VAN ANDEL RESEARCH INSTITUTE A Dynamic Focus for THE FUTURE Highlights of Hope / Winter 2014 04 Dr. Peter A. Jones was recently appointed Van Andel Institute’s Director of Research and Chief Scientific Officer. Jones, an internationally renowned researcher with more than 40 year’s experience, has held numerous roles in the fields of research and academia.
Introducing Van Andel Institute Director of Research and Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Peter A. Jones Dr. Peter A. Jones was appointed Van Andel Institute’s Director of Research and Chief Scientific Officer in December 2013. Dr. Jones, an internationally renowned researcher with more than 40 years’ experience, has held numerous leadership roles in research and academia. Jones’ visionary concepts regarding basic and translational research follow in the footsteps of founding Research Director, Dr. George Vande Woude. While Dr. Vande Woude’s MET oncogene discovery in the 1980s helped set the stage for the future of translational research and personalized medicine, Jones’ research brings to light a new and exciting way of viewing cancer, human disease and the dynamic nature of DNA. Jones will join Dr. Patrik Brundin, Associate Director of Research, to advance the mission of improving human health through research in both cancer and neurodegenerative disease. A New Way of Seeing Jones, a native of South Africa, launched his career as a Ph.D. student studying Biochemistry at the University of Rhodesia. The university was an island of multiracial dynamics in a country torn apart by segregation, United Nations sanctions and civil war. Often isolating and difficult, his time spent at the university helped him understand the importance of creativity and self-reliance in scientific research. In the midst of his Ph.D. studies, Jones received a letter of encouragement, regarding a paper he had published, from a researcher at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. The curious student took the opportunity to inquire about postdoctoral opportunities at the hospital with the understanding that his current situation was not conducive to furthering his research. His inquiry paid off, and in 1973 Jones moved to Los Angeles with his wife Veronica and their five-month-old baby to work alongside the author of the letter, Dr. Bill Benedict. While working at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, researching various aspects of chemotherapeutic drugs, Jones made a discovery that would be the turning point in his career. The postdoc and his team were treating a mouse embryo cell line with a series of drugs, keeping the cells as monolayers to determine if they were capable of converting into multiple foci of cancer cells. During a routine Monday morning, Jones was changing media in petri dishes when he discovered what he thought was a large mold growing in a dish that had been exposed to a newly discovered drug called 5-azacytidine (5azaC). To his surprise, a significant grouping of cells was visible in the dish, and upon further observation, Jones concluded that the cells’ phenotype had been changed from something non-descript into cells that resembled muscle. The postdoc had inadvertently discovered a drug capable of ‘reprogramming’ a cell’s destiny. Although this discovery was significant, Jones was unsure of how the cells had been reprogrammed. After accepting a position at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California in 1977, he came to understand the molecular mechanism for his discovery. The secret was in the process of DNA methylation, a process that stably alters gene expression as cells divide and differentiate 05