Van Andel Research Institute, Cedars-Sinai awarded National Cancer Institute grant for epigenomic data analysis

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (Nov. 17, 2016)—Van Andel Research Institute (VARI), in collaboration with Cedars-Sinai, has received a $2.5 million, five-year grant from the National Cancer Institute (NCI), part of the National Institutes of Health, that will fuel efforts by investigators to uncover the underpinnings of cancer, ultimately helping scientists develop better diagnostic and treatment strategies for a class of diseases that claim more than eight million lives each year worldwide.

The grant is part of the NCI’s Center for Cancer Genomics Genomic Data Analysis Network (GDAN), a federally-funded, nationwide consortium of research and clinical centers all working to better understand how cancer begins, progresses and becomes resistant to treatment. In addition to VARI’s award, 12 other groups at top U.S. research organizations were designated as Genome Data Analysis Centers and received funding to conduct additional critical analyses.

“We now know that virtually all cancers harbor epigenetic glitches as well as genetic ones,” said Peter W. Laird, Ph.D., VARI professor and lead investigator on the GDAN project at the Institute. “If we can precisely define these errors we can then use this information to better classify cancers and to develop new therapeutic strategies that take advantage of these alterations. These types of large-scale, collaborative projects are absolutely essential to ensure we have a clear and comprehensive picture of what’s really going on at the most basic level in cancer.”

Although often thought of as one disease, cancer is actually a diverse group of more than 100 distinct conditions, which makes developing new treatments challenging. Despite their differences, however, all cancers are the result of errors not only in the genetic code itself but also in epigenetics, the mechanisms by which the genetic code is read and acted upon by cells.

Laird’s team will collaborate closely with Benjamin Berman, Ph.D., at Cedars-Sinai in Los Angeles and with VARI’s Hui Shen, Ph.D., to analyze epigenetic data from thousands of samples gathered by GDAN clinical sites around the U.S. and internationally. The data derived from the project will be publicly accessible and available for all scientists to use in the fight against cancer.

“Tumors analyzed by the GDAN project will be linked to treatment outcomes and other detailed clinical data from patients, allowing the Genomic Data Analysis Network Centers to identify the molecular changes that are most relevant for clinical decision-making,” said Berman.

GDAN builds on the success of an earlier project called The Cancer Genome Atlas (TCGA), an NCI effort to define the molecular basis of cancer. Laird, Shen and Berman played integral roles in this consortium, which generated 2.5 petabytes—or 530,000 DVDs worth—of data on samples from more than 11,000 patients across 33 cancers and led to breakthroughs in cancers of the lung, breast and kidneys, among others.

Research reported in this publication was supported by the National Cancer Institute of the National Institutes of Health under Award Number U24CA210969. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the National Institutes of Health.


Van Andel Institute (VAI) is an independent nonprofit biomedical research and science education organization committed to improving the health and enhancing the lives of current and future generations. Established by Jay and Betty Van Andel in 1996 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, VAI has grown into a premier research and educational institution that supports the work of more than 360 scientists, educators and staff. Van Andel Research Institute (VARI), VAI’s research division, is dedicated to determining the epigenetic, genetic, molecular and cellular origins of cancer, Parkinson’s and other diseases and translating those findings into effective therapies. The Institute’s scientists work in onsite laboratories and participate in collaborative partnerships that span the globe. 100% To Research, Discovery & Hope®

Cedars-Sinai is a national leader in providing high-quality, patient-centered healthcare encompassing primary care as well as specialized medicine and conducting research that leads to life-saving discoveries and innovations. Since its beginning in 1902, Cedars-Sinai has evolved to meet the healthcare needs of one of the most diverse regions in the nation, continually setting new standards in quality and innovation in patient care, research, teaching and community service. Today, Cedars-Sinai is widely known for its national leadership in transforming healthcare for the benefit of patients. Cedars-Sinai impacts the future of healthcare globally by developing new approaches to treatment and educating tomorrow’s physicians and other health professionals. At the same time, Cedars-Sinai demonstrates a longstanding commitment to strengthening the Los Angeles community through wide-ranging programs that improve the health of its most vulnerable residents.

Beth Hinshaw Hall, Van Andel Research Institute, 616.234.5519, b[email protected]
Jane Engle, Cedars-Sinai, 310.248.8545, [email protected]