Labs

Meet Our Scientists

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

Van Andel Institute’s laboratories are divided into five departments and a core services team, which allows for efficiency and cross-center collaboration.

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Alberts_Art_255x187Art Alberts, Ph.D. (In Memoriam)
Professor

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.

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Baylin_Stephen_255x187Stephen Baylin, M.D.
Professor, Department of Epigenetics
Director’s Scholar
Co-leader, VAI-SU2C Epigenetics Dream Team
Primary appointment: Johns Hopkins University
Focus area: Van Andel 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 Institute–Stand Up To Cancer Epigenetics Dream Team, a Director’s Scholar at VAI and co-head of Cancer Biology at Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins University.
José Brás, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Neurodegenerative Science

Focus area: Genomic sciences and neurodegeneration

Dr. José Brás investigates how variations in our genes impact the onset and progression of neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and dementia with Lewy bodies. Using cutting-edge technologies and bioinformatic approaches, he has identified new genetic mutations that impact disease risk.

Brundin_Lena_255x187Lena Brundin, M.D., Ph.D.
Professor, Department of 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.

Patrik Brundin, M.D., Ph.D.
Deputy Chief Scientific Officer
Director, Parkinson’s Disease Center
Professor, Department of 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.

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Hong-Yuan Chu, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Neurodegenerative Science

Focus area: Neural circuits and neurodegeneration

Dr. Hong-yuan Chu investigates how and why dopamine-producing cells die off in Parkinson’s, a process that underlies many of the disease’s hallmark symptoms. He plans to leverage this new knowledge to develop new, more precise ways to slow or stop disease progression. 

Gerhard (Gerry) Coetzee, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of 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.

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Bradley Dickson, Ph.D.
Staff scientist
Focus area: Computational biophysicist
 
Dr. Bradley Dickson works on improving the efficiency and applicability of adaptive biasing for free energy computation, and deploying such technologies in the study of chromatin biology and drug discovery.
Juan Du, Ph.D.
Assoicate Professor, Department of Structural Biology

Focus area: Structural biology, cryo-EM, synaptic receptors, ion channels

Juan Du, Ph.D. seeks to understand the brain’s intricate communication systems using state-of-the-art structural biology approaches, such as cryo-EM. Her work has revealed new insights into critical processes such as temperature regulation in the human body, which has implications for development of new medications for neurological disorders.

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Stephanie Grainger, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Cell Biology

Focus area: Wnt Signaling in Hematopoietic Stem Cell Development and Cancer

Stem cells give rise to every cell type in the human body and play important roles in health and disease. Dr. Stephanie Grainger seeks to understand how these special cells develop, how they are maintained, and how they can become cancerous, with the goal of developing new strategies for combating cancer.

Rita Guerreiro, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Neurodegenerative Science

Focus area: Genomic sciences and neurodegeneration

Dr. Rita Guerreiro parses the genetic variations that contribute to neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, dementia with Lewy bodies and frontotemporal dementia. Her research has led to new insights into the genetic contributors to these diseases, which currently have no cure and no treatments that slow progression.

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Brian Haab, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Cell Biology
Associate Dean, Van Andel Institute Graduate School

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.

Michael Henderson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Neurodegenerative Science

Focus area: Protein pathologies and genetic risk in neurodegeneration

Michael Henderson, Ph.D., investigates the causes of neurodegenerative diseases like Parkinson’s and dementia with Lewy bodies, and the factors that control disease progression. He hopes to translate his findings into new therapies that slow or stop this progression.

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Scott Jewell, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Cell Biology
Director, Core Technologies and Services
Director, Pathology and Biorepository Core
Focus area: Core Technologies and Services
 
Dr. Jewell earned his Master’s degree and Ph.D. in experimental pathology and immunology from The Ohio State University. He served at Ohio State as director for the Human Tissue Resource Network and as associate director of the OSU Comprehensive Cancer Center’s Biorepository and Biospecimen Resource, where his dedicated, creative efforts led to the development of a state-of-the-art tissue procurement and biorepository system. He was elected President of the International Society for Biological and Environmental Repositories (ISBER) for 2009–2010 and joined Van Andel Institute in 2010 as a professor in Van Andel Institute Graduate School and as director of the Program for Technologies and Cores and of the Program for Biospecimen Science. He is currently a member of the College of American Pathologist’s (CAP) Biorepository Accreditation Program, a member of the editorial board of the journal Biopreservation and Biobanking and serves as an external advisor to pathology and biorepository cores for several university cancer centers.

