Meet Our Scientists

Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) is dedicated to exceptional research and to positively impacting human health. Through cutting-edge science and extensive collaboration, VARI’s investigators are working to find new diagnostics and treatments for cancer, neurodegenerative diseases, and other conditions such as cardiovascular diseases, osteoarthritis and depression. 

VARI’s laboratories are divided into three centers and a core services team, which allows for efficiency and cross-center collaboration.




In Memoriam

Alberts_Art_255x187Art Alberts, Ph.D.
Professor, Program in Molecular Oncology and Pre-Clinical Therapeutics, Center for Cancer and Cell Biology

Dr. Alberts earned degrees in Biochemistry and Cell Biology and Physiology and Pharmacology from the University of California, San Diego under the mentorship of Dr. James Feramisco. From 1994 to 1997, he was as a Howard Hughes Medical Institute International postdoctoral fellow in Dr. Richard Treisman’s Transcription Laboratory at the Imperial Cancer Research Fund, Lincoln’s Inn Fields (now the London Research Institute–Cancer Research UK). From 1998 to 1999, he was the Carol Franc Buck Fellow in Dr. Frank McCormick’s laboratory at the University of California, San Francisco Cancer Research Institute. Dr. Alberts joined Van Andel Institute as a Scientific Investigator in January 2000. He was promoted to Senior Scientific Investigator in 2006 and then to Distinguished Scientific Investigator and Professor of Cancer and Cell Biology in 2009.


Baylin_Stephen_255x187Stephen Baylin, M.D.
Professor, Center for Epigenetics
CSO’s Scholar
Co-leader, VARI-SU2C Epigenetics Dream Team
Primary appointment: Johns Hopkins University
Focus area: Van Andel Research Institute-Stand Up to Cancer (VARI-SU2C) Epigenetics Dream Team
Stephen Baylin, M.D., studies the body’s genetic control systems—called epigenetics—searching for vulnerabilities in cancer. Baylin is a pioneer in this field, and was among the first to trace epigenetic causes of cancer. His studies have led to new therapies for breast, lung and colorectal cancers, among others. He is co-leader of the Van Andel Research Institute–Stand Up To Cancer Epigenetics Dream Team, a Director’s Scholar at VARI and co-head of Cancer Biology at Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University.
Brundin_Lena_255x187Lena Brundin, M.D., Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Center for Neurodegenerative Science

Focus area: Behavioral medicine

As a psychiatrist and a scientist, Lena Brundin, M.D., Ph.D., seeks ways to diagnose and treat depression and suicidality by studying inflammation of the nervous system. Her findings may lead to earlier interventions for depressive patients and for development of a new class of antidepressants that targets the immune system. She also investigates how inflammatory mechanisms can damage nerve cells in Parkinson’s disease.

Brundin_Patrik_255x187Patrik Brundin, M.D., Ph.D.
VARI Associate Director of Research
Professor and Director of the Center for Neurodegenerative Science
Jay Van Andel Endowed Chair in Parkinson’s Research
Focus area: Translational Parkinson’s disease research
Patrik Brundin, M.D., Ph.D., investigates molecular mechanisms in Parkinson’s disease, and his goals are to develop new therapies aimed at slowing or stopping disease progression or repairing damage. He is one of the top-cited researchers in the field of neurodegenerative disease and leads international efforts to repurpose drugs to treat Parkinson’s.


Coetzee_Gerry_255x187Gerhard (Gerry) Coetzee, Ph.D.
Professor, Center for Neurodegenerative Science

Focus area: Post-GWAS functionality

Gerhard Coetzee, Ph.D., searches the human genome for minuscule changes that contribute to onset, progression and drug resistance of many diseases, ranging from cancer to Parkinson’s to rare and heritable disorders. His team deploys genome sequencing technologies and high-powered computational arrays to tease out patterns and interactions of markers and treatment targets from among the human genome’s more than three billion DNA base pairs.


Grohar_Patrick_255x187Patrick Grohar, M.D., Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Program in Skeletal Disease and Tumor Microenvironment, Center for Cancer and Cell Biology

Focus area: Translational sarcoma therapeutics

Patrick Grohar, M.D., Ph.D., develops new drugs to treat bone cancer in children, in addition to pursuing a deeper understanding of the mechanisms of sarcomas and related conditions. Once proven safe and effective in the lab, his team translates these potential therapies into clinical trials for children with few other options. He is an associate professor in Van Andel Research Institute’s Center for Cancer and Cell Biology and a pediatric oncologist at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital.


