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2021 Spring/Summer Highlights of Hope

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The 2021 Spring/Summer edition of Van Andel Institute's Highlights of Hope donor publication.

RESEARCH VAI charts an

RESEARCH VAI charts an ambitious path forward With 2020 in the rearview mirror, Van Andel Institute is looking toward brighter years to come. Center — that serve as hubs for translating groundbreaking discoveries into clinical trials. Despite the challenges, this past fall the Institute finished outlining its new strategic vision for the next five years. This plan, called Research 4.0, lays out a bold vision for the future of the Institute’s research and builds on the strong foundations and success of the past — all made possible in part thanks to our donors and their steadfast dedication to our mission. Importantly, the plan affirms our focus on basic research discovery in epigenetics, neurodegenerative science, cell biology, structural biology and metabolism. It also renews our commitment to cancer and Parkinson’s through the establishment of two new Focal Centers — the VAI Cancer Center and the VAI Parkinson’s Disease In addition, Research 4.0 kick-started an ambitious campaign to recruit new scientists to the Institute in order to grow our scientific capacity and broaden our impact. “Impacting human health through groundbreaking research is at the heart of VAI’s mission,” said Dr. Peter A. Jones, VAI’s chief scientific officer. “Research 4.0 sets the stage for the Institute’s future and is an important reminder of how far we’ve come, particularly as we gear up to celebrate VAI’s 25th anniversary. There are great things on the horizon and, together, we can make the world a better place.” Teaming up against Parkinson’s In 2020, VAI and Cure Parkinson’s (formerly The Cure Parkinson’s Trust) welcomed a new partner — the John Black Charitable Foundation — to our collaborative endeavor to find life-changing treatments for Parkinson’s. 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 have shown potential to slow or stop Parkinson’s progression — something no existing treatment can do. The strategic partnership is now worth .75 million. 2 | VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE

Making progress against Parkinson’s When it comes to studying Parkinson’s, VAI scientists take a comprehensive approach, from sleuthing out links between the gut, the immune system and the brain to parsing vast swaths of genetic information in search of clues. While our scientists’ research may be complex, their goal is simple — to find ways to prevent the disease, to slow or stop progression and to give hope to people around the world. Scientists have a gut feeling about Parkinson’s VAI scientists who study Parkinson’s are looking in a surprising place for answers: the gut. While the gut and the brain may seem wildly different at first, a more in-depth look shows that their relationship is much closer than one would expect. 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, earlier this year, VAI scientists and their colleagues found that abnormal shifts in the vast population of helpful microbes in the gut may tilt the production of digestive 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 suggesting that 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’srelated 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 Beaumont Health, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and Oregon Health & Science University. 1 Connecting the dots between Parkinson’s and age Aging is one of the biggest risk factors in Parkinson’s, a connection that 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. 1 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. VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE | 3

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