Parkinson’s disease expert Dr. Michael Henderson joins Van Andel Institute

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (June 23, 2020) — Van Andel Institute has recruited neuroscientist Michael Henderson, Ph.D., an expert in Parkinson’s disease and dementia with Lewy bodies (DLB), to its growing team of scientists. Henderson will join the Institute this summer as an assistant professor in the Center for Neurodegenerative Science.

Michael Henderson, Ph.D.

“Van Andel Institute has a spectacular team of scientists investigating Parkinson’s disease from every angle,” Henderson said. “I am thrilled to join the faculty and to contribute to understanding and developing therapies for disease.”

Both Parkinson’s and DLB are neurological disorders that progressively impair movement and cognition. They also share a common hallmark: clumps of abnormal proteins called alpha-synuclein that move through the brain, damaging and killing neurons. While treatments exist to mitigate symptoms of these diseases, there currently are no cures and no effective ways to slow or stop progression.

Henderson’s research focuses on understanding how these abnormal proteins impact disease onset and progression, and how disrupting this process could lead to development of new, life-changing therapies. He has made landmark contributions to the understanding of Parkinson’s and neurodegeneration, such as showing that alpha-synuclein proteins take advantage of the brain’s own structure to spread and that an enzyme called glucocerebrosidase (GBA) plays an important role in propelling alpha-synuclein’s propagation. In recent years, numerous breakthroughs have cemented GBA’s standing as a prime target for future therapies.

“Dr. Henderson is an exceptional scientist whose strengths perfectly complement VAI’s existing research and whose goals align with our mission to improve human health,” said Patrik Brundin, M.D., Ph.D., director of VAI’s Center for Neurodegenerative Science. “We are absolutely thrilled to welcome Dr. Henderson to the team.”

Henderson comes to VAI from University of Pennsylvania, where he completed a postdoctoral fellowship in the labs of world-renowned Parkinson’s experts Virginia Lee, Ph.D., and John Trojanowski, M.D., Ph.D. He earned his Ph.D. from Yale University and has earned several prestigious awards, including the Graduate Research Fellowship from the National Science Foundation and the Ruth L. Kirschstein National Research Service Award from the National Institutes of Health.


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.