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2018 Fall/Winter Highlights of Hope

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  • Andel
  • Institute
  • Highlights
  • Scientists
  • Suwyn
  • Michigan
  • Metabolism
  • Duncan
  • Cancers
  • Swaney

RESEARCH MAKING MOVES IN

RESEARCH MAKING MOVES IN METABOLISM VAN ANDEL RESEARCH INSTITUTE ESTABLISHES PROGRAM EXPLORING METABOLISM, NUTRITION On the surface, diseases like cancer, Parkinson’s and diabetes are vastly different. But go deeper and you’ll find that they are linked by a common thread, one that scientists hope will lead to new ways to prevent, diagnose and treat these disorders along with a range of other health problems that plague people around the world. That connector is metabolism, the complex web of chemical reactions that controls countless biological processes, such as how our bodies manage and distribute energy gleaned from food consumption. Think of metabolism as a biological power plant — when there’s an outage or a malfunction, people who depend on that plant’s electricity aren’t able to go about their business efficiently or, perhaps, even at all. The same is true for our cells; if the body’s metabolism doesn’t supply enough energy, cells can’t carry out the necessary functions to keep us healthy. A robust understanding of how these processes impact health — and how to fix them when they go awry — would be transformative. That’s why the Institute is establishing a global hub for metabolism research, which will foster an innovative, collaborative environment and increase our impact on human health. The goal is simple yet wideranging: exhaustively investigate the links between metabolism, nutrition, health and disease, and translate the findings into life-changing prevention and treatment strategies. To launch the program, we’ve recruited four exceptional scientists from premier research organizations in Canada and Germany. They include: • Dr. Russell Jones, who investigates metabolism at the cellular level to understand how alterations in these processes affect cell behavior and health, with a specific eye on cancer and the immune system. • Dr. Connie Krawczyk, who studies the link between metabolism and the immune system, with the goal of understanding how these systems work together to keep us healthy and, when things go wrong, to promote disease. • Dr. Adelheid Lempradl, who traces the impact of metabolic changes across generations in an effort to develop ways to predict and prevent disease. • Dr. J. Andrew Pospisilik, who seeks to link metabolic changes to alterations in how our genes are expressed, giving scientists new tools to predict a person’s lifelong health outlook at birth. Together with Van Andel Research Institute investigators Dr. Brian Haab and Dr. Ning Wu, the program will develop a comprehensive and precise understanding of the mechanisms that make our metabolism tick. It’s an urgent mission, spurred by a looming increase in the incidence of many of the world’s most challenging diseases. This new program is a catalyst, one that will rally the collaborative spirit of the Institute and connect all aspects of its research to create a healthier future. Stay tuned for more information at vai.org. . 6 | VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE

SMALL DIFFERENCES, BIG IMPACT VAN ANDEL RESEARCH INSTITUTE SCIENTISTS PLAY MAJOR ROLE IN CREATION OF CANCER “ATLAS” Just as a map (or these days, a GPS) can help you get to your destination, a new comprehensive atlas is helping scientists hit the mark when it comes to accurately classifying cancers. Earlier this year, The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA) Research Network, an initiative spearheaded by the National Institutes of Health, published its final batch of 27 studies detailing precise — and often subtle — molecular variations in 33 major types of cancer. The findings are the result of more than a decade of work by scientists in the U.S. and abroad, including Institute investigators Dr. Peter W. Laird and Dr. Hui Shen, and are already impacting how cancers are classified and studied. The group’s findings were extensive, so we’ve broken them down into the top three takeaways: 1. Cancers should be classified primarily based on genetic, epigenetic and molecular differences. Historically, cancers have been categorized and named based on the organ or tissue in which they arose — for example, cancers that start in the esophagus have been called esophageal cancers and were believed to have a lot in common with other cancers found in the esophagus, and so on. TCGA’s findings urge a shift away from this view, based on new insight into the incredibly complex factors that influence and differentiate one cancer from another. In short, this means that a cancer found in the lower part of the esophagus may actually have more in common with a stomach cancer than other esophageal cancers. 2. Better classifying cancers is a game-changer for cancer research and treatment. When it comes to combating cancer, the old adage “Know thine enemy” is incredibly apt. Not only do the specific characteristics identified by TCGA reveal new vulnerabilities that can be targeted by future medications, but they also may help simplify treatment decisions today. For example, if physicians know that an individual’s cancer is marked by a certain characteristic, they can choose medications designed specifically for that subtype and avoid other treatments that are better suited for another subtype. DR. PETER W. LAIRD & DR. HUI SHEN 3. Working together is the way forward. TCGA’s work was a massive, decade-long undertaking that required the time and talent of hundreds of scientists from around the world, who painstakingly analyzed more than 10,000 samples from 33 different cancer types. None of this would have been possible without an extraordinary level of cooperation, teamwork and a singular dedication to creating a resource that may revolutionize cancer research and treatment. “Team science endeavors like TCGA are the future,” Laird said. “By sharing resources, expertise and data, we were able to do more together than we ever could have apart. It is our hope that this atlas will serve as a guide for scientists as they develop more personalized and more effective methods of patient care.” To learn more, please visit lairdlab.vai.org and shenlab.vai.org. VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE | 7

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