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2014 Winter Highlights of Hope

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Intramimic-02 stabilizes

Intramimic-02 stabilizes the structure (green) of colon cancer cells and induces new gene expression (red) in the nucleus (blue) to impair tumor growth. Recent Van Andel Institute Discovery Identifies Novel Cancer Treatment Strategy Van Andel Institute announces yet another discovery that changes the course of research. A recent study identifies an innovative treatment strategy that can slow tumor growth while protecting normal tissue. Highlights of Hope / Winter 2014 Arthur S. Alberts, Ph.D. Professor and Head of the Laboratory of Cell Structure and Signal Integration led the recent study on cancer treatments. Find out more about Dr. Alberts and support his work at bit.ly/VAIArtAlberts. The study was led by Arthur S. Alberts, Ph.D., Professor and Head of the Laboratory of Cell Structure and Signal Integration at Van Andel Institute. “This discovery could lead to novel cancer therapies for hard-to-treat cancers and potentially serve as an alternative to existing drug agents which are commonly used in chemotherapy to treat breast, ovarian, lung, testicular and certain blood cancers,” said Alberts. It focuses on validating biological drug targets, an important part of creating new cancer therapies. Drug targets are molecular structures that can be modified by an external stimulus such as chemicals or drugs, to treat or diagnose a disease. In the early phases of drug development, a target must be validated in the laboratory before it can move to human clinical trials. The study’s results describe a new class of compounds called Intramimics that target a family of proteins, formins. Thanks to unique attributes of the compounds, researchers hope that they can target specific cancer cells and spare healthy cells without the doselimiting side effects experienced with Taxol and Vinblastine, existing chemotherapeutic agents that target cell structure. “Taxol and Vinblastine target structural components found in all cells. Instead of disrupting the bricks, Intramimics tackle the masons of the cell that assemble the bricks. We hope that we can tune Intramimics to manipulate specific molecular masons in cancer cells in order to spare healthy cells. We are starting this tuning process now,” said Alberts. “Intramimics will serve as lead compounds for further exploration and pharmacological development.” Alberts’ research team plans to continue developing Intramimics as well as learning more about which cancers are vulnerable to the strategy. “We are also committed to using the Intramimic strategy to prevent cancers,” said Alberts. In initial experiments, the approach reduced or slowed tumor growth, which suggests it could be an effective strategy for treating solid tumors. Other preliminary evidence suggests a potential application for the treatment of blood cancers as well. The study was carried out at Van Andel Institute in collaboration with scientists from Grand Valley State University and Kalamazoo Valley Community College’s Michigan High Throughput Screening Center. It attracted the attention of the journal Cancer Research which published the report and featured it on the cover of its November 15 edition. 010

New Hires Broaden Van Andel Institute’s Centers Van Andel Institute (VAI) continues to fill the ranks with talented researchers. We welcome Dr. Ning Wu in the Center for Cancer and Cell Biology and Dr. Jiyan Ma in the Center for Neurodegenerative Science to the VAI family. Their expertise diversifies and strengthens VAI’s impressive research team. Dr. Ning Wu received her Ph.D. in the Department of Biochemistry at the University of Toronto in 2002, and then served as a Research Associate at the Scripps Research Institute. In 2004, Dr. Wu joined the Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard Medical School as a Research Fellow studying signaling pathways that regulate normal mammalian cell growth and defects that cause cell transformation. Dr. Wu joins VAI as an Assistant Professor and Head of the Laboratory of Cancer Signaling and Metabolism. Dr. Wu’s laboratory aims to unravel the molecular mechanisms governing glucose metabolism in cancer. Relative to normal cells, tumor cells have very high energy needs. By understanding tumor cell energy requirements and regulatory pathways, more effective treatments can be developed by optimizing existing therapies or identifying new therapeutic targets. Dr. Jiyan Ma received his Ph.D. from the University of Illinois at Chicago in 1997. He then served as a Research Associate at the University of Chicago. Dr. Ma was appointed as an Assistant Professor at Ohio State University in 2002 and was promoted to Associate Professor in 2009. Dr. Ma, who joins VAI as a Professor and Head of the Laboratory of Prion Mechanisms in Neurodegeneration, holds two R01 federal research grants from the National Institutes of Health. His research focuses on prions, which are the misfolded proteins that cause infectious neurodegenerative diseases such as “mad cow disease” and the human variant, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease. Dr. Ma’s research at VAI will expand to include the prion-like behavior of misfolded proteins in other neurodegenerative disorders such as Parkinson’s disease. Learn more about Dr. Wu’s lab and support her work at bit.ly/ VAINingWu. Learn more about Dr. Ma’s lab and support his work at bit.ly/ VAIJiyanMa. Van Andel Institute’s Founding Director of Research, Dr. George Vande Woude, Receives Prestigious Scientific Award Dr. George Vande Woude, Van Andel Institute’s Founding Research Director, recently received the Fellowship Award in Biological Science from the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) organization. The AAAS bestows this annual award to a select number of scientists who are honored for their meritorious efforts to advance science or its applications. The AAAS is a non-profit organization with the mission of promoting cooperation among scientists, encouraging scientific responsibility, and supporting education and outreach initiatives that directly impact human health. It is the world’s most prestigious general scientific society. In 1999, Dr. Vande Woude was appointed as the first Director of Van Andel Research Institute. In 2009, Dr. Vande Woude stepped down as Director and assumed the title of Distinguished Scientific Fellow, retaining his role as head of the Laboratory of Molecular Oncology. Dr. Vande Woude is responsible for discovering the human MET oncogene, a groundbreaking therapeutic target utilized in personalized therapies for many virulent cancers. For more information on Dr. Vande Woude and cancer research at Van Andel Institute, visit bit.ly/VAIVandeWoude. 011

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