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2020 Annual Report

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This is the 2020 Annual Report for Van Andel Institute.

Brent Brinks: A

Brent Brinks: A commitment to sparking life-changing innovation Brent Brinks and the company he leads, Buist Electric, helped build VAI from the ground up — literally. In 2009, Buist Electric’s work was critical in completing the second phase of the Institute’s building. Since then, the Brinks family and Buist Electric have passionately supported VAI both through individual giving and sponsorship of Winterfest, VAI’s annual fundraiser for Parkinson’s research, and Hope on the Hill, VAI’s annual gala. “As a people-focused company, it’s very important to us to give back to our community,” Brent said. “With VAI, that means supporting the groundbreaking research that’s done right here in Grand Rapids.” Their support took on new meaning four years ago, when Brent’s mother, Sallie, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease. Brent is hopeful that the research underway in the Institute’s labs will lead to life-changing ways to slow or stop disease progression — something current treatments cannot do. “Without research, progress isn’t going to happen. That’s why supporting science is so critical,” Brent said. “We support VAI’s pursuit of breakthroughs for my mom and for everyone with Parkinson’s.” THE BRINKS FAMILY 8 | VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE ANNUAL REPORT 2020

Making promising progress in Parkinson’s RESEARCH Scientists have a gut feeling about Parkinson’s The gut and the brain may seem wildly different. But an in-depth look reveals that their relationship is much closer than meets the eye — in fact, they share so many connections that the gut is widely considered to be the body’s “second brain.” It makes sense, then, that science is increasingly pointing to the gut for insights into Parkinson’s. For example, in 2020, VAI scientists and their colleagues found that abnormal shifts in the vast population of helpful microbes in the gut may tilt the production of bile acids toward more toxic forms. Importantly, these shifts were seen only in people with Parkinson’s and not in people without the disease, a key difference that suggests these acids could provide a new way to diagnose Parkinson’s early and track its progression. The insights may even lead to new opportunities for developing treatments that impede Parkinson’s-related changes in the gut, and possibly for slowing or stopping disease onset and progression. The research was led by the late Dr. Viviane Labrie of VAI and collaborators at Beaumont Health, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and Oregon Health & Science University. 4 4 Research reported in this publication was supported by Van Andel Institute and the Farmer Family Foundation (P. Brundin, with L. Brundin, Pospisilik and Labrie as co-investigators). Labrie also held awards from the Department of Defense, National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health and Michigan State University through the Gibby & Friends vs. Parky Parkinson’s Disease Research Award. Graham holds awards from the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke of the National Institutes of Health, the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health, the Alzheimer’s Association and The Michael J. Fox Foundation. Connecting the dots between Parkinson’s and age Aging is one of the biggest risk factors in Parkinson’s. This connection has been known for a long time, yet the answer to one seemingly small but complex question remains unclear: why? Now, scientists from VAI and the University of Minnesota Medical School are collaborating to root out clues, with the goal of one day developing new ways to promote healthy aging. Together, VAI’s Dr. Darren Moore and Dr. José Brás and University of Minnesota’s Dr. Michael Lee and Dr. Laura Niedernhofer seek to uncover the precise reasons why age increases the risk for developing Parkinson’s. Their innovative project is supported by a .2 million, three-year grant from the Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s initiative, an international collaborative research effort partnering with The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research to implement its funding. Teaming up against Parkinson’s In 2020, VAI and Cure Parkinson’s (formerly The Cure Parkinson’s Trust) welcomed a new partner to our collaborative endeavor to find life-changing treatments for Parkinson’s — the John Black Charitable Trust. The strategic partnership is now worth .75 million. Together, we are thrilled to collaborate on the International Linked Clinical Trials initiative, which supports clinical trials that repurpose medications developed to treat other diseases and that have shown potential to slow or stop Parkinson’s progression. VAI welcomes Parkinson’s expert to its team In the summer of 2020, VAI welcomed Dr. Michael Henderson to its growing team of scientists. An expert in Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies, Henderson investigates the role of abnormal proteins in disease onset and progression, with the goal of developing new, life-changing therapies. He has made landmark contributions to the understanding of Parkinson’s and neurodegeneration, such as showing that alphasynuclein proteins take advantage of the brain’s own structure to spread and that an enzyme called glucocerebrosidase (GBA) plays an important role in propelling alpha-synuclein’s propagation. VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE ANNUAL REPORT 2020 | 9

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