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2014 Winter Highlights of Hope

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Fourth Student Graduates

Fourth Student Graduates from Van Andel Institute Graduate School Graduate Dr. Laura Westrate (center) with Van Andel Research Institute’s staff. Laura Westrate, a fifth-year student at Van Andel Institute Graduate School (VAIGS), graduated on December 2, 2013 with her Ph.D. in Cell and Molecular Genetics. She is the fourth graduate from Van Andel Institute Graduate School. Highlights of Hope / Winter 2014 Dr. Laura Westrate conducted her dissertation on mitochondria and worked in the Laboratory of Systems Biology at Van Andel Institute. While at Hope College, Westrate fell in love with the research lab and addressing unknown questions. “I’m a big problem solver,” said Westrate. “I like puzzles and this really is the ultimate puzzle in life — being able to take these medical issues nobody knows and trying to find an answer for them.” Westrate’s dissertation, entitled “Quantitation of Mitochondrial Dynamics Reveals Critical Roles for Mitochondrial Morphology in Cell Cycle Progression and Apoptosis,” focused on mitochondria, the organelle structures found in cells that are responsible for cellular energy, growth and death. Westrate studied the structures of mitochondria and how alterations could affect the rate by which cells divide and grow. She tested how the mitochondria responded when presented with a number of chemotherapeutic treatments. By changing the structures of these mitochondria, Westrate was able to change how rapidly the cells divided. Her study found that by elongating the mitochondria structures she was able to prevent the division of cells. This is applicable to cancer because if researchers are able to prevent the cancer cells from dividing, they can theoretically prevent the spread and growth of cancers throughout the body. Dr. Jeff MacKegian, Associate Professor and Head of the Laboratory of Systems Biology at Van Andel Institute, served as Westrate’s mentor during her time at VAIGS and was fundamental in leading her research. “Dr. Laura Westrate is one of the most intelligent, hardworking and professional scientists you will encounter. Her research has allowed for new innovative approaches for systems biology, incorporating mathematics and cell biology to make discoveries.” After graduation, Westrate will fill a postdoctoral fellow position at the University of Colorado where she will continue to pursue her research interests. Her future work will focus on another organelle, the endoplasmic reticulum. Westrate is very excited about her new position. “I’m most interested in taking the things I’ve learned here and applying them to a brand new project,” she said. “I also want to teach and mentor younger scientists so I can open up their eyes to what this job is really like.” 14

Undergraduate students present research at the West Michigan Regional Undergraduate Science Conference. Science Conference Draws Record Crowd More than 340 students and faculty poured through Van Andel Institute’s doors on November 16, 2013 to attend the West Michigan Regional Undergraduate Science Conference. The conference is the first opportunity for many students to present their findings to peers and professionals. “It’s one thing to present your work to your class; it’s quite another to stand up and present it in front of a few hundred people,“ said Dr. Nick Duesbery, Head of the Laboratory of Cancer and Developmental Cell Biology at Van Andel Research Institute. The conference consisted of a number of faculty presentations where students heard stimulating talks on current trends in biology, chemistry, physics and other topics. The 2013 keynote address was presented by Scott Barolo, Ph.D., from the University of Michigan Medical School. Students also had the opportunity to meet with recruiters from eleven graduate schools, including the recently accredited Van Andel Institute Graduate School, to learn about advancing their science education. The conference is organized by Aquinas College, Calvin College, Grand Valley State University, Hope College and Van Andel Institute Graduate School. “The science conference is a wonderful collaboration from area institutions,” said Dr. Steven Triezenberg, Director of Van Andel Education Institute. “It provides students with a valuable professional experience at no cost.” Please contact Van Andel Education Institute Development if you would like to learn about sponsoring the 2014 West Michigan Regional Undergraduate Science Conference at 616.234.5040 or vaeidevelopment@vai.org. 15

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