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2021 Annual Report

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This is the 2021 Annual Report for Van Andel Institute.

Department of Cell

Department of Cell Biology Our health, and consequently our lives, depends on the coordinated activities of our individual cells; diseases arise when the activities of these cells become derailed. Through combined expertise in different cell types and communication mechanisms and using state-of-the-art approaches, scientists in VAI’s Department of Cell Biology pursue fundamental research to understand how our cells grow, communicate, survive, assemble into tissues and organs, respond to the environment, and change with age. This transformative work will yield new diagnostic and treatment strategies to improve the quality of life for people with cancer, bone diseases and rare disorders. Studying how cells assemble and repair organs: VAI scientists are looking closely at how cells replicate and gradually become specialized, particularly in the skeleton and the blood. The department’s labs focus on understanding a host of cellular processes, including how cells sense the changes in the body, how cells adjust to meet these needs, how cells talk to and work with each other, how the aging process damages cell integrity and contributes to disease, and how to restore the proper cellular function in aging organs. Understanding how derailed cells trigger cancers: Cancer can occur when cells get derailed during growth or specialization. VAI scientists are investigating the genetic and molecular cues for abnormal cell activity in the development of cancers, including leukemia, breast cancer, sarcomas and pancreatic cancer. They aim to translate this knowledge into novel approaches for diagnosis and treatment. Exploring how cellular processes change over time: As our cells age, changes arise that lead to dysfunction and disease. VAI scientists are exploring how cellular processes that function seamlessly in healthy people can fail as people age. This research may one day inform treatments to delay or prevent osteoarthritis, bone fragility and cancer. 2021 HIGHLIGHTS Van Andel Institute scientist earns .4 million grant to investigate cellular communication in development and disease (Dr. Stephanie Grainger) — Dr. Stephanie Grainger was awarded a ,375,000, five-year Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health. This prestigious grant will support Grainger’s exploration of a critical type of cellular communication that drives healthy development and, when disrupted, can spur cancer, osteoporosis, heart conditions and other diseases. 1 VAI scientists sleuth out key differences between tumors that may inform treatment for a rare disease (Dr. Matt Steensma) — Neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF1) is a rare disorder that causes the growth of benign tumors on tissues, such as skin, and on the protective sheath that covers nerve cells. These tumors can be painful and debilitating, especially if they put too much pressure on nerves. In 2021, the lab of Dr. Matt Steensma identified important genetic and epigenetic differences between NF1-related nerve and skin tumors, giving scientists a potential path forward for developing more precise treatments that target these tumors at their molecular roots. 2 Funding Acknowledgements Research reported in this publication was supported by: 1 The National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under award no. R35GM142779 (Grainger). 2 The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Neurofibromatosis Therapeutics Acceleration Program (NTAP) (Steensma). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health or other granting organizations. 10

RESEARCH Van Andel Institute earns prestigious grant to train the next generation of cancer epigenetics experts The National Cancer Institute awarded Van Andel Institute a five-year, .7 million grant to establish a cutting-edge training program for postdoctoral fellows in cancer epigenetics, a growing field with untold potential to impact human health. The Cancer Epigenetics Training Program combines extensive professional development with comprehensive, interdisciplinary research training by VAI’s internationally recognized cadre of experts. Postdoctoral trainees also have access to the Institute’s state-of-the-art shared scientific resources and technologies as well as opportunities to participate in established translational research programs and partnerships led by VAI investigators. Epigenetic abnormalities are universally found across cancers and serve as major drivers for malignancy, making them promising new targets for the development of novel cancer therapies. As such, the field — and its capacity for producing breakthroughs — is rapidly expanding. “In the past few years, VAI has become a global destination for groundbreaking, collaborative cancer epigenetics research,” said VAI Chief Scientific Officer Dr. Peter A. Jones. “Postdoctoral trainees will emerge from our Cancer Epigenetics Training Program with extensive, rigorous training and a solid foundation from which to launch their independent research careers.” Jones and VAI Associate Professor Dr. Scott Rothbart will lead the program in collaboration with Dr. Erica Gobrogge, program director of VAI’s Office of Postdoctoral Affairs. The program also benefits from the guidance of its advisory committee, which includes renowned scientists from across the U.S. The Cancer Epigenetics Training program is supported by a National Cancer Institute T32 training grant (no. T32CA251066). The content is solely the responsibility of VAI and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health. “In the past few years, VAI has become a global destination for groundbreaking, collaborative cancer epigenetics research.” Peter A. Jones, Ph.D., D.Sc. (hon) VAI Chief Scientific Officer 11

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