Breakthrough discovery honored by leading scientific organization

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (March 8, 2016)—Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) Professor H. Eric Xu will receive the prestigious Hans Neurath Award in recognition of a 2015 discovery that could lead to the development of better, more targeted therapies for many diseases.

Dr. Eric Xu
Dr. Eric Xu

The award, presented by The Protein Society and sponsored by the Hans Neurath Foundation, honors individuals who have made a recent contribution of exceptional merit to basic protein research. Xu was selected based on the groundbreaking determination of the structure of a protein complex that includes a member of a protein family targeted by more than one-third of drugs currently on the market. The discovery was published last year in Nature and was hailed as a major breakthrough that will inform therapeutic development for years to come.

“I am honored and humbled to receive this award,” Xu said. “Our determination of the structure of the signaling protein arrestin bound to the G coupled–protein receptor rhodopsin was the result of a decade of hard work in collaboration with scientists in the U.S. and abroad, and use of the world’s brightest X-ray laser. Receiving the Hans Neurath Award in recognition of these efforts is a truly unexpected a­nd wonderful surprise.”

While genes provide the blueprint for life, proteins are both building blocks and the workhorses. They play vital roles in virtually all biological functions and processes. Similar to structural and functional components that make up a building, the function of the proteins in the human body are dictated by their shape and their interactions with other molecules. A better understanding of protein structure and how the structure informs protein function and interaction is crucial for developing more effective and targeted therapies.

“Dr. Xu’s recent determination of the very first high resolution structure of an arrestin-GPCR complex—that of the complex of the photoreceptor of human vision (rhodopsin) with visual arrestin—represents a landmark accomplishment in structural biology that provides wide-ranging insight into a host of basic biological and biomedical processes,” said Charles Sanders, Ph.D., a member of the Society’s Executive Council. “This work well-merits recognition in the form of the Hans Neurath Award of the Protein Society.”

The Protein Society will present Xu with the award during its 30th Anniversary Symposium, which will be held July 16–19 in Baltimore. As part of the presentation, Xu will give a talk detailing his work.

Xu joined VARI as a principal investigator in 2002. He also serves as director of the VARI–Shanghai Institute of Materia Medica—a collaboration with one of China’s oldest institutions focused on drug discovery.

The Protein Society is an international, multidisciplinary scholarly organization focused on all aspects of protein research. In addition to supporting scientific collaboration and professional development, the society publishes the prestigious journal Protein Science. The Hans Neurath Award, named in honor of the the founder of Protein Science, is one of seven awards presented annually. Honorees are selected following a rigorous peer nomination and review process.



Van Andel Institute (VAI) is an independent nonprofit biomedical research and science education organization committed to improving the health and enhancing the lives of current and future generations. Established by Jay and Betty Van Andel in 1996 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, VAI has grown into a premier research and educational institution that supports the work of more than 330 scientists, educators and staff. Van Andel Research Institute (VARI), VAI’s research division, is dedicated to determining the epigenetic, genetic, molecular and cellular origins of cancer, Parkinson’s and other diseases and translating those findings into effective therapies. The Institute’s scientists work in onsite laboratories and participate in collaborative partnerships that span the globe. Learn more about Van Andel Institute or donate by visiting 100% To Research, Discovery & Hope®


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