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2007 Annual Report

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  • Andel
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  • Michigan
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  • Vari
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  • Protein
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Van Andel Research

Van Andel Research Institute

Dr. Eric Xu Receives Third R01 Grant NIH Supports Cutting-Edge Structural Biology at VAI Eric Xu, Ph.D., has ambitious plans for himself, Van Andel Institute and for the life sciences industry in West Michigan. Xu heads VARI’s Laboratory of Structural Sciences, which studies the structures and functions of protein complexes that play major roles in signaling pathways in order to develop therapeutic agents for the treatment of diabetes and cancer. Part of that work includes generating crystal structures for analysis at one of the most advanced x-ray facilities in the world. As node director for the Michigan Life Sciences Corridor Core Technology Alliance (CTA) and the Michigan Center for Structural Biology (MCSB), one of the CTA’s ten core facilities, Xu makes frequent use of the Advanced Photon Source, a national synchrotron x-ray research facility at Argonne National Laboratory near Chicago that provides one of the brightest x-ray beams in the world. Xu and his team produce crystals for medically important protein targets that are subjected to intense x-ray radiation and subsequent data analysis to provide the three-dimensional information needed for structure-based design of new drugs. Xu is striving to establish his research group as one of the most cutting-edge research labs in structural biology in the world. The grant makers at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) support Xu’s endeavor. Since establishing the Laboratory of Structural Sciences at Van Andel Institute in 2002, Xu has received three prestigious R01 grants for three different research projects, an impressive accomplishment considering that the NIH confers an award on less Crystals generated by Xu Lab than 10% of all unsolicited R01 grant applications. Xu believes that Van Andel Institute and West Michigan are the right places for such a lab. “When I saw the commitment to the Institute from the Van Andel family, I saw a once in a lifetime opportunity for cutting edge structural biology,” said Xu. “There is tremendous support and commitment to support fundamental research, the results of which can be translated into new medicines for the treatment of human diseases.” After studying at Duke University and working in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park, home to more than 200 research and discovery companies, Xu knows what it takes for a region to develop a national presence in the life sciences industry. “North Carolina 20 years ago was nothing like the West Michigan of today,” said Xu. “The Research Triangle Park was tobacco farms. We have a much greater head start than North Carolina had.” Xu believes that Grand Rapids’ manufacturing heritage, and industrial knowledge and infrastructure give the region a leg up among U.S. regions currently incubating their own life science corridors. He is also a firm believer in the entrepreneurial spirit of the region. “One success can make a huge difference,” said Xu. “And the entrepreneurial spirit of Grand Rapids will help in the translation process. I also hope to play a role in seeding that kind of effort.” VARI Eric Xu, Ph.D. www.vai.org 13

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