National Institutes of Health Director Francis S. Collins to speak at Van Andel Research Institute symposium

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (April 10, 2015)—National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D., will deliver the keynote address during Van Andel Research Institute’s upcoming Translational Strategies for Neurofibromatosis Type 1 symposium.

Prior to becoming director of NIH, Collins led the team that discovered the gene responsible for neurofibromatosis type 1 (NF-1), a genetic neurological disease marked by growth of benign tumors on nerves primarily in the brain and skin. People with NF-1 are more susceptible to developing cancer and can have a host of associated health problems, including congenital heart defects, high blood pressure and learning disabilities. NF-1 is the most common of the three types of neurofibromatosis and occurs in one in 3,000 to 4,000 people.

The symposium will feature several talks on the latest basic research and clinical developments surrounding NF-1, and also will serve as a celebration of Grand Rapids-based surgeon-scientist Matthew R. Steensma being named as one of the inaugural winners of the Francis S. Collins Scholars Program in Neurofibromatosis Clinical and Translational Research. The scholars program is sponsored by Johns Hopkins University’s Neurofibromatosis Therapeutic Acceleration Program (NTAP) and aims to train clinician-scientists to be leaders in NF-1 research and patient care. Steensma is an assistant professor and head of the Laboratory of Musculoskeletal Oncology at VARI, as well as chief of the Orthopedic Oncology Section at Spectrum Health Medical Group/Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, and an assistant professor at Michigan State University (MSU) College of Human Medicine.

“We are delighted to host the inaugural Translational Strategies for Neurofibromatosis Type 1 symposium,” Steensma said. “This event features the work of international thought leaders in the NF field, and highlights cutting-edge translational research efforts focused on improving the lives of NF-1 patients.”

Collins Scholars Program co-winner Peter de Blank, M.D., MSCE, also will present during the symposium. de Blank is an assistant professor of pediatric neuro-oncology at Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital, Case Western Reserve University. The symposium is sponsored by VARI’s Center for Cancer and Cell Biology, and hosted by Center Director Bart Williams, Ph.D.

In addition to talks by Collins, Steensma and de Blank, the symposium will feature presentations by Jaishri Blakeley, M.D., director of NTAP and the Comprehensive Neurofibromatosis Center at Johns Hopkins; Albert Cornelius, M.D., a pediatric oncologist at Spectrum Health’s Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and an associate professor at MSU College of Human Medicine; Beth Kurt, M.D., a pediatric oncologist at Spectrum Health’s Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital and an associate professor at MSU College of Human Medicine;  Bruce Korf, M.D., Ph.D., the Wayne H. and Sara Crews Finley Professor of Medical Genetics and chair of the Department of Genetics at the University of Alabama at Birmingham; and Hyerim Lee, Ph.D., scientific project leader at Children’s Tumor Foundation.

The symposium will be held April 17 at VARI. It is open to scientists and medical professionals, as well as members of neurofibromatosis community. Registration is required. Please contact Beth Resau at or 616.234.5373 for more information.


Van Andel Institute (VAI) is an independent 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 270 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 on-site 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®