11 months ago

2018 Spring/Summer Highlights of Hope

  • Text
  • Hope
  • Institute
  • Diseases
  • Scientists
  • Michigan


EDUCATION VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE GRADUATE SCHOOL STUDENT EARNS PRESTIGIOUS AWARD TO STUDY COLON CANCER Graduate students at the Institute are more than just students—they are up-and-coming professional scientists who make valuable contributions to the life-changing research that goes on each day in our labs. That’s why we’re proud to celebrate Nicole Vander Schaaf, the first Van Andel Institute Graduate School student to be awarded funding through the National Cancer Institute’s highly competitive F31/Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual Research Service Award program, which supports students’ doctoral research. The award provides more than 9,000 in research funds over three years. It’s an outstanding achievement and one that will help Nicole investigate important questions that could help change the way we view and treat colon cancer, which claims more than 50,000 lives annually in the U.S. alone. We caught up with Nicole to talk about her work in the lab of her mentor, Dr. Peter W. Laird, how this grant will help move cancer research forward and what got her interested in science. Why is this work important? NVS: Previous research from our lab showed that intestinal cancer cells with genetic mistakes are incapable of forming tumors when certain epigenetic machinery is disabled. This suggests that colon cancer cells may depend on epigenetic changes for survival and/or growth. If we can identify these cancer-promoting epigenetic changes, we can design therapies to target and hopefully kill cancer cells. Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the U.S., so these discoveries have the potential to benefit thousands! How did it feel when you found out the grant was being funded? NVS: I was excited and honored that the National Cancer Institute is investing in my scientific training and in a project that has the potential to help us understand what drives cancer at the most basic level. Why did you decide to pursue science as a career? NVS: I fell in love with science in high school when I discovered that there was so much more to life than I could see with my plain eyes (i.e., microbes and cells under a microscope). Originally, I wanted to become a high school science teacher, but my parents encouraged me to explore all of my career options. Having lost a grandmother to colon cancer, I thought it would be neat to become a cancer researcher someday, so I decided to study biology and give scientific research a try. I did a few summer research internships as an undergraduate and loved the notion that research allowed me to use my intellect, curiosity and creativity to potentially impact human health. I chose to further my training in science and research by pursuing a graduate degree in the sciences, which will equip me for a career in research, industry or university-level teaching. The research reported in this publication was supported by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under award number 1F31CA213897-01A1. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. Tell us about your research. What will this grant support? NVS: The goal of my research is to better understand the epigenetic abnormalities of colon cancer cells. Epigenetics is the branch of science that studies how the expression of genes within a cell is regulated without altering the cell’s genetic code. Scientists have long known that cancer cells contain mistakes in the genetic code that cause the cells to grow uncontrollably. More recently, scientists have discovered that the epigenome of cancer cells is also altered in a way that promotes cancer. We hope to identify key epigenetic changes that benefit cancer cells, which will help us develop new ways to treat this devastating disease. NICOLE VANDER SCHAAF 4 | VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE

STUDENTS AND ADULTS TEAM UP AT VAN ANDEL EDUCATION INSTITUTE’S SCIENCE ON SATURDAY! Throughout the year, elementary and middle school students team up with adults at Van Andel Education Institute (VAEI) for their Science on Saturday program. Each session is a fun and exciting way to encourage curiosity, creativity and critical thinking while helping the participants learn how to think and act like scientists. VAEI offers four sessions based on the student’s grade level: Explorations at a Species Level: First and second graders use their senses and scientific tools to observe one of the many organisms living at VAEI. After the session, students take their new organism friend home! Explorations of Species Survival: Third and fourth grade students interact with a variety of animals, from insects to bearded dragons, to discover what they need to survive in the wild. During the session, students and adults make a model animal habitat. Explorations of a Food Web and Owl Pellets: Fifth and sixth graders investigate how energy flows through a food web while observing the eating preferences of different organisms. Students and adults get hands-on experience by dissecting an owl pellet to learn how an owl derives energy from its food and construct a bone diagram to take home. Explorations of the Whole Organism: Seventh and eighth graders learn how to observe and handle VAEI’s plants and animals as they explore the very building blocks of life—cells and DNA. During this session, students extract their own DNA! “My favorite part of the experience was when I got to hold and pet some of the animals. It was so much fun, I can't wait to do it again!” - Science on Saturday student Science on Saturday is a great way for kids and adults to share weekend time together, think creatively and engage in purposeful learning. If you’re interested in enrolling in one of the Science on Saturday sessions please visit VAI seeks philanthropic support to provide scholarship opportunities for students. For more information on ways you can support Science on Saturday and other education programs, please contact Teresa Reid, Major Gifts Officer at or 616.234.5040. SCIENCE ON SATURDAY PARTICIPANTS AT VAEI VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE | 5

Publications by Year