Van Andel Institute Graduate School student awarded PhRMA Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship to pursue new osteoarthritis therapies

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (Dec. 7, 2022) — The PhRMA Foundation has selected Van Andel Institute Graduate School student Vladimir Molchanov to receive a prestigious predoctoral fellowship to pursue improved treatments for osteoarthritis, the most common type of arthritis.

More than 32 million adults in the U.S. — and more than 527 million worldwide — have osteoarthritis. This painful, progressive disorder occurs when the cartilage within joints wears down, resulting in swelling, stiffness, pain and loss of mobility. Although treatments exist, they only offer temporary relief from symptoms rather than fixing the disorder’s root cause.

Vladimir Molchanov, Van Andel Institute Graduate School student

“Osteoarthritis is highly prevalent, especially among older adults, yet we still lack a way to repair the damage it causes,” Molchanov said. “I am thrilled to receive the PhRMA Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship in Drug Delivery, which will support my work in developing targeted cell therapies for degenerative diseases and will set the stage for future research.”

The $50,000 fellowship will support Molchanov as he seeks to solve a pair of major problems in osteoarthritis treatment: how to deliver therapies to the site of joint damage and how to stimulate new cartilage growth.

To do this, he has proposed an approach called SEEK and HEAL that would use specially designed stem cells generated from adult cells to “seek” out damaged cartilage and help “heal” it by regrowing lost tissue.

“This work has the potential to revolutionize our approach to joint degeneration and inspire new treatments for other degenerative disorders,” said Tao Yang, Ph.D., interim chair of VAI’s Department of Cell Biology and Molchanov’s thesis adviser. “The PhRMA Foundation Predoctoral Fellowship awarded to Vladimir will help us tackle a persistent public health problem while also supporting and fostering the career of an exceptional young scientist.”

Molchanov’s fellowship is one of four Predoctoral Fellowships in Drug Delivery awarded by the PhRMA Foundation for 2023 and is the first such award granted to a VAI graduate student.


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 nearly 500 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.