13 months ago

20th Anniversary Highlights of Hope

  • Text
  • Hope
  • Institute
  • Scientific
  • Highlights
  • Epigenetics
  • Scientists
  • Michigan


PARKINSON’S PLEASE ADD A BANNER TO THIS PAGE A LEGACY OF HOPE: SHIFTING THE PARADIGM ON PARKINSON’S DISEASE A couple of years after the Institute was founded, Jay Van Andel’s autobiography, An Enterprising Life, hit bookshelves across the nation. In it, he detailed his hope for the then fledgling biomedical research and science education institute he and his wife Betty had founded on a hill in Grand Rapids. At the core of his hopeful words was a specific call to find new ways to treat the two most common neurodegenerative diseases—Parkinson’s, with which he had been recently diagnosed, and Alzheimer’s, with which Betty had been diagnosed many years earlier. As the Institute grew, his words remained a constant inspiration for the work ahead. By 2012, it was time. The Institute had the facilities. It had the resources. It just needed the right person to lead the charge against neurodegenerative diseases. Direct from Sweden In 2011, Institute CEO David Van Andel found the leader who would shape VARI’s Center for Neurodegenerative Science. Dr. Patrik Brundin was renowned in the world of neuroscience, a pioneering scientist and clinician who had been part of truly groundbreaking work in the field of Parkinson’s research and treatment. Those first conversations between Van Andel and Brundin in Grand Rapids held glimpses of a bright future, but were also firmly rooted in the memories of their fathers. Jay Van Andel, David’s father and the founder of the Institute, had passed away in 2004 from complications related to a long battle with Parkinson’s. Brundin’s father also had fought the disease and served as the driving inspiration behind his son’s passion for finding a cure. “I’m driven by my father’s memory every day,” Brundin said. “Seven to 10 million people worldwide have Parkinson’s. That’s seven to 10 million mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters and friends. And that’s seven to 10 million reasons to do this work.” By the time he left Michigan to return to Sweden, Brundin was convinced—Grand Rapids was the place he needed to be. (PRINCIPAL INVESTIGATORS, LEFT TO RIGHT) DRS. JEREMY VAN RAAMSDONK, JIYAN MA, PATRIK BRUNDIN, DARREN MOORE AND LENA BRUNDIN. A New Mission When Brundin officially arrived at the Institute in 2012, he wasted no time establishing the Center for Neurodegenerative Science as well as Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s Disease, an annual symposium designed to highlight cutting-edge science and bring together the scientific, medical and patient communities. The first symposium was a small affair but, like the Center itself, was poised to grow significantly in size and scope. 22 | VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE

By early 2016, just a few short years after its creation, the Center was growing rapidly, having eight exceptional, established investigators and rising talent. In much the same way, the field of Parkinson’s research also hit an inflection point, one bolstered by scientific discoveries and a dedicated community of people with Parkinson’s and their advocates. Answering the Call Two years earlier, a crowd of more than 325 people—scientists, clinicians, students, people with Parkinson’s and advocates—sat in awed silence in the Institute’s Tomatis Auditorium during Grand Challenges. On stage, Tom Isaacs, co-founder of the U.K. research charity The Cure Parkinson’s Trust and one of the community’s most influential and well-respected voices, gave a powerful speech outlining the unmet needs of the Parkinson’s community: more definitive diagnosis, improved care and therapies that change the course of the disease. “We’re constantly learning something new—the pace is absolutely astounding,” Brundin said. “Each discovery is another step closer to a future in which Parkinson’s no longer robs people of their golden years. There’s a big shift coming—we can see it on the horizon.” “Our sense of urgency is intense,” Isaacs said. “I think the world of Parkinson’s is on the verge of a seismic shift for the better.” His speech came at an auspicious time. For more than 50 years, treating Parkinson’s looked more or less the same and had focused on mitigating symptoms rather than addressing the actual underlying causes of the disease. But science has been far from idle during this time; in fact, it has been booming. The Right Place, the Right Time More is known about Parkinson’s now than THE CURE PARKINSON’S TRUST CO-FOUNDER, TOM ISAACS, ADDRESSES THE CROWD AT THE 2014 GRAND CHALLENGES IN PARKINSON’S DISEASE SYMPOSIUM. ever before. Once thought to be strictly a movement disorder, scientists have learned that it can include a host of non-motor symptoms such as depression, loss of sense of smell and cognitive impairment. And they’ve learned how it spreads from cell to cell in the brain, slowly killing neurons that produce dopamine, a chemical required for smooth movement. These findings and other insights into the underpinnings of Parkinson’s didn’t happen in a vacuum; rather, they required a multidisciplinary and collaborative approach, both of which are at the heart of the Center’s philosophy. By recruiting exceptional scientists from across the spectrum of Parkinson’s research, from genetics and epigenetics to pathology to therapeutic development, VARI is building a critical mass of expertise, ensuring a scientifically strong and innovative environment. The benefits of this work are broad, often spilling over to inform research on other neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s and multiple system atrophy. At the same time, VARI scientists reach beyond Grand Rapids to collaborate with colleagues around the world, delving deeper into the mechanisms behind Parkinson's in an effort to translate their findings into new ways of definitively diagnosing the disease, slowing or stopping progress, and repairing the damage. Their ultimate goal is to improve the quality of life for people with Parkinson’s. They’re getting closer; together with The Cure Parkinson’s Trust, VARI is finding new uses for existing drugs approved to treat other diseases that may also treat Parkinson’s. Some of these efforts have already made it into the crucial clinical trial phase, and others are well on their way. The Center and its efforts to move therapies to the clinic continue to grow—plans call for the recruitment of a neurologist to establish VARI-supported clinical trials where Jay and Betty Van Andel’s dream began, in Grand Rapids. With every step, their vision—the Institute’s vision—to positively impact human health is becoming a reality. “We’re constantly learning something new—the pace is absolutely astounding,” Brundin said. “Each discovery is another step closer to a future in which Parkinson’s no longer robs people of their golden years. There’s a big shift coming—we can see it on the horizon.” VAN ANDEL INSTITUTE HIGHLIGHTS OF HOPE | 23

Publications by Year