Department of Metabolism and Nutritional Programming By developing a detailed understanding of metabolism and how it is impacted by nutrition, genetics and epigenetics, VAI scientists aim to develop metabolismbased therapies and interventions with the ultimate goal of improving human health. Their areas of focus include: Understanding metabolism in health and designing preventative strategies: Metabolism is a key part of virtually every aspect of human health. By understanding its basic mechanics and how this vast system is regulated, scientists hope to develop strategies to maintain healthy function and prevent diseases caused by metabolic breakdowns. Determining how metabolic problems contribute to disease and translating these findings into new therapies: Some diseases, like diabetes, stem almost entirely from metabolic dysfunction while others, like cancer and Parkinson’s, are thought to be at least partially fueled by problems with metabolism. Determining how and why these problems occur will give scientists the insights needed to design new, more effective therapies for these tough-to-treat disorders. Investigating the impacts of nutrition and metabolism across generations: Can our diets affect our children? Or their children? If so, can we ensure a healthier future by mitigating what we eat now? These are some of the questions the Institute’s Department of Metabolism and Nutritional Programming hopes to answer. 2021 HIGHLIGHTS Study probes how diet and metabolism influence the immune system (Dr. Russell Jones) — A pair of scientists from VAI and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases were granted a three-year, .5 million Allen Distinguished Investigator award as recommended by The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, a division of the Allen Institute, to better understand how diet and metabolism influence the immune system’s ability to fight off threats such as infections. By the end of the project, lead investigator Dr. Russell Jones of VAI and co-investigator Dr. Yasmine Belkaid of NIAID hope to find new therapeutic options for boosting protective immunity while preventing autoimmunity, which occurs when some immune cells mistakenly attack the body. An overactive sweet tooth may spell trouble for our cellular powerplants (Dr. Ning Wu) — Although we’ve long known that eating too much sugar can contribute to Type 2 diabetes and other disorders, the exact way this overconsumption sets the stage for metabolic diseases on a cellular level has remained elusive. But in 2021, a study led by VAI’s Dr. Ning Wu showed that surplus sugar may cause our cellular powerplants — called mitochondria — to become less efficient, reducing their energy output. The findings highlighted the cellular implications of excessive sugar consumption and provide an important new model to study the initial metabolic events that may contribute to diabetes development. 1 14 Funding Acknowledgements 1 Research reported in this publication was supported by Van Andel Institute; the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health under award no. R01GM120129 (Wu); and the National Institute on Aging of the National Institutes of Health under award no. RF1AH061872 (Han). The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.
Translating impact from lab to clinic Established at Van Andel Institute in 2020, the VAI Cancer Center and VAI Parkinson’s Disease Center provide support and infrastructure for VAI scientists seeking to develop and implement translational cancer and Parkinson’s projects in Grand Rapids, West Michigan and beyond. Through clinical trials, like those supported by the Institute’s Focal Centers, research breakthroughs in the lab may become tangible treatments for those facing diseases like cancer and Parkinson’s. Cancer Center The VAI Cancer Center supports projects and clinical trials for several different types of cancer in partnership with organizations in the U.S. and abroad. Van Andel Institute-Stand Up To Cancer Epigenetics Dream Team The Institute is home to the Van Andel Institute– Stand Up To Cancer (VAI–SU2C) Epigenetics Dream Team, a multi-institutional, collaborative effort that brings together several of the world’s most respected research and clinical organizations in an effort to translate scientific discoveries into new standards of patient care. The goal is simple — get new and more effective cancer therapies to patients faster. Research by the numbers 14 Trials launched 575+ Patients RESEARCH Parkinson’s Disease Center The VAI Parkinson’s Disease Center supports projects and clinical trials that investigate potential therapies to slow or stop Parkinson’s progression — a feat not possible with existing treatments. International Linked Clinical Trials (iLCT) The Cure Parkinson’s–Van Andel Institute International Linked Clinical Trials (iLCT) Initiative identifies potential new therapies for Parkinson’s from medications developed to treat other diseases that also show potential for impeding Parkinson’s progression. By doing so, iLCT aims to significantly cut the amount of time it takes for a potential treatment to move from the lab to clinical trials and, ultimately, to the patient. Research by the numbers 28 Trials launched 3,500+ Patients Van Andel Institute for Research Ranked in 2021 by Nature Index as no. 24 in the Life Sciences category out of the top 100 nongovernmental/ nonprofits (up from 29) 39 faculty 8 cores 3 fellows of the American Association for the Advancement of Science 2 fellows of the American Association for Cancer Research Academy 2 members of the National Academy of Sciences 1 member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences 123 peer-reviewed papers published in 2021 15