GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (January 25, 2022) – Van Andel Institute has recruited neuroscientist Qiang Zhu, Ph.D., an expert in two rare yet devastating diseases: Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and frontotemporal dementia (FTD). His hire will further expand VAI’s research into the complex underpinnings of neurodegeneration.

There are no cures for ALS or FTD, nor any effective treatments that slow or stop the disease process. ALS damages nerve cells, resulting in the progressive loss of voluntary movement. Most people with the disease experience paralysis within three to five years.

Frontotemporal dementia is an umbrella term for a group of neurological disorders characterized by degeneration of the frontal and/or temporal lobes of the brain. People with FTD experience personality and behavioral changes, gradual language impairment and other symptoms. FTD is the most common form of dementia for people under age 60.

“The lack of therapies that impede progression of ALS and FTD is a major gap in patient care. I’m heartened that my research to date has contributed to clinical exploration of potential treatments, and am excited to expand my efforts at VAI,” Zhu said. “The Institute has exceptional research facilities and a highly supportive, collaborative scientific environment. I look forward to teaming up with my colleagues to achieve our shared goal — new, more effective treatments for neurodegenerative diseases.”

Zhu’s research bridges the fields of genetics, epigenetics, cell biology and behavioral neuroscience — a combination that provides a critical window into the interconnected factors that may contribute to ALS and FTD. Zhu is hopeful that his work, which focuses on variations in the <em>C9orf72</em> gene, will uncover new targets for treatment and new biomarkers that will aid scientists and physicians in studying and tracking disease progression. His efforts have led to a clinical trial for treating specific subtypes of ALS and FTD.

“Dr. Zhu’s exceptional research is shedding new light on the complicated factors that influence neurodegenerative diseases, particularly due to inherited alterations in the C9orf72 gene. His contributions to our understanding of ALS and FTD already have been translated into a clinical trial — a remarkable accomplishment for an early career investigator,” said Darren Moore, Ph.D., chair of VAI’s Department of Neurodegenerative Science. “We are thrilled to have him join our team at VAI, and greatly anticipate his future discoveries.”

Zhu earned his Ph.D. in anatomical sciences and neurobiology from the University of Louisville School of Medicine, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship in the lab of renowned scientist Don Cleveland, Ph.D., at University of California, San Diego. Zhu has earned several awards for his scholarship, including the Milton Safenowitz Postdoctoral Fellowship and the Starter Grant from the ALS Association.

Zhu is one of six faculty to join VAI in the past year. His recruitment is part of a strategic initiative to expand and bolster the Institute’s research programs.