Haab_Brian_255x187Brian Haab, Ph.D.
Professor, Innovation and Integration Program, Center for Cancer and Cell Biology

Focus area: Cancer immunodiagnostics

Brian Haab, Ph.D., searches for new ways to diagnose and stratify pancreatic cancer based on the chemical fingerprints tumors leave behind. Part of the problem Haab aims to solve is that cancers often look and behave normally—until after they’ve started making people sick. Haab is sleuthing out clues to build a library of diagnostic tools that will help providers diagnose tumors earlier and optimize treatment.


Peter Jones, Ph.D., D.Sc.

Peter Jones, Ph.D., D.Sc.
VARI Chief Scientific Officer
Distinguished Professor and Director of the Center for Epigenetics
Focus area: Epigenetic therapies
Peter Jones, Ph.D., D.Sc., is a pioneer in epigenetics, a growing field that explores how genes are regulated and for developing therapies for cancer and other diseases. His discoveries have helped usher in an entirely new class of drugs that have been approved to treat blood cancer and are being investigated in other tumor types. Jones is a past president of the American Association for Cancer Research, a Fellow of the AACR Academy, a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and was recently elected to the National Academy of Sciences.
Jovinge_Stefan_255x187Stefan Jovinge, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, DeVos Cardiovascular Research Program (a joint effort between VARI and Spectrum Health)
Professor, Center for Epigenetics , VARI
Medical Director of Research, Frederik Meijer Heart and Vascular Institute, Spectrum Health

Focus area: Cardiovascular research

Stefan Jovinge, M.D., Ph.D., develops ways to help the heart heal itself and has led dozens of clinical trials in regenerative medicine. As a critical care cardiologist and scientist, he uses a bench-to-bedside approach in an effort to give patients with serious heart conditions longer, healthier lives. The clinical platform for his research is the Cardiothoracic Intensive Care Unit at Spectrum Health Hospitals Fred and Lena Meijer Heart Center, and the basic science effort in regenerative medicine is performed at Van Andel Research Institute (VARI). He serves as director of the DeVos Cardiovascular Research Program, the name of the overall structure of the program that is a collaboration between Spectrum Health and VARI.


Kordower_Jeffrey_255x187Jeffrey H. Kordower, Ph.D.
Professor, Center for Neurodegenerative Science
CSO’s Scholar
Primary appointment: Rush University Medical Center
Focus area: Parkinson’s disease: Pathogenesis and experimental therapeutics
Jeffrey Kordower, Ph.D., is an international authority on the onset of Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Huntington’s diseases, and works to develop new procedures aimed at slowing disease progression or reversing damage to the brain. He holds a primary appointment at Rush University in Chicago and is a Director’s Scholar at Van Andel Research Institute, where he focuses on designing preclinical studies and clinical trials to translate these new approaches into meaningful changes for people suffering with movement disorders.


Labrie_Viviane_255x187_newViviane Labrie, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Center for Neurodegenerative Science

Focus area: Epigenetics in neurodegenerative diseases

Viviane Labrie, Ph.D., studies the dynamic interplay between the human genome and its control system—the epigenome—to understand how neurodegenerative diseases start and progress in an effort to develop improved diagnostics and treatments. Labrie’s scientific pursuits have deepened understanding of conditions from Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases to schizophrenia to healthy aging conditions like lactose intolerance. She has also developed new methods for epigenome analysis.

Laird_Peter_255x187Peter W. Laird, Ph.D.
Professor, Center for Epigenetics

Focus area: Cancer epigenetics

Peter W. Laird, Ph.D., seeks a detailed understanding of the molecular foundations of cancer with a particular focus on identifying crucial epigenetic alterations that convert otherwise healthy cells into cancer cells. He is widely regarded as an international leader in this effort and has helped design some of the world’s state-of-the-art tools to aid in epigenetics research. Laird is a principal investigator for the National Cancer Institute’s Genome Data Analysis Network and is a professor in Van Andel Research Institute’s Center for Epigenetics. He also played a leadership role in The Cancer Genome Atlas, a multi-institutional effort to molecularly map cancers.

Xiaohong Li, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Program in Skeletal Disease and Tumor Microenvironment, Center for Cancer and Cell Biology

Focus area: Tumor microenvironment and metastasis

Xiaohong Li, Ph.D., studies when various cancers, particularly prostate and breast cancer cells, migrate from their original site and spread to the bone. These cells stay dormant and might wake up years later or grow-up to bone metastases, cause debilitating pain and are exceedingly difficult to treat. Li hopes that a better understanding metastatic cancers will lead to new diagnostic tests and targeted therapies.

