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2021 Annual Report

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This is the 2021 Annual Report for Van Andel Institute.

Van Andel Institute

Van Andel Institute Principal Investigators Van Andel Institute for Research is home to a team of scientists dedicated to improving the health and enhancing the lives of current and future generations through groundbreaking biomedical research. LEADERSHIP Peter A. Jones, Ph.D., D.Sc. (hon) Chief Scientific Officer; Director, Cancer Center Dr. Peter A. Jones is a pioneer in epigenetics, a growing field that explores how genes are regulated and provides new avenues for developing therapies for cancer and other diseases. His discoveries have helped usher in an entirely new class of drugs that have been approved to treat blood cancer and are being investigated in other tumor types. Jones is a past president of the American Association for Cancer Research, a Fellow of the AACR Academy, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts & Sciences. Patrik Brundin, M.D., Ph.D. Deputy Chief Scientific Officer; Director, Parkinson’s Disease Center Dr. Patrik Brundin investigates molecular mechanisms in Parkinson’s disease, with the goal of developing new therapies aimed at slowing or stopping disease progression or repairing damage. He is one of the top-cited researchers in the field of neurodegenerative disease and leads international efforts to repurpose drugs to treat Parkinson’s. Scott Jewell, Ph.D. Director, Core Technologies and Services; Director, Pathology and Biorepository Core; Professor, Department of Cell Biology Dr. Scott Jewell leads VAI’s Core Technologies and Services, which provides technology and specialized expertise for research investigators. Services include bioinformatics and biostatistics, cryo-EM, optical imaging, flow cytometry, genomics, pathology and biorepository, metabolomics, vivarium management, and transgenics. Jewell is a past president of the International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories (ISBER). Steven J. Triezenberg, Ph.D. President and Dean, Van Andel Institute Graduate School; Professor, Department of Epigenetics Dr. Steven J. Triezenberg is the dean of Van Andel Institute Graduate School. His lab, which closed in 2018 after 31 years of productive research, explored the genetic and epigenetic control systems of viruses to understand how infections progress and to reveal new ways to stop them. His discoveries with herpes simplex viruses opened up new possibilities for antiviral drug development and revealed new insights into how human cells control gene expression. 16

Department of Epigenetics Virtually all 37.2 trillion cells in our bodies have the same DNA, the spiraling molecule that contains the genetic instructions required to make us who we are. But if every cell works from the same playbook, how and why does the human body have so many different types of cells? Why do some become skin cells while others become muscle cells, heart cells or brain cells? The answer is epigenetics — a complex set of processes that determine when and to what extent certain genetic instructions are carried out. Epigenetic processes are vital for healthy cellular function and, when things go awry, they can play major roles in disease. By investigating the epigenetic processes that fine-tune DNA, Van Andel Institute scientists aim to pinpoint the origins of complex diseases and determine how they are impacted by our past and present, and how they influence future generations. J. Andrew Pospisilik, Ph.D. Chair and Professor Dr. J. Andrew Pospisilik seeks to understand how we become whom we become, and how our disease susceptibility is defined from early on in life, even before conception, with the long-term goal of being able to predict lifelong health outlook at birth. Stephen B. Baylin, M.D. Director’s Scholar; Professor Dr. Stephen Baylin studies the body’s genetic control systems — called epigenetics — searching for vulnerabilities in cancer. Baylin is a pioneer in this field and was among the first to trace epigenetic causes of cancer. His studies have led to new therapies for breast, lung and colorectal cancers, among others. He is co-leader of the Van Andel Institute–Stand Up To Cancer Epigenetics Dream Team, a Director’s Scholar at VAI and co-head of Cancer Biology at Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University. RESEARCH Nick Burton, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Dr. Nick Burton explores how our environment, especially microbes, can impact our health and the health of our offspring — even before they are born. His research has extensive implications for understanding how epigenetics contributes to human disease and how the environment we are exposed to today affects not only our own health, but also our children’s. Yvonne Fondufe-Mittendorf, Ph.D. Professor Dr. Yvonne Fondufe-Mittendorf investigates how environmental factors, such as toxicants, impact our genetic code and contribute to cancer. Her research is illuminating powerful new insights that could influence our understanding of health and disease, providing a path forward for new strategies for cancer prevention and treatment. In Memoriam On April 13, 2021, the world lost Dr. George Vande Woude, Van Andel Institute’s founding research director and a world-renowned scientist whose storied career revolutionized our understanding of cancer. His vast scientific contributions, exceptional vision and commitment to building world-class research programs will galvanize discovery and scientific excellence for years to come. George Vande Woude, Ph.D. Founding Research Director; Professor Among Dr. Vande Woude’s most lauded breakthroughs is the 1984 discovery of the human MET oncogene, which is now a major target for personalized cancer therapies. He was the first to determine the structure and enhancer function of long terminal repeats, specific sequences of the DNA that govern gene expression. He also was the first to show that mutations can transform normal genes to cancerpromoting genes, or oncogenes. These foundational discoveries — along with the findings detailed in more than 300 published, peer-reviewed papers — will continue to shape cancer research and treatment now and into the future. Over his career, Dr. Vande Woude accrued an impressive list of scientific accolades. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1993, and the American Association for Cancer Research Academy and the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2013. 17

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