History and Legacy

Jay and Betty Van Andel founded Van Andel Institute (VAI) in 1996. Their vision was to build an independent institute that would embrace novel approaches to biomedical research and science education, and develop a network of collaborations with organizations stretching from West Michigan to every corner of the world. The Van Andel family believed the Institute could serve as a guiding light of hope and bring about scientific discovers that would benefit future generations.

Since its founding, VAI has supported Van Andel Research Institute for Research, Van Andel Institute Graduate School and Van Andel Institute for Education in fulfilling and sustaining this vision. David Van Andel leads the Institute as Chairman and CEO, continuing the legacy that his parents left behind.



Jay and Betty Van Andel found Van Andel Institute.

David Van Andel becomes Chairman and CEO. 

Dr. Luis Tomatis appointed first President of Van Andel Institute.

Dr. Gordon Van Wylen appointed first Director of Van Andel Education Institute.


VAEI hosts first Van Andel Educators Institute, a national symposium for school principals and superintendents.


Groundbreaking ceremony for VAI’s facilities in downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan.


Respected cancer scientists and National Cancer Institute Administrator George Vande Woude, joins as Research Director of Van Andel Research Institute. Research begins in temporary laboratory space at Butterworth Hospital in Grand Rapids.

VAI helps to establish Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile — a health sciences and medical corridor that serves as a source for innovative biomedical research, cutting-edge clinical care and economic growth in West Michigan. 


Phase I of VAI’s construction is completed. 

VARI holds its first scientific symposium.


VAI creates signature special event Hope on the Hill to recognize donors and their charitable gifts to the Institute. 

Dr. Gordon Van Harn appointed Director of VAEI.


VARI hosts first undergraduate interns in its laboratories.


2004 sees the passing of Van Andel Institute Founders Jay and Betty Van Andel.


Van Andel Institute Graduate School is founded and receives charter from the State of Michigan to confer master’s and Ph.D. degrees. 

Dale Chihuly, a world-renowned glass sculptor, unveils Life, commissioned in 2004 by Jay Van Andel in memory of Betty Van Andel. The sculpture hangs in VAI’s lobby. 


VAI signs agreement with Michigan State University to support the creation of a medical school in downtown Grand Rapids.

VAEI begins its inaugural Out-of-School-Time Cohort Program

Dr. Steven J. Triezenberg appointed Dean of Van Andel Institute Graduate School.

Carol Van Andel introduces the inaugural Couture for a Cure fashion event held to benefit VAI. 


VAEI launches Science on Saturday program.

VAEI hosts first West Michigan Regional Undergraduate Science Research Conference for students and professors. 

Groundbreaking ceremony for Phase II building expansion.

VARI and the Shanghai Institute of Meteria Medica (SIMM) establish the VARI/SIMM Center for Drug Discovery in Shanghai, China.

First students enter Van Andel Institute Graduate School.


Child authors of the book Kid’s Cancer Stories visit with more than 100 VAI employees for a book signing. 


Phase II of VAI construction completed. 

Dr. Jeffrey Trent named VARI President and Research Director.

Purple Community™, Van Andel Institute’s grassroots community awareness and fundraising program, is established.

VAI hosts first Origins of Cancer symposium, which brings together experts from across the U.S. and U.K. 


David and Carol Van Andel rededicate the newly renovated Crescent Park. 


VAIGS launches partnership with UNCF (United Negro College Fund).

VAEI begins High School Journal Club, creating an inquiry-based science education program for high school students in West Michigan. 


First students graduate from VAIGS.

Dr. Patrik Brundin appointed the Jay Van Andel Endowed Chair in Parkinson’s Research and works to build the Center for Neurodegenerative Science.

VAEI expands it professional development resources with QPOE2 curriculum products and Partners in Science program for teachers. 

VARI hosts first international Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s Disease symposium for hundreds of Parkinson’s scientists, clinicians and patient advocates. 

VAI and area partners collaborate to create a world-class biorepository following the Program for Biospecimen Science’s accreditation by the College of American Pathologists. 


Dr. George Vande Woude and Dr. Peter Jones named as Fellows of the American Association for Cancer Research Academy

VAIGS receives initial accreditation from Higher Learning Commission. 

VAI launches Pathway of Hope, a multifaceted initiative to study tuberous sclerosis complex (TSC).

Dr. Peter Jones appointed VARI’s Chief Scientific Officer. VARI commits to a global epigenetics research hub.


VARI establishes the Van Andel Research Institute-Stand Up To Cancer (VARI-SU2C) Epigenetics Dream Team to foster epigenetics research collaborations and move promising therapies into clinical trials. 

VARI and U.K.-based research charity The Cure Parkinson’s Trust collaborate on the Linked Clinical Trials initiative. This effort aims to repurpose medications that have already been approved for use, and significantly reduce the time and cost required to bring new and more effective therapies to market. 

VAI partners with Spectrum Health’s Frederick Meijer Heart & Vascular Institute in an effort to stimulate regenerative medicine for heart disease resulting in the DeVos Cardiovascular Research Program led by Dr. Stefan Jovinge. The joint effort was made possible by a significant donation from the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation.

Dr. George Vande Woude receives the Fellowship Award in Biological Science from the American Association for the Advancement of Science


Purple Community hosts its first annual Purple Community 5K. 

VARI scientist Dr. Gerd Pfeifer named a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 

Winterfest, VAI’s signature special event benefiting Parkinson’s disease research, raised $1,000,000 since its inception in 2005. 

VARI scientists Drs. Peter Jones, Stephen Baylin and Stefan Jovinge play key roles in discoveries that were hailed as notable advances of 2015 by Nature Medicine

Research!America’s Geoffery Beene Builders of Science Award presented to David Van Andel and Dr. George Vande Woude. 

His Majesty King Willem-Alexander and her Majesty Queen Maxima of the Netherlands visit the Institute. 


VARI-SU2C Epigenetics Dream Team begins clinical trials on promising new therapies for cancer. 

Terra Tarango appointed VAEI Director and Education Officer. 

Dr. Peter Jones elected into the National Academy of Sciences

Center for Neurodegenerative Science adds new focus on neuroepigenetics. 

VARI significantly expands it structural biology capabilities with the establishment of a Cryo-EM Core and recruits three exceptional structural biologists.