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2020 Fall/Winter Highlights of Hope

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RESEARCH Remembering Dr.

RESEARCH Remembering Dr. Viviane Labrie Van Andel Institute mourns the loss of Associate Professor Dr. Viviane Labrie, who passed away in a tragic vehicle accident August 21. Viviane was a brilliant, imaginative and creative scientist. Her ability to look at the world through different lenses allowed her to see old problems in new ways, and ultimately revealed groundbreaking insights with the potential to change lives. She quickly established herself as a globally recognized leader in her field. Although early in her career, Viviane already had made pioneering discoveries that are transforming the understanding of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases, including the revelation that the appendix may be a starting point for Parkinson’s. Her findings led to exciting new avenues of discovery for potential treatments for these diseases, and shed light on the underpinnings of many other conditions, including bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and lactose intolerance. She made an indelible mark on science, her colleagues and those she mentored, and her impact will be felt for years to come. Viviane was born in Ottawa, Ontario, and grew up in the small town of Deep River, Ontario. Her childhood interest in science and the natural world later blossomed into a fascination with the brain. She completed her bachelor’s degree in human biology (with honors), her Ph.D. in genetics and neuroscience and her postdoctoral research at University of Toronto. She held her first faculty position in Toronto before joining Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 2016 as an assistant professor. Innately curious, Viviane’s creativity and tenacity were immediately evident and energizing to those around her. She rapidly advanced, earning an early promotion to associate professor in 2019 — a tremendous achievement. Throughout her career, she earned numerous scientific awards and honors, including highly competitive grants from the National Institutes of Health and Department of Defense. Outside of the lab, Viviane was a passionate and accomplished equestrian who competed in national events in the U.S. and Canada, including a combination of cross country, dressage and show jumping. She had an adventurous spirit, and was an avid world traveler who had visited all seven continents. She also had a lifelong passion for animals, and had a horse, Logan, three large dogs — Mudflap, Nugen and City — and many cats. Her enthusiasm and zest for life was contagious. Simply being in Viviane’s presence inspired others to rise to the challenge and to embrace the world with open arms. Viviane is survived by her beloved husband, David Walters; her parents, Louise Boileau-Labrie and Jean-Pierre Labrie; and her brother, Marc Labrie. She will be remembered by family, friends and colleagues around the world for her vibrancy, brilliance and kindness. RECENT BREAKTHROUGHS Dr. Labrie was an exceptional scientist whose research shed new light on conditions including Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and lactose intolerance. In recent months, she spearheaded several new breakthroughs that are shifting our understanding of neurological disorders and the brain. Being ‘right-brained’ or ‘left-brained’ may come down to molecular switches A team led by Dr. Labrie may have solved one of the most puzzling and persistent mysteries in neuroscience: why some people are “right-brained” while others are “leftbrained.” The answer lies in how certain genes on each side of the brain are switched “on” and “off” through a process called epigenetic regulation. The findings could explain why Parkinson’s disease and other neurological disorders frequently affect one side of the body first, a revelation that has far-reaching implications for development of potential future treatments. Switching off ‘master regulator’ may shield the brain from Parkinson’s-related damage Switching off a molecular “master regulator” called TET2 may protect the brain from inflammatory damage and neurodegeneration in Parkinson’s disease, reported a study by Dr. Labrie and colleagues. The study is the first of its kind and points to an entirely new avenue for developing therapies designed to preserve vulnerable brain cells in Parkinson’s disease. Currently, there are no effective ways to prevent Parkinson’s or to slow or stop its progression. 4 | VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE


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