Huilin Li, Ph.D.
Professor, Center for Epigenetics

Focus area: Cryo-EM, Structural Biology, DNA Replication and Epigenetics

Huilin Li, Ph.D., uses cryo-electron microscopy to reveal the most basic building blocks of DNA replication and other systems vital for life. He has been at the vanguard of cryo-EM for more than 20 years, and his research has implications for some of the world’s most critical public health concerns, including tuberculosis, cancer, mental illness, and many more.

Wei Lü, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Cancer and Cell Biology

Focus area: Cryo-EM

Wei Lü, Ph.D., is working to unravel how brain cells communicate with each other. Using techniques such as cryo-electron microscopy, his work has contributed to the field’s understanding of molecules that play crucial roles in the development and function of the nervous system.


Jiyan Ma, Ph.D.
Professor, Center for Neurodegenerative Science

Focus area: Prion mechanisms in neurodegeneration

Jiyan Ma, Ph.D., studies abnormal proteins that causes neurodegenerative diseases, including Parkinson’s disease and prion diseases in humans and animals. His lab has developed new ways to understand the how these proteins spread and cause diseases in humans and animals. The lab is also developing new approaches to diagnose and treat these devastating disorders.

Karsten Melcher, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Innovation and Integration Program, Center for Cancer and Cell Biology

Focus area: Structural biology and biochemistry

Karsten Melcher, Ph.D., studies molecular structure and cellular communication, which have implications for finding new treatments for serious health threats including cancer, diabetes and obesity. His expertise extends beyond human cells—his research into plant hormones may one day lead to heartier crops that resist drought and help meet the nutritional demands of a growing global population.

Darren Moore, Ph.D.
Professor, Center for Neurodegenerative Science

Focus area: Molecular neurodegeneration

Darren Moore, Ph.D., seeks new diagnostic and treatment approaches for Parkinson’s by investigating the inherited form of the disease, which comprises five to 10 percent of cases. He aims to translate the understanding of these genetic mutations into better treatments and new diagnostic tools for Parkinson’s, both inherited and non-inherited. Discoveries from Moore’s lab routinely elucidate the faulty molecular interactions that transform healthy, functioning neurons into diseased ones.


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

Focus area: Epigenetic pathways in disease

Gerd Pfeifer, Ph.D., studies how the body switches genes on and off, a biological process called methylation that, when faulty, can lead to cancer or other diseases. His studies range from the effect of tobacco smoke on genetic and epigenetic systems to the discovery of a mechanism that may help protect the brain from neurodegeneration. Pfeifer’s studies have implications across a range of diseases, including cancer, Parkinson’s, diabetes, and many others.


Scott Rothbart, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Center for Epigenetics

Focus area: Chromatin and epigenetic regulation

Scott Rothbart, Ph.D., studies the ways in which cells pack and unpack DNA. This elegant process twists and coils roughly 2 meters of unwound DNA into a space less than one-tenth the width of a human hair. Although this process is impressive, it is also subject to errors that can cause cancer and other disorders. Rothbart seeks new targets for drug development in this process.


Sempere_Lorenzo_255x187Lorenzo Sempere, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Program in Skeletal Disease and Tumor Microenvironment, Center for Cancer and Cell Biology

Focus area: microRNA diagnostics and therapeutics

Lorenzo Sempere, Ph.D., studies the role of microRNAs in the origin and growth of cancer. These very short strands of genetic material were discovered just over 15 years ago, and are now recognized as dynamic regulatory modules of the larger human genome. Sempere targets microRNAs in an effort to develop new cancer drugs, specifically for pancreatic and breast cancers.

Hui Shen, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Center for Epigenetics

Focus area: Epigenomic analysis in human disease

Hui Shen, Ph.D., develops new approaches to cancer prevention, detection and treatment by studying the interaction between genes and their control systems, called epigenetics. Her research focuses on women’s cancers, particularly ovarian cancer, and also has shed new light on the underlying mechanisms of other many cancer types, including breast, kidney and prostate cancers.

Matt Steensma, M.D.
Assistant Professor, Program in Skeletal Disease and Tumor Microenvironment, Center for Cancer and Cell Biology

Focus area: Musculoskeletal oncology

Matt Steensma, M.D., studies the genetic and molecular factors that cause benign tumors to become cancers to find vulnerabilities that may be targeted for treatment. As a scientist at VARI and practicing surgeon at Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, he is committed to translating scientific discoveries into treatments that improve patients’ lives.

