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.

What We’re Doing

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:

  • 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 causes by metabolic breakdowns.
  • Determining how metabolic problems contribute to disease and translating these findings into new therapies: Some diseases, like diabetes, almost entirely stem 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 how nutrition and metabolism can have impacts 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 Metabolic and Nutritional Programming team hope to answer.



What is metabolism? (video)

Explainer: What is metabolism? (blog post)

10 fast facts about metabolism (blog post)


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Russell Jones, Ph.D. (Program Lead)

Russell (Rusty) Jones, Ph.D.
Program Lead, Metabolic and Nutritional Programming, Center for Cancer and Cell Biology
Focus area: Cancer and Immunometabolism
Dr. Russell Jones investigates metabolism at the cellular level to understand how it affects cell behavior and health, with a specific eye on cancer and the immune system. By revealing how cancer cells use metabolic processes to fuel their growth and spread, he hopes to develop new treatments that help patients by changing the standard of care for cancer.

Brian Haab, Ph.D.

Haab_Brian_255x187Brian Haab, Ph.D.
Professor, Innovation and Integration Program, Center for Cancer and Cell Biology

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.

Connie Krawczyk, Ph.D.

Connie Krawczyk, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Metabolic and Nutritional Programming, Center for Cancer and Cell Biology
Focus area: Immunology, epigenetics and metabolism
Dr. Connie Krawczyk investigates the links between metabolism, epigenetics and the immune system, with the goal of understanding how they work together to keep us healthy and, when things go wrong, to promote disease.

Adelheid (Heidi) Lempradl, Ph.D.

Adelheid (Heidi) Lempradl, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Metabolic and Nutritional Programming, Center for Cancer and Cell Biology

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.

J. Andrew Pospisilik, Ph.D.

J. Andrew Pospisilik, Ph.D.
Director, Center for Epigenetics
Professor, Center for Epigenetics
Member, Metabolic and Nutritional Programming, Center for Cancer and Cell Biology

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.

Ning Wu, Ph.D.

Ning Wu, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Metabolic and Nutritional Programming, Center for Cancer and Cell Biology

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.