Van Andel Institute scientists win Team Science Awards from American Association for Cancer Research

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (June 22, 2020) — The American Association for Cancer Research has awarded Van Andel Institute Professor Peter W. Laird, Ph.D., Director’s Scholar Stephen B. Baylin, M.D., FAACR, and Associate Professor Hui Shen, Ph.D., 2020 AACR Team Science Awards for their pivotal roles in the establishment and success of The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), a landmark project that revolutionized our understanding of cancer and that is hailed as an exemplar of scientific collaboration.

The first Team Science Award includes Laird and Baylin as well as other project leaders and individuals who were central to TCGA. The second Team Science Award includes Laird, Baylin and Shen, along with 127 additional members of the current TCGA project team. Awardees will be honored during a special session of the AACR Virtual Annual Meeting II on Wednesday, June 24.

Stephen Baylin, M.D.

“The insights revealed by TCGA will continue to transform cancer research and treatment for years to come. We are thrilled to join AACR and the scientific community in celebrating the contributions of Dr. Laird, Dr. Baylin, Dr. Shen and all those who took part in the project,” said Peter A. Jones, Ph.D., D.Sc. (hon), VAI Chief Scientific Officer. “TCGA truly is a testament to the power of team science.”

Announced in 2005 and completed in 2018, TCGA was a National Cancer Institute and National Human Genome Research Institute-led effort to molecularly map 33 cancer types, including 10 rare cancers.

In all, hundreds of scientists in the U.S. and Canada participated, resulting in detailed analyses of more than 20,000 biospecimens and numerous scientific publications that continue to fuel new breakthroughs and innovations. It has become an invaluable asset for the development of precision therapies and the identification of new drug targets.

Hui Shen, Ph.D.

Following TCGA’s inception, Laird and Baylin established and co-led the epigenetics analyses arm of the project, which cataloged molecular changes that influence cancer risk by altering how genes are expressed rather than the genes themselves. Laird went on to lead epigenetic analyses for TCGA through its completion, as well as the project’s effort to characterize cancers by their molecular subtype.

Laird began working on TCGA while serving as a professor at University of Southern California, and continued when he joined VAI in 2014.

Shen, who also joined VAI from USC in 2014, played a major role in epigenetic data analyses for the project.

Baylin, who co-leads the Van Andel Institute–Stand Up To Cancer Epigenetics Dream Team, holds a primary appointment at Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University. His insight and guidance were central to the genesis and growth of the epigenetics component of TCGA.

“TCGA was a vastly complex undertaking that demonstrated the power of team science initiatives,” Laird said. “Each person who worked on the project played a part in its success and in charting future cancer research and therapies built on its findings.”

AACR’s announcement is available here.


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.