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2004 Scientific Report


Director’s Introduction

Director’s Introduction I am pleased to present our Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) Scientific Report. It is only five years since we began our research with a group of pioneers in George F. Vande Woude rented space across the street at the Butterworth campus of Spectrum Health Hospital. In January of this year we celebrated our fourth year in our spectacular research facility. We have grown considerably during this time and it is my privilege to tell you in this report about some of our accomplishments. All of our laboratories have become solidly established during the past few years. This has resulted in a steady increase in workload for my office, so in late 2003 I appointed three Deputy Directors: Bin Tean Teh is our Deputy Director for Research Operations, James Resau is Deputy Director for Special Programs, and Rick Hay is Deputy Director for Clinical Programs. They have already been a great help in managing and directing our Institute and programs. Over the past year our scientists have had significant success in obtaining funding from many different sources, including the National Cancer Institute as well as other Institutes at the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Kyle Furge received the first NIH grant awarded to VARI, an R33. The grant is funding a three-year study to develop algorithms to predict chromosomal changes in kidney cancer based on gene expression microarray analysis of tumor cells. Sara Courtneidge has received an NIH research project grant (R01) to fund a five-year biological and genetic analysis of a Src substrate termed Fish. Src has been implicated in the development, progression, and metastasis of a number of human tumor types, especially those of breast and colon. Sara and members of her Laboratory of Signal Regulation and Cancer are conducting research that will shed light on the mechanisms by which cells control growth, motility, and the production of growth factors. This may lead to opportunities for identifying new cancer-fighting drug targets. VARI recently initiated its first drug development and discovery program in the Laboratory of Cell Structure and Signal Integration. The new study, funded by a two-year R21 grant from the National Institutes of Health, is an outgrowth of research conducted four years ago by Arthur Alberts and his team, in which they discovered a molecule called DAD. Their recent work shows that this molecule has the ability to attack cancer cells. This finding has placed DAD at the forefront of a new class of anti-cancer drugs and is the basis of the current project. Art found that DAD has effects similar to those of the anti-cancer drug Taxol, which is used to treat breast cancer. However, because DAD is a subunit of a normal protein and works differently, Art and his lab hope to develop new and effective therapies that lack the harsh side effects commonly associated with Taxol. During embryonic development, primordial germ cells migrate to form the gonads. Identifying the genes that contribute to this process and how they function will lead to a better understanding of fertility, and might also contribute to our knowledge of how cancer cells migrate. The National Institute of Child Health and Human Development awarded a five-year R01 grant to Nian Zhang to characterize the mouse mutation atrichosis (at), which causes male and female sterility. Researchers at VARI continue their groundbreaking work in developing new therapies for pancreatic cancer, the fourth highest cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Last year, the Institute was awarded a two-year grant from the Cancer Research and Prevention Foundation for a study related to the early detection of the disease. Brian Haab and scientists in the Laboratory of Cancer Immunodiagnostics are studying proteins that can be used as early indicators of pancreatic cancer, which has a 99% mortality rate. Their work could result in a simple test to screen for the disease. A recent three-year grant from the Lance Armstrong Foundation has allowed Bin Teh to broaden his study of testicular cancer, the most common form of cancer among men between the 3

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