. Bob was passionate about his research, but with a marvelous sense of humor, and a balanced perspective on science and on life. A true leader, he was a founding member of the World Molecular Imaging Society, serving as its President in its early years, and as Program Chair in 2020. He was honored by the WMIS with a gold medal in 2018. Bob also founded the Cancer MR Study Group of the ISMRM that continues to flourish to this day. Bob’s impact on our field is immeasurable. In addition to his pioneering work on tumor pH regulation, its role in cancer invasion and metastasis, and its use to improve cancer treatment outcome, Bob was a trailblazer in developing new frontiers such as radiomics, tumor habitat imaging, and developing multimeric ligands. Bob is widely recognized as a founding leader in the field of radiomics. In his 2014 plenary talk at the RSNA on the ‘Radiology Reading Room of the Future’ he clearly outlined the future of radiomics in imaging.

We have lost one of the ‘greats’ in our field.”

Dr. Natarajan Raghunand and Dr. Zaver M. Bhujwalla

“We are distressed to learn of the passing away of Professor Robert Gillies. We, in the name of the Chinese Society for Molecular Imaging (CSMI), and in our own names, express our deepest condolences.

Professor Robert Gillies is a brilliant and visionary scientist who has devoted all his life to molecular imaging and Radiomics for the prevention and theranostics of cancer. Not only an enlightenment mentor, a strong supporter, and an open collaborator to the Chinese molecular imaging and radiomics community, he was also our good friend who deserved all our love and respect. His real knowledge, deep insight, and rigorous scientific attitude inspired us as his voice and expression live in our memory.

Professor Robert Gillies’ passion for research, optimistic spirit and scientific contribution live on. The friendship between Bob and CSMI will be remembered forever, which will always encourage us to work together for better human health.

May he rest in peace.”

Fan Wang (CSMI President), Mei Tian (In-coming CSMI President), Jie Tian (CSMI Boardmember),
Chinese Society for Molecular Imaging

“Bob was a great colleague and mentor, and I was extremely fortunate to have him as program chair for WMIC 2020. We will miss you Bob.”

Julie Sutcliffe, PhD
WMIC Co-President
University of California Davis

“A simple statement seems inadequate to describe how Bob Gillies’ many accomplishments and leadership have been profoundly impactful in molecular imaging and radiology. Yet, two words immediately come to mind – Bob was exceptionally insightful and courageous with his imaging research, which has been tremendously inspiring. No words can adequately express my gratitude for his selfless mentorship.”
Mark Pagel, PhD
MD Anderson Cancer Center
“Bob was a giant in the molecular imaging field, while at the same time he was down-to-earth, funny, and a great friend. His passing leaves a hole in our hearts and minds.”
Anna Wu, PhD
Founder and Chief Scientific Advisor, ImaginAB
City of Hope
24 comments on “In Memory of Robert Gillies, PhD
  1. John Kurhanewicz says:

    Bob was an amazing friend and mentor. His passion for science will live on through his seminal publications and the countless scientists whose careers he benefited. I will greatly miss sharing new scientific directions and data with Bob and benefiting from his infinite insight. Most of all I will miss his company and all the great times we had.

  2. Wei Mu says:

    Prof. Gillies is one of the most enthusiastic, kindhearted and wise mentors I have met. Being his postdoc is one of the luckiest things in my life. When I experienced continuous failure in my research, Prof. Gillies didn’t give up on me, kept encouraging me and accompanying with me at every step. Beyond mentoring my research, prof. Gillies was like a father in my life. His impressive humorous Hawaii dialect in daily communications and his recommendations of recreational facilities around Tampa has greatly relieve me from nostalgia. My appreciation to him is beyond my description and I can’t properly express how deeply I missed him at this catastrophic moment. May him rest in peace. His voice, expression and smile will live in my memory for ever.

  3. Dan Vigneron says:

    Bob Gillies had an exceptional impact not only on his own research, but also on that of many others including me and my colleagues at UCSF. He served as a truly outstanding member of the External Advisory Committee for our NIH P41 Center. He had great energy, spirit, and love of science to improve medical care. He inspired/challenged us to make the center the multi-dimensional endeavor that it is today. His contagious enthusiasm will live on through the many that he has directly inspired and indirectly through thousands if not millions of future scientists and physicians.

