10 highlights: A look back at 2017

With 2017 quickly coming to close, we’d like to reflect on all that’s been accomplished by rounding up some of this year’s most notable stories from the Institute.

Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) installed world-class cryo-electron microscopes (cryo-EM):
In March, the Institute officially opened its David Van Andel Advanced Cryo-Electron Microscopy Suite to enable discovery of the molecular basis of disease (read the FOX 17 article and blog post). Since then, these powerful microscopes have been used to reveal the structure of two important molecules (read more here and here). VARI structural biologist also answered a long-standing question that could lead to more effective drugs with fewer side effects. More on that here.

 VARI scientists receive national recognition:

  • Dr. Peter Jones, VARI’s chief scientific officer, was one of 228 new members elected to the 2017 class of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. Read the blog post.
  • Dr. Jones also earned a seven-year, $7.8 million grant from the National Cancer Institute’s R35 Outstanding Investigator Award program, which will support the development of epigenetic cancer drugs. Read the news release and blog post. His award was one of more than two dozen federal and philanthropic grants earned by VARI scientists in 2017.
  • Dr. Stephen Baylin, Director’s Scholar in VARI’s Center of Epigenetics and co-head of Cancer Biology at Johns Hopkins University, was elected to the National Academy of Sciences. Read the news release and blog post.

Van Andel Education Institute (VAEI) launches summer camps:
VAEI’s inaugural summer camps offered a unique camp experience for 4th through 7th graders. Students learned how to think and act like scientists in hands-on and interactive investigations. Click here to learn more about the program.

Diabetes drugs are being investigated as possible treatments for Parkinson’s:
Evidence continues to mount that a newer class of anti-diabetic drugs called incretin mimetics, or glucagon-like peptide-1 receptor agonists, could slow or stop progression of Parkinson’s disease (read the blog post). This growing area of research is a major focus for VARI and many of its collaborators, and was highlighted at the 2017 Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s Disease symposium and parallel Rallying to the Challenge meeting. Read the blog post.

Van Andel Institute Graduate School (VAIGS) hits a milestone:
2017 marked a major milestone for VAIGS with the celebration of the 10-year anniversary of the matriculation of its first class, and the fifth anniversary of the conferral of its first doctoral degree. Read the blog post.

Van Andel Institute celebrates Michigan State University’s new Grand Rapids Research Center:
We’ve been honored to share space in our building with MSU scientists for several years and are thrilled to continue expanding collaborations between our teams. Read the blog post and the GRBJ Health Quarterly article.

Van Andel Research Institute–Stand Up To Cancer (VARI–SU2C) Epigenetics Dream Team scientists receive SU2C Catalyst® awards:
VARI–SU2C Epigenetics Dream Team scientists were awarded two grants totaling nearly $5.5 million to pursue clinical trials to test whether epigenetic and immunotherapy combination therapies can extend survivorship in lung and bladder cancers. Read the news release and blog post.

VARI’s Biorepository played an integral role in the Genome Tissue Expression (GTEx) project:
Thanks to the GTEx Consortium, scientists around the world have access to a detailed atlas that outlines connections between an individual’s genetic makeup and gene expression. Read the blog post.

New research to target air pollution as a potential trigger for Parkinson’s disease:
The Department of Defense awarded a multi-institutional team of scientists—including VARI’s Dr. Patrik Brundin—a series of grants totaling $4.37 million to investigate the potential role of airborne pollutants as triggers of Parkinson’s via the nose. Read the news release.

In 2017, the Institute welcomed several new faces, including:

A lot has been accomplished in 2017 and we cannot wait to see what 2018 brings!