Spectrum Health and Van Andel Research Institute Announce Cardiovascular Research Program

Partnership Brings Renowned Physician-Scientist to Grand Rapids


Grand Rapids, Mich. (Feb. 05, 2014) – Van Andel Research Institute and Spectrum Health announced today that they have collaborated to bring world-renowned cardiovascular researcher and cardiologist Stefan Jovinge MD, Ph.D., to Grand Rapids.

Jovinge, of Sweden, will lead teams of researchers and clinicians at the Spectrum Health Frederik Meijer Heart & Vascular Institute and Van Andel Research Institute in an effort to stimulate regenerative medicine for heart disease. The joint effort is made possible by a significant donation from the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation.

“Dr. Jovinge’s visionary research regarding the heart’s cellular building blocks and their potential for regeneration is an exciting area of focus at Van Andel Research Institute, and we are proud to collaborate in this game-changing work,” said David Van Andel, Chairman and CEO, Van Andel Institute. “We are especially interested in how Dr. Jovinge‘s research can affect therapeutic outcomes for those living with heart disease.”

The DeVos Cardiovascular Research Program will be comprised of four areas of focus: cell engineering; multi-center patient treatment and clinical trials; cell source identification and scientific training; and development for future researchers including interns, fellows, and graduate students. Dr. Jovinge will lead teams at both institutions to further collaborate on basic, translational and clinical research studies.

“Conducting and participating in leading-edge cardiovascular research has been an important focus for Spectrum Health for several years and this collaboration represents another step forward in that effort,” said Richard C. Breon, President & CEO, Spectrum Health. “This research has the potential to identify new therapies that could significantly improve care for our patients, for example reducing the need for transplants among heart failure patients. We are honored to have Dr. Jovinge and Van Andel Institute as partners in this effort.”

"Helen and I are thrilled that Dr. Jovinge has decided to bring his leading-edge research to West Michigan," said Richard DeVos. "With Dr. Jovinge's leadership, this collaboration will bring new discoveries and treatments to patients in our region more quickly and potentially save lives. Helen and I are honored to support Dr. Jovinge's passion for improving cardiovascular care through the partnership between Spectrum Health and Van Andel Institute."

In addition to basic science research, Jovinge said he also sees opportunities for the program to participate in multi-center clinical trials, including a focus on the development and implementation of investigator-initiated trials in Grand Rapids. He also will work with physicians at the Frederik Meijer Heart & Vascular Institute to assist with their own development of clinical and translational research, including opportunities to publish and present on a national level.

“Van Andel Research Institute is truly world-class, and Spectrum Health is among the best in the country when it comes to clinical performance in the cardiovascular area,” said Jovinge. “Spectrum Health has an impressive patient flow and extensive expertise in cardiovascular medicine, and remarkably neighbors
Van Andel Research Institute, headquartered here in Grand Rapids. For a clinical scientist like me, there is a great opportunity in having these two organizations work together.”

A significant focus of the program will be researching cardiomyocytes, the cells that constitute cardiac muscle, and how those cells can spur the regeneration of heart muscle. There are different kinds of cardiomyoctes in the heart with unique functions, such as electrical conduction, pacing or contracting muscle. The research program will work to identify these different cardiomyocytes and determine how they develop.

Jovinge comes to Grand Rapids from Lund University in Sweden, where he was a professor in cardiology. He earned his medical degree and Ph.D. from Karolinska Institute in Stockholm. He also completed a research fellowship in the department of cardiology at the Cedars-Sinai Research Institute at the University of California Los Angeles.

A prolific author and lecturer, Jovinge has focused his research on cardiomyocytes – their genesis and role in heart function. He was an author of a groundbreaking study published in Science magazine in 2009 that established that there are cardiac muscle cells generated after birth. That study opened the field to new studies identifying the source of these new cells.

Since then Jovinge has published other studies confirming this discovery and developed techniques to study them. “Now the continuation of this research is dedicated to finding the source of these adult generational cardiomyocytes. We are looking for the originators of these cells and what makes some become cells that pace the heart and some become ventricular muscle cells. My goal in Grand Rapids is to unravel this family tree.”

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About Spectrum Health

Spectrum Health is a not-for-profit health system, based in West Michigan, offering a full continuum of care through the Spectrum Health Hospital Group, which is comprised of 11 hospitals including Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital; 170 ambulatory and service sites; 1,050 advanced practice providers and employed physicians including members of the Spectrum Health Medical Group; and Priority Health, a 537,000-member health plan. Spectrum Health is West Michigan’s largest employer with 20,900 employees. The organization provided $250 million in community benefit during its 2013 fiscal year.

About Van Andel Institute

Established by Jay and Betty Van Andel in 1996, Van Andel Institute is an independent research organization dedicated to preserving, enhancing and expanding the frontiers of medical science, and to achieving excellence in education by probing fundamental issues of education and the learning process. This is accomplished through the work of more than 200 researchers in more than 20 on-site laboratories and in collaborative partnerships that span the globe. 

Find out more about Van Andel Institute by visiting www.vai.org 100% to Research, Discovery & Hope®.