  4. Bruna Perassi says:

    Dr Gillies was such a great mentor and a wonderful person in my life! I’ll always be so grateful for the opportunity of being part of his lab and learning so much from him!
    He was always happy, always excited about experiments, always open to discuss about small details in experiments or big plans for the future. He will be tremendously missed.

  5. Dean Sherry says:

    Bob was one of my very best friends in science. His scientific insights were remarkable, and he was generous in sharing his ideas and passion with everyone who knew him. Bob had incredible knowledge about many topics in science but he was especially passionate about tissue pH. We spent hours over many years discussing strategies for imaging extracellular pH in tumors by MRI and he was eager to try some of our more recent hyperpolarized 13C probes – we will continue that work in his honor.

    As others have written, Bob loved his family more than anything else. There was a time I thought I could entice him to move to Dallas so he would be closer to his grandchildren in San Diego. Bob however was true to his friend and great collaborator, Robert Gatenby, so deep down I knew he would not move from Moffitt easily. Bob and I shared a passion for golf and played together often. Occasionally, our golf outings took more hours than normal because we spent much of the time discussing science between shots. In retrospect, that’s probably why we weren’t very good at golf but, nonetheless, every round with Bob was a joyful memory. I truly miss our scientific discussions on and off the golf course and will never forget his long, booming drives, often into an adjacent fairway. Rest in peace my friend.

  6. Kevin Brindle says:

    I first met Bob at an ICMRBS meeting in the late 1980s. We hit it off right away. He was a kind and generous man and an inspiration in so many ways. For me personally he was a great friend who supported me throughout my career and I have fond memories of visiting him in Arizona and Florida and hosting him and Christine in Cambridge. I will miss him.

  7. Mohammad Saifur Rahman says:

    A great scientist in the field.
    Rest in peace Bob.

  8. leo cheng says:

    Last week was a very sad week.

    We lost a great scientist, thinker, friend, and to me, a great mentor.

    Bob had known me before I knew him when I was a newcomer in this field. I remembered that it was in the Siena Satellite Meeting on Diagnostic NMR prior to the XIX ICMRBS in 2000, Bob approached me and told me that the then NIH Diagnostic Radiology Study Section had been very impressed with my newly developed high resolution magic angle spinning intact tissue NMR method, and he predicted that the method would present great utilities in cancer research. Bob was the first very few people who provided enthusiastic supports to my when the method was new. Since then, I have had the honors to serve side-by-side with Bob in many NIH study sections, and share meals and drinks with him after reviews, started from RNM to MEDI. He knowledge, humor, wit, and his sincerity in caring for junior members have deeply impressed upon me!

    After our great trip to the Great Wall near Beijing in 2011 during the 17th IUPAB meeting (See John G’s recollection, and actually, Bob was not the only person inserted in other visitors selfies and there are pictures to prove, hahaha!), each time when I saw Bob, he would ask me if I had found out the location of the countryside restaurant that our tour guide took us there to lunch on fresh fish from the river nearby. He told me that he missed the fish and after our trip he had attempted a couple times with his friends to try to find the same place, but no avail. I promised him that I would ask my friend’s friend who arranged the trip for us, and would go with him the next time when we are all there again ……

    It was also Bob who strongly encouraged me join the effort of WMIS.

  9. Xiaomeng Zhang says:

    I was lucky enough to be one of Bob’s PhD students at the University of Arizona. Bob was an amazing mentor who always provided an ear to listen, intellect to debate, wisdom to share, and inspirational direction. I learned so much from working with him throughout my PhD time, not only the advices for my career growth, but a lifetime mentor for 17+ years.
    Bob, I am going to miss you so much!

  10. Ron Lynch says:

    Bob was a child of 1960’s southern California. Full of creativity and wanderlust. Nothing was too big, no challenge to large. Colleague and friend describe Bob to the ‘T’. Inspirational, giving, challenging, and at times just out there. I’m sorry to say, irreplaceable. God speed Bob.

