For the human body to function properly, it must have the right amount of energy and resources in the right place at the right time. That’s the role of metabolism, a vast array of chemical reactions that power every biological process, from regulating appetite to ensuring that the immune system can continue to fight off invaders like illness-causing viruses and bacteria.
When energy production or distribution breaks down, the results can be catastrophic — diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s and diabetes are all known to have varying degrees of metabolic involvement.
By rigorously studying metabolism and how it is impacted by nutrition and our own genetics and epigenetics, Van Andel Institute’s Metabolic and Nutritional Programming team aims to develop scientifically driven strategies for improving health through earlier and improved prediction, prevention, diagnosis and treatment of disease. Their areas of focus include:
What is metabolism? (video)
Explainer: What is metabolism? (blog post)
10 fast facts about metabolism (blog post)
Focus area: Cancer immunodiagnostics
Brian Haab, Ph.D., searches for new ways to diagnose and stratify pancreatic cancer based on the chemical fingerprints tumors leave behind. Part of the problem Haab aims to solve is that cancers often look and behave normally—until after they’ve started making people sick. Haab is sleuthing out clues to build a library of diagnostic tools that will help providers diagnose tumors earlier and optimize treatment.
Focus area: Intergenerational inheritance of nutritional states
Dr. Adelheid Lempradl is investigating how the dietary choices of parents may impact the health of their offspring in the hopes of translating her findings into new ways to prevent disease and create a healthier future.
Focus area: Epigenetic origins of heterogeneity and disease
Dr. J. Andrew Pospisilik seeks to understand how we become whom we become, and how our disease susceptibility is defined from early on in life, even before conception, with the long-term goal of being able to predict lifelong health outlook at birth.
Focus area: Cancer signaling and metabolism
Ning Wu, Ph.D., investigates the interface between cellular metabolism and cellular signaling, particularly as they relate to cancer. On the most basic level, cancer is fundamentally a disease of uncontrolled cell growth, and Wu believes that understanding a tumor’s voracious energy requirements and altered signaling pathways will lead to new treatments that optimize existing combination therapies and identify novel therapeutic targets.