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2017 Annual Report

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Connecting Two Worlds

Connecting Two Worlds Dylan Dues is a graduate student on a decidedly difficult path — a path that requires long hours spent absorbing information, laboratory work and multiple rotations in a clinical setting. Dues is on his way to becoming a physician–scientist — a rare specialty that serves as a bridge between the research lab and clinical work with patients. Enrolled in the unique M.D./ Ph.D. Dual Degree Program established by Van Andel Institute Graduate School (VAIGS) and the Michigan State University (MSU) College of Human Medicine, he is at the very beginning of a lifelong professional journey. Dues became interested in pursuing this demanding degree after working as a lab technician in one of VAI’s Parkinson’s disease research labs and volunteering as an undergraduate student on a neurology team at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital in Germantown, Tennessee. As a volunteer working alongside a team of physicians, he got to see firsthand the limits of therapeutic options available for epilepsy and other neurological disorders. He also developed a deeper understanding of the importance of biomedical research in the development of new therapies. “Volunteering at the children’s hospital made me reflect on the multitude of reasons people seek medical care, and how limited we really are regarding what we can offer them,” Dues said. “Because of biomedical research, we know more than ever about human diseases, but there are still a lot of barriers between what we understand scientifically and how that knowledge can be translated into effective therapies for patients.” Working as a physician–scientist will give Dues the opportunity to cross the many barriers that separate the lab from the clinic and focus on providing the best care possible for his patients and those who might benefit from his research. “If I am working as a physician and I find something interesting or difficult to treat, as a trained scientist, I can take what I’ve learned in the clinic back to the lab and study it further — and being able to do that is pretty rare,” Dues said. “And conversely, working as a scientist with direct access to the clinic, I can be the missing link between what is known now, what we might discover later and how these lab discoveries might impact a patient’s treatment in the future.” Uniquely positioned for translational research Started in 2010, the collaborative M.D./Ph.D. Dual Degree Program was designed to offer a path for students who wanted to work in two symbiotic but separate worlds. Students enrolled in the program work toward a medical degree at MSU’s College of Human Medicine while also pursuing a Ph.D. degree at VAIGS. The program integrates curriculum and hands-on lab and clinical training that is tailor-made for ambitious students like Dues who want to work in the lab and the clinic. According to Dr. Steven J. Triezenberg, president and dean of VAIGS, the program is a continuation of the Institute’s commitment to science education that has a lasting and profound impact on human health and well-being. “Van Andel Institute Graduate School’s mission is to train scientists who are working on medically relevant questions that might one day impact patient care,” Triezenberg said. “Physician–scientists are uniquely positioned for translational research because they have the opportunity to see problems in the clinic firsthand that need to be solved, and then they can use their skills in the lab to develop new therapeutic solutions.” “Graduate students at the Institute are treated like budding professionals. It’s exciting to be in a program where faculty have a real interest in seeing you become a physician–scientist.” Dylan Dues As medicine becomes more personalized and granular, Triezenberg sees physician–scientists playing a greater role in medicine. “I think we will see interest in this program increase in the next few years,” Triezenberg said. “National studies have highlighted the importance of people who can function comfortably in two worlds and can find ways to make connections between them in order to benefit patient care.” The Institute’s mission to develop improved treatments 22 | VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE ANNUAL REPORT 2017

EDUCATION for patients, focus on basic as well as translational research and culture of collaboration gives Dues a learning experience that is tailor-made for his passion. “Graduate students at the Institute are treated like budding professionals. It’s exciting to be in a program where faculty have a real interest in seeing you become a physician–scientist,” Dues said. “People tell me I’m crazy all the time for taking so much on, but I’ve never been one to shy away from a difficult problem or an insurmountable task. I’m where I need to be.” DYLAN DUES VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE ANNUAL REPORT 2017 | 23

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