American Cancer Society grant to support Van Andel Institute research into anti-cancer medications

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (Oct. 20, 2021)Van Andel Institute’s Scott Rothbart, Ph.D., has earned a four-year, $792,000 Research Scholar’s Grant from the American Cancer Society to investigate the mechanisms that power a promising class of potent anti-cancer drugs.

The drugs, called EZH2 inhibitors, work by targeting an enzyme called EZH2 that has long been of interest to cancer researchers because it interacts with the proteins that support DNA. As such, EZH2 plays a major role in switching genes that regulate cell proliferation “on” or “off” — a process that can lead to cancer if it goes awry. It also helps tumors evade attack by the immune system.

Because of their central role in all aspects of health and disease, proteins and the molecules that interact with them, such as EZH2, often are powerful targets for therapeutic development. Currently, several EZH2 inhibitors are undergoing clinical trials in cancer.

“EZH2 has immense potential to move the needle toward more targeted cancer treatments. We hope to contribute to this important work by defining the spectrum of molecules with which EZH2 interacts to help guide development of more precise therapeutic strategies,” Rothbart said. “I am honored and humbled to receive this award from the American Cancer Society and look forward to uncovering new insights that may help improve treatment for people with cancer.”

In 2018, Rothbart and his collaborators developed a new method to study lysine methyltransferases, the family of enzymes to which EZH2 belongs. Their work revealed that these important molecules interact with far more proteins than previously thought. Proteins are the molecular workhorses of the body and are responsible for carrying out all biological processes.

“We are proud to fund the innovative research by Dr. Scott Rothbart at Van Andel Institute, made possible by dedicated American Cancer Society supporters,” said Kathy Goss, Ph.D., vice president of Regional Cancer Control at the American Cancer Society. “By investing in the research community’s brightest minds and best ideas, we continue to improve the lives of cancer patients and their families and, ultimately, move closer to a world without cancer.”

Scott B. Rothbart, Ph.D., is supported by a Research Scholar Grant, RSG-21-031-01-DMC, from the American Cancer Society.

Click here to learn more about Dr. Rothbart and his scientific journey.


Van Andel Institute (VAI) is committed to improving the health and enhancing the lives of current and future generations through cutting edge biomedical research and innovative educational offerings. Established in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1996 by the Van Andel family, VAI is now home to nearly 500 scientists, educators and support staff, who work with a growing number of national and international collaborators to foster discovery. The Institute’s scientists study the origins of cancer, Parkinson’s and other diseases and translate their findings into breakthrough prevention and treatment strategies. Our educators develop inquiry-based approaches for K-12 education to help students and teachers prepare the next generation of problem-solvers, while our Graduate School offers a rigorous, research-intensive Ph.D. program in molecular and cellular biology. Learn more at vai.org.

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