  11. Bob’s passing is a huge loss for our community. He was a pioneer in multiple areas including NMR/cancer biochemistry and radiomics. His passion for radiomics – ten years ago predicting (with a group of other experts) that radiologists today will use AI routinely for extracting various image features from radiographic images – is changing the face of molecular imaging today. I will always fondly remember our conversations, Bob’s amazing scientific curiosity, his support and interest in my own work. Rest in Peace!

  12. Alan Koretsky says:

    Bob was remarkably generous. At a very formative stage of my career, Bob gave me opportunities even though I had never been formally associated with him. Truly interested in the development of the next generation of scientist whether in his lab, the lab next door, or a lab across the country. Will miss his always positive enthusiasm and unmatched love for pH in the tumor environment!

  13. Milly Huang says:

    Professor Robert Gillies was a great scientist in the field of imaging and radiomics. I recall the first time I met Prof.Gillies when he visited China for attending an academic conference, and he was not only brilliant, insightful,but also very friendly and amiable.Thanks for his great contributions in radiomics,which has inspired me a lot and will keep pushing me forward.

  14. Peter L Choyke says:

    Bob always challenged you to be your best. He didn’t let sloppy thinking pass by without saying something. He will be greatly missed.

  15. Milly Huang says:

    Professor Robert Gillies was a great scientist in the field of imaging and radiomics. I recall the first time I met Prof.Gillies when he visited China for attending an academic conference, and him was not only brilliant, insightful,but also very friendly and amiable.Thanks for his great contributions in radiomics,which has inspired me a lot and will keep pushing me forward.

  16. N R Jagannathan says:

    For the past more than 2 decades, I know Bob very closely. I invited him to Delhi at least 4 times and every time, he would not disappoint me and would visit India and would give lectures at different places. A great researcher and a teacher. I had also visited him twice and he is a good host. Some of our students worked with him as a PDF. Delhi also gave Bob a platform to initiate some new work and collaborations. His warmth and great cordiality, we all going to miss. Our heartfelt condolence to his family.

  17. Dr. Gillies influenced me with his deep scientific insights and great friendship. A true gentlemen, his contributions are infinite. I will miss him. May he rest in peace.

  18. We were honored to be part of his team and take the journey of quantitative imaging (radiomics) with him. He saw more than any of us could envision, his intuition was profound. we dearly miss our mentor, friend and a colleague.

  19. BIngsheng Huang says:

    Thanks Prof Gillies. A great scientist in this field. We have learnt a lot from you. Rest in Peace!

  20. My memories of Bob will be as a visionary molecular imaging scientist and a caring friend and colleague. He leaves us all with a heavy heart and big shoes to fill. My heart goes out to his family and close friends.

  21. Camila Machado says:

    I am devastated. He was a star to the new ones inside the Society. One more extremely full of energy photon everywhere in space sparkling light and inspiring those planets and black holes. Rest in Peace.
    Molecular Imaging and Cell biology will miss The wisdom

  22. Ted Trouard says:

    Bob was a great person and friend and an outstanding colleague and mentor. He made science and discovery interesting and fun and did many meaningful things for so many of us at the University of Arizona. We all have heavy hearts but thankful remembrances.

  23. Will Xia says:

    A great research scientist, an extraordinary mentor, a kind friend. Rest in peace, Bob!

  24. John Gore says:

    Bob the scientist was great. Bob the man, the father and husband and friend was even greater. My memories of Bob – all of them good -span 40 years. In the early 1980s I attended his seminar on NMR of heat shock proteins when he was a postdoc at Yale. Next I knew him as the director of the NCI-funded Small Animal Imaging Program in Tucson, and Koretzky, Evelhoch, Joe Irate and myself were annual visitors for some years, and we had great times with him watching Cactus League baseball and eating tamales at his house. Bob was a gracious host and always good company. He was a regular visitor to us in Vanderbilt and we enjoyed showing him the social side of Nashville. I recall walking the Great Wall of China with him near Beijing (when he managed to insert himself into dozens of selfies with groups of Chinese ladies), enjoying dinner with him in Taiwan, in Delhi, anywhere where his love of science and imaging took him. Magnetic Resonance Imaging was honored to publish some of his first ideas on radiomics and to see the growth of his contributions. I recall too meeting Christine and his daughters Julia and Jessica, all of whom he loved and cherished and with whom our thoughts remain.