Van Andel Institute to recognize Dr. Virginia M.Y. Lee with the 2023 Jay Van Andel Award

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (April 10, 2023)Van Andel Institute has selected renowned scientist Virginia M.Y. Lee, Ph.D., to receive the 2023 Jay Van Andel Award for Outstanding Achievement in Parkinson’s Disease Research.

The award will be presented during Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s Disease, VAI’s flagship annual Parkinson’s disease symposium, Sept. 27–28, 2023.

Lee is a world-leader in the fields of Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and related neurodegenerative disorders. Her foundational discoveries revealed the protein pathologies associated with these diseases and the mechanisms by which these pathologies spread and damage cells in the brain — insights that offer key opportunities to develop new treatments to slow or stop disease progression.

“Our understanding of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases would not be what it is today without Dr. Lee’s extensive, groundbreaking contributions. She is an exceptional scientist whose vision and leadership are driving forces toward new therapies for these devastating disorders,” said Darren Moore, Ph.D., chair of VAI’s Department of Neurodegenerative Science and co-chair of the 2023 symposium. “It is an absolute honor to present Dr. Lee with the Jay Van Andel Award for Outstanding Achievement in Parkinson’s Disease Research. We look forward to welcoming her to Grand Rapids in September.”

Lee was the first to pinpoint misshapen proteins as potential culprits behind several neurodegenerative diseases: alpha-synuclein in Parkinson’s, tau in Alzheimer’s, and TDP-43 in frontotemporal lobar degeneration.

She also demonstrated that these proteins clump together, causing aggregates that injure and kill cells. This progressive damage leads to hallmark symptoms of disease, such as loss of voluntary movement in Parkinson’s and cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s.

Lee is the John H. Ware 3rd Professor in Alzheimer’s Research and director of the Center for Neurodegenerative Disease Research in the Perelman School of Medicine at University of Pennsylvania. She has been awarded numerous accolades, including the 2019 Breakthrough Prize, the Helis Foundation Award for Parkinson’s and Neurodegenerative Disease Research, the Robert A. Pritzker Award for Leadership in Parkinson’s Disease Research from the Michael J. Fox Foundation, the J. Allyn Taylor International Prize in Medicine, and the Lifetime Achievement Award in Alzheimer’s Disease Research from the Alzheimer’s Association. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and the National Academy of Inventors.

The Jay Van Andel Award for Outstanding Achievement in Parkinson’s Disease Research was established in 2012 in memory of VAI Founder Jay Van Andel, who battled Parkinson’s disease for a decade before his death in 2004. The annual award is given to scientists who have made exceptional contributions to Parkinson’s disease research and who have positively impacted human health.

As part of the award, Lee will deliver the keynote lecture on the first day of Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s Disease.

Each year, the Grand Challenge in Parkinson’s Disease symposium and Rallying to the Challenge, a parallel meeting for people with Parkinson’s hosted in partnership with Cure Parkinson’s, brings together scientists, medical professionals and Parkinson’s advocates from across the globe to explore the latest breakthroughs in Parkinson’s research and treatment. The theme for 2023 is Pathophysiological Mechanisms to Therapeutics.

In addition to the Jay Van Andel Award lecture, the events will feature scientific talks by 18 invited speakers, a research poster session and advocacy discussions.

Registration for the 2023 Grand Challenge in Parkinson’s Disease symposium and Rallying to the Challenge meeting is now open and may be completed at grandchallengesinpd.org.

Portrait caption: Dr. Virginia M.Y. Lee | Courtesy of Dr. Lee and Perelman School of Medicine at University of Pennsylvania


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.