Metabolism expert Dr. Sara Nowinski joins Van Andel Institute

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (July 8, 2021) — VAI’s newest scientific recruit wants to rewrite the story of mitochondria, the cellular machinery that produces and manages the body’s energy supply.

Sara Nowinski, Ph.D., joined the Institute’s Department of Metabolism and Nutritional Programming as an assistant professor this week. She comes to Grand Rapids after completing a postdoctoral fellowship in University of Utah’s prestigious Rutter Lab.

“Mitochondria are well known for their role in energy production as the ‘powerhouses of the cell,’ but there is still so much we don’t know about how cells control and fine tune their activity in different situations,” Nowinski said. “I’m incredibly excited to join the Department of Metabolism and Nutritional Programming at VAI and look forward to the discoveries we will make together.”

In her new lab at VAI, Nowinski seeks to understand how mitochondria convert fats and other nutrients from the food we eat into energy, how they help the body sense and adapt to changing energy requirements, and how these processes can go awry.

Numerous disorders, including cancer, Parkinson’s and diabetes, have been linked to metabolism and, specifically, to mitochondria. By understanding how mitochondria and the body’s other metabolic processes work together to meet to the body’s energy needs, Nowinski hopes to lay the foundation for new ways to enhance health and combat disease.

“Dr. Nowinski is an exceptional scientist whose early work has completely revitalized a dormant branch of the field and, in doing so, has shed new light on the critical role of mitochondria in metabolic adaptation,” said Russell Jones, Ph.D., chair of VAI’s Department of Metabolism and Nutritional Programming. “We are thrilled to have Dr. Nowinski on our team and look forward to her future successes.”

VAI established its metabolism and nutrition research group in 2018, with the goal of developing scientifically driven strategies for promoting health, and preventing and treating diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s and diabetes.


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 more than 400 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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