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2015 Scientific Report

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Van Andel Research

Van Andel Research Institute | Scientific Report 2015 Peter A. Jones, Ph.D., D.Sc. Research Director and Chief Scientific Officer, Van Andel Research Institute ivvi

THE past year was a period of tremendous progress and growth for Van Andel Research Institute. Although my appointment as VARI’s research director began in early 2014, I had been following the research conducted here for some time. It is heartening to know I have joined an organization so dedicated to producing excellent basic and translational research and so generously supported by the Van Andel family and our network of donors. The VARI laboratories have been restructured into three overlapping centers: the Center for Cancer and Cell Biology, the Center for Epigenetics, and the Center for Neurodegenerative Science, all of which are supported by Core Technologies and Services. While the Centers have discrete areas of focus, each will also pursue research at the intersections of epigenetics, cancer, and neurodegeneration. Our plan is to apply the power of epigenetics to the basic discovery and translational research being carried out on cancer and neurodegenerative disorders. We expect the synergy that develops among the laboratories, the Centers, and the research fields will be significant and will result in major contributions to our goal of improving human health. VARI scientists have made great strides toward this goal, studying new biomarkers that could improve the detection of cancer and Parkinson’s disease; identifying new compounds that combat tumor growth while protecting healthy tissue; and improving our understanding of how Parkinson’s disease spreads through certain areas of the brain. Other research helped elucidate the link between inflammation and the severity of fatigue, anxiety, depression, and cognitive impairment in people with Parkinson’s disease. Another advance was the creation of a blueprint for designing selective activators of the neurotransmitter serotonin, which holds promise for the treatment of anxiety, migraines, and depression. causes nonmalignant tumors throughout the body that can produce severe health complications. We hope this collaborative effort will result in clinical trials and new, effective treatments for patients with this disease. Events and awards In September 2014, VARI had the honor of hosting Parkinson’s disease experts for its third Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s Disease symposium. During the symposium, the Institute presented the Jay Van Andel Award for Outstanding Achievement in Parkinson’s Disease Research to Andrew John Lees, M.D., F.R.C.P., FMedSci, in recognition of his groundbreaking work, including the use of apomorphine for late-stage treatment of Parkinson’s. At the annual Origins of Cancer symposium, which is sponsored by the Foundation for Advanced Cancer Studies, leaders in cancer science and medicine gathered to hear eight excellent speakers address various aspects of cancer’s origins. The 2014 symposium was planned by Drew Howard, Eric Nollet, and Dr. Nikki Thellman as part of their Ph.D. program in the Van Andel Institute Graduate School. Kudos to all for a job well done. Jeff MacKeigan has established the Pathway of Hope, a research initiative dedicated to studying the molecular mechanisms underlying tuberous sclerosis complex, which 1

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