Advance. Explore. Educate.
Van Andel Institute continues building the Life Science Industry on Health HillBy Dwayne Barnes and Brian Warkoczeski, October 2007
For more than a decade Van Andel Institute (VAI)
has been a leader in biomedical research and education,
impacting the local community around Grand Rapids with its
Van Andel Educational Institute and
interacting with researchers around the world through its
Van Andel Research Institute.
Founded in 1996 by Jay and Betty Van Andel, the Institute's early initiatives provided
technology education for area by partnering with Grand Rapids-area
elementary schools through its educational division, the Van Andel Educational Institute (VAEI).
VAEI now has technology schools in three West Michigan elementary schools, as well as
a Science Academy that provides 4th and 5th grade students
with science programs outside of the regular school day.
The Institute is also offering a pre-college engineering program
that benefits underrepresented minorities and women in
Grand Rapids Public Schools by providing student projects,
internships and other knowledge-building experiences.
In addition, VAEI provides graduate-level biomedical research
training through the Van Andel Institute Graduate School.
With its distinguished faculty and top-notch facilities,
the graduate school prepares students for careers
in science by blending instruction and innovation.
Students benefit from a low student-to-faculty ratio
and an environment that inspires biomolecular discoveries and solutions
to clinical problems. Graduate students get hands-on
experience in various Van Andel Research Institute labs
and are exposed to different modes of research while
learning core concepts in biochemistry,
cell biology, genetics, bioinformatics,
The broad spectrum of educational programs that
Van Andel Institute facilitates through VAEI is making a major impact on
students in the Grand Rapids area. Through its Van Andel Research Institute (VARI),
the Institute is having a similar effect on biomedical research.
Research PartnershipVARI is using its world-class medical research facility
to investigate the genetic and molecular origins of cancer and other diseases
and is partnering with other medical organizations to discover new medical treatments.
In 2007, VAI and Specturm Health formed a $6 million joint venture called the Center for Molecular Medicine (CMM). By combining
Spectrum Health's clinical laboratory and research resources, VAI's research expertise and intellectual property and the latest in
molecular biological technology, CMM will leverage new technologies to aid in early diagnoses. CMM will enhance personalized medicine
and offer more precise treatment options for patients. The Center will also attract new opportunities for diagnostics and enable
pharmaceutical companies to conduct trials in a world-class medical and clinical research environment.
Out of about 350 molecular medicine centers in the country, Grand Rapids' Center for Molecular Medicine is in the top ten percent for
genetic testing to determine a patient's compatibility and non-compatibility with certain prescription drugs. A simple blood test
enables physicians to prescribe the correct dosage of the correct drug the first time. This allows patients to feel better faster,
avoid taking drugs on a trail and error basis, and avoid taking drugs that could cause adverse reactions.
Cancer ResearchAnother partnership that Van Andel Research Institute is undertaking
is investigating the effectiveness of cancer medications.
VARI and the National Cancer Center have partnered to form the NCCS-VARI Transitional Research
Program at the National Cancer Center, Singapore. The joint venture will focus on the biology behind varying drug response in Asian
and non-Asian patients with specific types of cancer. The project will be funded by the government of Singapore, covering
$1.2 million over three years.
The NCCS-VARI collaboration is the first of its kind between NCCS and an international partner. The government of Singapore has
supported significant collaborations with Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Duke University, but this is the first
of its kind involving the NCCS and cancer research.
The partnership will give Van Andel Research Institute investigators easy access to larger numbers of patients with cancers such as
liver, stomach, head and neck, bile duct and NK/T cell lymphoma that are more prevalent among various Asian populations. It will
also encourage a flow of information and data among cancer researchers from Van Andel's Research Institutive (VARI), the NCCS and
its affiliated hospitals. The three-year agreement also calls for an exchange program whereby NCCS and VARI scientists will work
on related studies at the partner institution's labs.
To exchange research data with researchers around the globe and
at Grand Valley's Center for Health Sciences, Van Andel Institute utilizes
connection, which is provided by Merit Network. The network connection provides researchers a fast connection
to electronic resources and information.
Expansion on Health Hill
Health Hill, a hotbed for medical research and education and the residence of
Van Andel Institute, Spectrum Health, and GVSU's Center for Health Sciences in downtown Grand Rapids,
is experiencing some exciting changes to its landscape. In 2007, VAI broke ground on a 170 million dollar "Phase II" building expansion project.
Over the next two and a half years, an eight-story, 240,000-square-foot addition will be built onto the institute's existing facility
on Bostwick Avenue, expanding the facility to 402,000 square feet.
The Phase II building will include a 70-seat conference center and a 90-seat cafeteria. The new facilities combined with the 325-seat
Tomatis Auditorium and the Cook-Hauenstein Hall, will allow the institute to host major scientific research events and conferences.
The new building will also be the home for the VAI graduate school and will have space available for students from soon to be the Michigan
State University West Medical School. When complete in 2009, Phase II expansion will triple VAI's lab space and enable it to branch
into new areas of research such as Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.
Through its many educational initiatives, research programs, and partnerships,
Van Andel Institute is more than succeeding in its goal to
"have an impact world-wide on medical science and education."
By educating the scientists and researchers of tomorrow and
discovering new remedies for serious illnesses, Van Andel Institute
is reaching far beyond "Health Hill" by making significant contributions to
the biomedical industry.
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