February is National Cancer Prevention Month, and Feb. 4, 2020, is World Cancer Day.

To mark the occasion, Van Andel Institute scientists shared what most excites them about the directions cancer research will head in the next decade. Their insights range from personalized medicine to better harnessing the power of data ecosystems and informatics tools.

For more information on VAI’s cancer research, click here.

Peter A. Jones, Ph.D., D.Sc. (hon)
VAI Chief Scientific Officer
Distinguished Professor, Center for Epigenetics

“The last decade of cancer research has revolutionized our understanding of these diseases, given rise to life-changing new treatments and laid the groundwork for the next generation of cancer care. As we go forward, I am most excited for the potential of these advances to fuel development of even better therapies and prevention methods to further reduce cancer mortality, giving people more healthy years.”

Andrew Pospisilik, Ph.D.
Director and Professor, Center for Epigenetics
Member, Metabolic and Nutritional Programming, Center for Cancer and Cell Biology

“I am most excited about the power of numbers. Big data and sequencing are yielding insights at an increased rate. We are still slow to harness the power and energy within the big data ecosystem. In the next decade, the continued advance of informatic tool development will enable researchers to reach unbiased insights with greater speed, power and accuracy than ever before.”

Peter Laird, Ph.D.
Professor, Center for Epigenetics

“I look forward to the day when personalized targeted therapy, based upon comprehensive genomic and epigenomic analysis, becomes the standard of care in clinical practice, offering far greater precision and efficacy in our cancer care.”


Gerd Pfeifer, Ph.D.
Professor, Center for Epigenetics

“While we continue to improve cancer therapy, the biggest goal should be to prevent cancer in the first place. However, to prevent cancer, we need to understand what causes it and how that works. I expect that the next decade will see new insights into the mechanisms of cancer causation, which will differ according to the tissues in which the tumors arise.”

Xiaobing Shi, Ph.D.
Professor, Center for Epigenetics

“For what I can imagine for now, the most exciting thing to look forward to cancer research (and treatment) in the next decade is to bring artificial intelligence into our radar. AI has started to show influence on many aspects of our life: automotive, video games and more. I expect AI will do a lot more to improve human health in the coming decades, not only for clinical diagnosis, prevention and patient treatment, but also in cancer research in labs. Exciting!”

Hong Wen, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Center for Epigenetics

“Great progress has been made in large-scale genomics-based tumor evaluation, liquid biopsy and immunotherapy in recent years, and the momentum will continue in the next decade. We are at a very exciting time to witness how progress in these research fields and information obtained will affect the development of personalized precision medicine for cancer treatment. This research will also help to reduce side-effects from unnecessary cancer treatment and benefit cancer prevention.”

Brian Haab, Ph.D.
Professor, Metabolic and Nutritional Programming, Center for Cancer and Cell Biology
Assistant Dean, Van Andel Institute Graduate School

“What most excites me are metabolic and nutritional approaches to treating cancer, and the ability to determine the subtypes that will respond to each treatment. The ability to detect, diagnose, and determine the subtype of cancers more precisely efficiently may lead to better treatments and outcomes.”

Xiaohong Li, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Skeletal Disease and Cancer Therapeutics
Center for Cancer and Cell Biology

“Metastases account for 90% of cancer deaths. Circulating tumor cells (CTC, or cancer cells found in a patient’s blood) and disseminated tumor cells (DTC, or cancer cells found in a patient’s bone marrow) are detected as early as when patients are first diagnosed with cancer. These cells are believed to be the cells of origin of metastases and recurrence. The more we learn about these cells, the more we will provide better diagnosis, prognosis and treatment for metastases and recurrence.”