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2020 Annual Report

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This is the 2020 Annual Report for Van Andel Institute.

Van Andel Institute

Van Andel Institute Principal Investigators Rita Guerreiro, Ph.D. Associate Professor Rita Guerreiro, Ph.D., parses the genetic variations that contribute to neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia with Lewy bodies and frontotemporal dementia. Her research has led to new insights into the genetic contributors to these diseases, which currently have no cure and no treatments that slow progression. DEPARTMENT OF CELL BIOLOGY Michael Henderson, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Michael Henderson, Ph.D., investigates the causes of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and dementia with Lewy bodies, and the factors that control disease progression. He hopes to translate his findings into new therapies that slow or stop this progression. Bart Williams, Ph.D. Chair and Professor Bart Williams, Ph.D., studies the building blocks of bone growth on behalf of the millions suffering from diseases such as osteoporosis. He seeks new ways of altering cell signaling pathways to encourage healthy bone development and deter cancer spread to the skeleton. Brian Haab, Ph.D. Professor; Associate Dean, Van Andel Institute Graduate School Brian Haab, Ph.D., searches for new ways to diagnose and stratify pancreatic cancers based on the chemical fingerprints tumors leave behind. Part of the problem Haab aims to solve is that cancers often look and behave normally — until after they’ve started making people sick. Haab is sleuthing out clues to build a library of diagnostic tools that will help providers diagnose tumors earlier and optimize treatment. Stefan Jovinge, M.D., Ph.D. Professor, VAI; Director, DeVos Cardiovascular Research Program (a joint effort between VAI and Spectrum Health); Medical Director of Research, Frederik Meijer Heart and Vascular Institute, Spectrum Health Stefan Jovinge, M.D., Ph.D., develops ways to help the heart heal itself and has led dozens of clinical trials in regenerative medicine. As a critical care cardiologist and scientist, he uses a bench-to-bedside approach in an effort to give patients with serious heart conditions longer, healthier lives. The clinical platform for his research is the Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit at Spectrum Health Hospitals Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center, and the basic science effort in regenerative medicine is performed at VAI. Matt Steensma, M.D. Associate Professor Matt Steensma, M.D., studies the genetic and molecular factors that cause benign tumors to become cancers, in search of vulnerabilities that may be targeted for treatment. As a scientist at VAI and practicing surgeon at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, he is committed to translating scientific discoveries into treatments that improve patients’ lives. Tao Yang, Ph.D. Assistant Professor Tao Yang, Ph.D., studies the signaling systems that govern skeletal stem cells and the role they play in diseases such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. Bones are the largest producer of adult stem cells, which mature into cartilage, fat or bone tissue — a process that falters with age. Yang seeks a better understanding of these systems in search of new treatments for degenerative bone disorders and other skeletal aging. 16 | VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE ANNUAL REPORT 2020

RESEARCH Emeritus Faculty (In Memoriam) George Vande Woude, Ph.D. On April 13, 2021, the world lost Dr. George Vande Woude, Van Andel Institute’s founding research director and a worldrenowned scientist whose storied career revolutionized our understanding of cancer. His vast scientific contributions, exceptional vision and commitment to building world-class research programs will galvanize discovery and Department of Cell Biology The Department of Cell Biology pursues fundamental discoveries about how changes in cell growth, survival and function underlie human diseases and identifies new strategies that could contribute to improved quality of life. A central theme in all department work is exploring how tissue-specific stem cells are regulated to maintain physiological homeostasis in tissues and how inappropriate growth of cells with these characteristics causes tumorigenesis. scientific excellence for years to come. Among Dr. Vande Woude’s most lauded breakthroughs is the 1984 discovery of the human MET oncogene, which is now a major target for personalized cancer therapies. He was the first to determine the structure and enhancer function of long terminal repeats, specific sequences of the DNA that govern gene expression. He also was the first to show that mutations can transform normal genes to cancer-promoting genes, or oncogenes. These foundational discoveries — along with the findings detailed in more than 300 published, peer-reviewed papers — will continue to shape cancer research and treatment now and into the future. Over his career, Dr. Vande Woude accrued an impressive list of scientific accolades. He was elected to the National Academy of Sciences in 1993, and the American Association for Cancer Research Academy and the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2013. The proper regulation of cellular division, differentiation and survival is required for all development in multi-cellular organisms, and the dysregulation of these processes causes all human disease. The Department of Cell Biology focuses on discovering the mechanisms that underlie these processes, with a goal of understanding both how they normally occur and how alterations in these processes cause human disease. To this end, laboratories in the department investigate the molecular mechanisms that control cellular processes such as proliferation, apoptosis (programmed cell death), senescence (cellular aging), signal transduction (how cells respond to signals from their environment), and differentiation (how cells change characteristics). VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE ANNUAL REPORT 2020 | 17

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