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2020 Annual Report

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This is the 2020 Annual Report for Van Andel Institute.

Van Andel Institute

Van Andel Institute Principal Investigators DEPARTMENT OF STRUCTURAL BIOLOGY Huilin Li, Ph.D. Chair and Professor; Director, Cryo-EM Core Huilin Li, Ph.D., uses cryo-electron microscopy to reveal the most basic building blocks of DNA replication and other systems vital for life. He has been at the vanguard of cryo-EM for more than 20 years, and his research has implications for some of the world’s most critical public health concerns, including tuberculosis, cancer, mental illness, and many more. Juan Du, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Juan Du, Ph.D., seeks to understand the brain’s intricate communication systems using state-of-the-art structural biology approaches, such as cryo-EM. Her work has revealed new insights into critical processes such as temperature regulation in the human body, which has implications for development of new medications for neurological disorders. Wei Lü, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Wei Lü, Ph.D., is working to unravel how brain cells communicate with each other. Using techniques such as cryo-EM, his work has contributed to the field’s understanding of molecules that play crucial roles in the development and function of the nervous system. Karsten Melcher, Ph.D. Professor Karsten Melcher, Ph.D., studies molecular structure and cellular communication, which have implications for finding new treatments for serious health threats including cancer, diabetes and obesity. His expertise extends beyond human cells — his research into plant hormones may one day lead to heartier crops that resist drought and help meet the nutritional demands of a growing global population. Department of Structural Biology The Department of Structural Biology aims to understand biology and human diseases at their most basic level. Scientists in the department use a series of advanced biophysical and biochemical techniques, such as cryo-electron microscopy, X-ray crystallography, mass spectrometry and patch-clamp electrophysiology, to determine the atomic structures of proteins and proteinnucleic acid complexes and investigate their biological functions both in vitro with purified samples and in cells. The determination of these structures illuminates the underpinnings of normal cellular function as well as disease-related dysfunction. They also reveal the action mechanisms of many existing drugs and may guide the development of novel therapeutics. 18 | VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE ANNUAL REPORT 2020

RESEARCH DEPARTMENT OF METABOLISM AND NUTRITIONAL PROGRAMMING Russell Jones, Ph.D. Chair and Professor Russell Jones, Ph.D., investigates metabolism at the cellular level to understand how it affects cell behavior and health, with a specific eye on cancer and the immune system. By revealing how cancer cells use metabolic processes to fuel their growth and spread, he hopes to develop new treatments that help patients by changing the standard of care for cancer. Connie Krawczyk, Ph.D. Associate Professor Connie Krawczyk, Ph.D., investigates the links between metabolism, epigenetics and the immune system, with the goal of understanding how they work together to keep us healthy and, when things go wrong, to promote disease. Adelheid Lempradl, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Adelheid Lempradl, Ph.D., is investigating how the dietary choices of parents may impact the health of their offspring in the hopes of translating her findings into new ways to prevent disease and create a healthier future. Ning Wu, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Ning Wu, Ph.D., investigates the interface between cellular metabolism and cellular signaling, particularly as they relate to cancer. On the most basic level, cancer is fundamentally a disease of uncontrolled cell growth, and Wu believes that understanding a tumor’s voracious energy requirements and altered signaling pathways will lead to new treatments that optimize existing combination therapies and identify novel therapeutic targets. Department of Metabolism and Nutritional Programming For the human body to function properly, it must have the right amount of energy and resources in the right place at the right time. The Department of Metabolism and Nutritional Programming focuses on understanding the intricate mechanics of cellular metabolism and their implications for human health. Its major focus is understanding how environmental exposures and metabolic dysfunction contribute to complex diseases such as diabetes, autoimmunity, cancer and neurodegeneration. Research in the department centers on metabolism and its intersection with cancer biology, immune function (immunometabolism), metabolic physiology (diabetes and obesity), and intergenerational inheritance of nutritional states. By leveraging novel model systems (cellular, animal models and patient samples) and approaches in molecular physiology, metabolomics, immunology and epigenetics, department faculty are able to advance numerous fields, unlocking new understanding of how metabolism fuels fundamental cellular processes such as cell growth, survival and differentiation in various health and disease contexts. The department’s mission is to rigorously study metabolism and how it is impacted by nutrition, genetics and epigenetics, in order to develop metabolism-based therapeutics and interventions with the ultimate goal of improving human health. VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE ANNUAL REPORT 2020 | 19

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