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VAI Voice

The Official Blog of Van Andel Institute
28 Dec 2017

What’s next for VAI in 2018

With the end of the year approaching, we asked the Institute’s leadership for a sneak peek into what they are most excited for in the coming year. Here’s what they had to say (spoiler alert—there’s a lot to look forward to!):

Dr. Peter Jones

“The past year marked a real acceleration in our growth, both in terms of recruitment and scientific capacity. There are many things to be excited about as we look toward the coming year, including an ever-expanding collaboration with Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and multiple clinical and research partnerships both in Grand Rapids and around the world. We continue to build our strengths in cancer, Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases, bone diseases and structural biology, always with laser-focus on creating real, positive change for patients.

I’m particularly thrilled about the establishment of a research program in metabolism and nutrition, which we anticipate launching in 2018. Metabolism and nutrition are at the heart of human health, and can play a major role in many diseases such as cancer, diabetes and even neurological disorders. We believe this new program will generate a groundswell of research in these areas, resulting in a better understanding of human biology and a foundation upon which to build new therapies for many illnesses.”

Dr. Peter Jones
Chief Scientific Officer and Director of the Center for Epigenetics, Van Andel Research Institute

Dr. Patrik Brundin

“As we look forward to 2018, I’m very happy about all that we accomplished in 2017 and how it has set the stage for continued growth. Our faculty have earned an unprecedented level of highly competitive external grant support in the past year, which reinforces the fact that we’re conducting high caliber, rigorous and impactful research. Furthermore, our Center for Neurodegenerative Science already has an exciting pipeline of results that hopefully will be published in the near future. Our critical mass also is expanding—we will welcome several new faculty members to our neurodegenerative disease research program in the coming year who will bolster our existing strengths and will spur new, innovative avenues of discovery. On the collaboration front, we look forward to nurturing newly established partnerships with colleagues locally, around the U.S. and abroad with the ultimate goal of not only better understanding diseases such as Parkinson’s, but improving treatment and giving people more years with fewer symptoms.”

Dr. Patrik Brundin
Associate Director of Research and Director of the Center for Neurodegenerative Science, Van Andel Research Institute

Dr. Bart Williams

“As we move into 2018, we do so with an urgency and renewed commitment to better understand the diseases that affect so many, such as cancer, osteoporosis and rare disorders like neurofibromatosis type 1. Our goal is to markedly improve people’s lives through developing better preventative, diagnostic and treatment strategies; we believe the outstanding progress made in the past year has paved the way for the discoveries to come. In 2018, we look forward to establishing a new program in metabolism and nutrition, which aims to transform our understanding of human health and disease, as well as continuing to grow our already exceptional team of scientists. We also are thrilled about the increasing gravitational pull to Grand Rapids, which is quickly establishing itself as a hub for biomedical research and health innovation.”

Dr. Bart Williams
Director, Center for Cancer and Cell Biology

Dr. Scott Jewell

“We’ve spent the past year optimizing our Core Technologies and Services, which provide specialized scientific services to researchers at the Institute and beyond. We’re particularly thrilled with the collaborative growth between our team and Michigan State University, and look forward to the scientific discovery this partnership will bring in the coming years.

We also are enthusiastic about continued progress on a national level; since 2015, our Biorepository has been part of the Clinical Proteomic Tumor Analysis Consortium (CPTAC), a National Institutes of Health-led, multi-institutional effort to better understand the biological basis of cancer. Large-scale projects like this allow us to really look at the aberrations that cause disease across many cancer types and patients, and are a critical tool for developing new therapies. Our team is thrilled to be a part of this endeavor and are excited to share even more data with the public as the project progresses.”

Dr. Scott Jewell
Director, Core Technologies and Services

Dr. Steve Triezenberg

VAI Graduate School (VAIGS) marked several high points in 2017. We are proud of the six Ph.D. students who completed their degrees this year—the most in any one year to date. Seven new graduate students comprise the largest incoming cohort in our short history. VAIGS students were co-authors on at least 15 scientific papers this year, including articles published in the high-impact journals Cell and Genes & Development.

As new faculty are recruited to VARI, the Graduate School seeks to support their participation and to build their capabilities in teaching and in mentoring. The first-year students explored lab rotations in eight laboratories that have not previously hosted grad students. Several faculty have or will soon direct VAIGS courses for the first time.

We are now looking forward to reaffirmation of our accreditation with the Higher Learning Commission, which includes a site visit in late February. We are confident in presenting our evidence that we continue to meet all of the accreditation criteria, and look forward to demonstrating that to the visitors.”

Dr. Steve Triezenberg
Dean, Van Andel Institute Graduate School

Terra Tarango

“In 2017, Van Andel Education Institute (VAEI) served more than 26,000 students and 3,500 teachers. We broadened our reach locally by launching our first summer camps for students as well as our first public workshops for teachers. We also extended our reach nationally by adding significant content and functionality to our software platform, nexgeninquiry.org. The platform now includes more than 65 lessons all searchable by grade level and science standard as well as hundreds of practical teaching strategies aimed at developing an inquiry-based culture in the classroom. In 2018, we will continue to expand our reach across student programs, professional development, and instructional tools for teachers. We will offer summer camps for grades 2 through 12 and will host a teacher conference that we hope will inspire and empower educators to create classrooms where curiosity, creativity and critical thinking thrive!”

Terra Tarango
Director and Education Officer, Van Andel Education Institute