Piroska Szabó, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Center for Epigenetics

Focus area: Developmental reprogramming

Piroska Szabó, Ph.D., studies the flow of epigenetic information from parents to their offspring, with a focus on how epigenetic markers are remodeled during egg and sperm production, and how these markers are rewritten after fertilization. These processes have profound implications on fertility and embryo development. Disturbances in epigenetic remodeling are thought to contribute to disease conditions lasting well into adulthood.


Tim Triche, Jr., Ph.D
Assistant Professor, Center for Epigenetics

Focus area: Leukemia, biostatistics, computational biology, next-generation sequencing

As a statistician and computational biologist with an interest in clonal evolution and cancers of the blood, Dr. Tim Triche, Jr.’s, work focuses on wedding data-intensive molecular phenotyping to adaptive clinical trial designs, in an effort to accelerate the pace of drug targeting and development in rare or refractory diseases.

Triezenberg_Steve_255x187_newSteven Triezenberg, Ph.D.
President and Dean, Van Andel Institute Graduate School
Professor, Center for Epigenetics
Focus area: Transcriptional regulation
Steven Triezenberg, Ph.D., explores the genetic and epigenetic control systems of viruses to understand how infections progress and to reveal new ways to stop those infections. His discoveries with herpes simplex viruses have opened new possibilities for antiviral drug development and have revealed new insights into how human cells control gene expression. In addition to running a lab at Van Andel Research Institute, Dr. Triezenberg is the founding dean of Van Andel Institute Graduate School.


Vande Woude_George_255x187George Vande Woude, Ph.D.
Distinguished Scientific Fellow, Emeritus

Focus area: Molecular oncology

George Vande Woude, Ph.D., is a titan in cancer biology. He is the founding director of Van Andel Research Institute, which he led for a decade. His discovery and description of the MET receptor tyrosine kinase as an oncogene, together with its activating ligand hepatocyte growth factor have led to new possibilities for cancer therapies. His discovery has revolutionized the way scientists view the disease especially in tumor progression. He is a distinguished scientific fellow in the Center for Cancer and Cell Biology and a member of the National Academy of Sciences.


Bart Williams, Ph.D. 
Director, Center for Cancer and Cell Biology
Professor, Program in Skeletal Disease and Tumor Microenvironment
Focus area: Cell signaling and carcinogenesis
Bart Williams, Ph.D., studies the building blocks of bone growth on behalf of the millions suffering from diseases such as osteoporosis. He seeks new ways of altering cell signaling pathways to encourage healthy bone development and deter cancer spread to the skeleton. Williams is director of Van Andel Research Institute’s Center for Cancer and Cell Biology.
Ning Wu, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Innovation and Integration Program, Center for Cancer and Cell Biology

Focus area: Cancer signaling and metabolism

Ning Wu, Ph.D., investigates the interface between cellular metabolism and cellular signaling, particularly as they relate to cancer. On the most basic level, cancer is fundamentally a disease of uncontrolled cell growth, and Wu believes that understanding a tumor’s voracious energy requirements and altered signaling pathways will lead to new treatments that optimize existing combination therapies and identify novel therapeutic targets.


Eric Xu, Ph.D.
Professor, Innovation and Integration Program, Center for Cancer and Cell Biology
Distinguished Director, VARI-SIMM Research Center
Focus area: Structural sciences
Eric Xu, Ph.D., explores structure of molecules in body’s complex hormone signaling system, which plays a vital role in health and disease. He is particularly known for his discoveries in defining the structure of molecules critical to the development of new drugs for cancer, diabetes and many others. He is a professor in VARI’s Center for Cancer and Cell Biology and also serves as director of VARI-SIMM Research Center in Shanghai, China.


Yang_Tao_255x187Tao Yang, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Program in Skeletal Disease and Tumor Microenvironment, Center for Cancer and Cell Biology

Focus area: Skeletal biology

Tao Yang, Ph.D., studies the signaling systems that govern skeletal stem cells and the role they play in diseases such as osteoarthritis and osteoporosis. Bones are the largest producer of adult stem cells, which mature into cartilage, fat or bone tissue—a process that falters with age. Yang seeks a better understanding of these systems in search of new treatments for degenerative bone disorders and other skeletal aging.