Van Andel Research Institute continues epigenetics expansion with addition of new professor


GRAND RAPIDS, Mich (Oct. 13, 2014)— Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) has appointed Gerd Pfeifer, Ph.D., as head of its new Laboratory of Epigenetic Pathways in Disease, which adds to the Institute’s rapidly expanding Center for Epigenetics.

Pfeifer most recently served as the Lester M. and Irene C. Finkelstein Chair in Biology and as Scientist Leader for the Lung, Head and Neck Disease Team at City of Hope in Duarte, Calif. Previously, Pfeifer also was the Program Leader for City of Hope’s Program in DNA Damage and Repair, and Program in Cancer Biology, and served as chair of the Department of Biology and the Department of Cancer Biology.

“It is a wonderful opportunity for me to join Van Andel Research Institute,” Pfeifer said. “As a team, we are well positioned to investigate and understand the contribution of epigenetics to cancer and neurodegenerative diseases.”

In his role as a VARI professor and head of the Laboratory of Epigenetic Pathways in Disease, Pfeifer will study epigenetic mechanisms of cancer and the effects of environmental and endogenous factors on the epigenome with the ultimate goal of developing new therapies to treat disease. Epigenetics is the study of how genes are controlled by chemical modifications of the DNA without changes to the DNA sequence, and is a rapidly expanding area of disease research. Specifically, much of Pfeifer’s work will focus on understanding DNA methylation, which is a normal cellular process related to gene expression. In cancer, tumor suppressor genes can become inappropriately methylated, which can switch them “off” and cause uncontrolled cell division and the formation of tumors.

Pfeifer began work at VARI on Oct. 13.

“Dr. Pfeifer is an outstanding addition to our growing epigenetics team at VARI,” said Dr. Peter Jones, VARI’s research director. “His extensive background in epigenetic research and his contributions to elucidating the effect of certain environmental factors on the epigenome expands our ability to comprehensively study the mechanisms underlying cancer and other diseases.”

Since January, VARI has made significant strides toward establishing a global hub to foster epigenetics research. Epigenetics is an expanding focus area in cancer research and provides significant opportunities for developing new therapies.

For more information on VARI’s Laboratory of Epigenetic Pathways in Disease, visit


About Van Andel Institute

Established by Jay and Betty Van Andel in 1996, Van Andel Institute (VAI) is an independent research and educational organization based in Grand Rapids, Mich., dedicated to preserving, enhancing and expanding the frontiers of medical science, and to achieving excellence in education by probing fundamental issues of education and the learning process.  Van Andel Research Institute (VARI), VAI’s research arm, is dedicated to studying the genetic, cellular and molecular origins of cancer, Parkinson’s and other diseases and working to translate those findings into effective therapies. This is accomplished through the work of more than 200 researchers in on-site laboratories and in collaborative partnerships that span the globe. Find out more about Van Andel Institute or donate by visiting 100% to Research, Discovery & Hope®.