Van Andel Institute, Yale University and University of Pennsylvania scientists awarded grant from Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (Oct. 26, 2021) — Scientists from Van Andel Institute, Yale University and University of Pennsylvania are recipients of a $9 million Collaborative Research Network grant from the Aligning Science Across Parkinson’s (ASAP) initiative to identify areas and cell types in the brain that may be particularly vulnerable to Parkinson’s disease.

Michael Henderson, Ph.D.

“This award has allowed us to assemble a fantastic group of scientists to tackle some of the most difficult questions in Parkinson’s disease research,” said Michael Henderson, Ph.D., a VAI assistant professor and co-investigator on the project. “We are grateful to ASAP for investing in research that we hope will transform how we understand and treat Parkinson’s disease.”

The project is led by Thomas Biederer, Ph.D., of Yale University. In addition to Henderson, co-investigators include Elena Gracheva, Ph.D., of Yale; Michael Higley, Ph.D., of Yale; and Danielle Bassett, Ph.D., of University of Pennsylvania.

As it progresses, Parkinson’s disease damages multiple regions and networks in the brain, which leads to symptoms such as tremor, loss of the ability to move and cognitive decline.

However, it is unclear which cell types and circuits — interconnected cells that have a specific task — are most susceptible to this damage. Using a host of cutting-edge techniques, Henderson and his collaborators aim to determine which cells are at risk and develop strategies for preventing harmful disruptions.

This endeavor was made possible by ASAP, a coordinated research initiative to advance targeted basic research for Parkinson’s disease. ASAP’s mission is to accelerate the pace of discovery and inform the path to a cure through collaboration, research-enabling resources and data sharing. The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research is ASAP’s implementation partner and issued the grant.

“Each team selected for the Collaborative Research Network brings unique expertise and perspective to ASAP’s mission of tackling key knowledge gaps in disease understanding through open service,” said ASAP Managing Director Ekemini Riley, Ph.D. “We are proud to partner with Van Andel Institute on this innovative and impactful project that will position the field closer to new treatments for the millions living with and at risk of Parkinson’s disease.”


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. Learn more at vai.org.

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