Peter A. Jones, Ph.D., D.Sc. (hon)
Chief Scientific Officer
Director, Cancer Center
Co-leader, Van Andel Institute–Stand Up To Cancer Epigenetics Dream Team
Professor, Department of Epigenetics
Focus area: Epigenetic therapies
 
Dr. Peter A. Jones 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, a member of the National Academy of Sciences and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
Russell (Rusty) Jones, Ph.D.
Chair and Professor, Department of Metabolism and Nutritional Programming
Focus area: Cancer and Immunometabolism
 
Dr. Russell Jones investigates metabolism at the cellular level to understand how it affects cell behavior and health, with a specific eye on cancer and the immune system. By revealing how cancer cells use metabolic processes to fuel their growth and spread, he hopes to develop new treatments that help patients by changing the standard of care for cancer.
Jovinge_Stefan_255x187Stefan Jovinge, M.D., Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Cell Biology, Van Andel Institute
Director, DeVos Cardiovascular Research Program (a joint effort between VAI and Spectrum Health)
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 Institute (VAI). 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 VAI.

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Connie Krawczyk, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Metabolism and Nutritional Programming

Focus area: Immunology, epigenetics and metabolism

Dr. Connie Krawczyk investigates the links between metabolism, epigenetics and the immune system, with the goal of understanding how they work together to keep us healthy and, when things go wrong, to promote disease.

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Labrie_Viviane_255x187_newViviane Labrie, Ph.D. (In Memoriam)
Associate Professor

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, Department of 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 Institute’s Center for Epigenetics. He also played a leadership role in The Cancer Genome Atlas, a multi-institutional effort to molecularly map cancers.

Adelheid (Heidi) Lempradl, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Metabolism and Nutritional Programming

Focus area: Intergenerational inheritance of nutritional states

Dr. Adelheid Lempradl is investigating how the dietary choices of parents may impact the health of their offspring in the hopes of translating her findings into new ways to prevent disease and create a healthier future.

Huilin Li, Ph.D.
Chair and Professor, Department of Structural Biology

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.
Associate Professor, Department of Structural 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.

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Eric Ma, Ph.D.
Staff Scientist

Focus area: Metabolic Profiling, Immunometabolism, Stable-Isotope Tracer and Cellular Bioenergetics

Dr. Eric Ma’s research explores the links between metabolism and the immune system, examines whole-body metabolism and investigates the metabolic profiles of different cell types.

Karsten Melcher, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Structural 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.
Chair and Professor, Department of 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.

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Sara Nowinski, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Metabolism and Nutritional Programming

Focus area: Mitochondria and metabolism

Dr. Sara Nowinski investigates how cells determine the amount of energy needed for everyday life and how they adjust to meet those requirements. Her research has uncovered new insights into intricate balance between nutrient availability and cellular respiration — both critical components to maintaining health.

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Gerd Pfeifer, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of 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.

J. Andrew Pospisilik, Ph.D.
Chair and Professor, Department of Epigenetics

Focus area: Epigenetic origins of heterogeneity and disease

Dr. J. Andrew Pospisilik seeks to understand how we become whom we become, and how our disease susceptibility is defined from early on in life, even before conception, with the long-term goal of being able to predict lifelong health outlook at birth.

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Scott Rothbart, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of 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.

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Hui Shen, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of 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.

Xiaobing Shi, Ph.D.
Professor, Department of Epigenetics

Focus area: Chromatin, post-translational modifications, epigenetics, cancer

Xiaobing Shi, Ph.D., investigates the mechanisms that regulate DNA and gene expression in an effort to better understand how they impact cancer development. His research has led to the discovery of several new “readers” of epigenetic marks that may serve as targets for cancer treatment.

Matt Steensma, M.D.
Associate Professor, Department of 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 VAI 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, Department of 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.

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Tim Triche, Jr., Ph.D
Assistant Professor, Department of 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.

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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.

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Hong Wen, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Epigenetics

Focus area: Chromatin, transcription, histone modifications, epigenetics, leukemia, pediatric cancers

Hong Wen, Ph.D., investigates the molecular underpinnings of pediatric cancers, with a focus on how epigenetic dysregulation impacts genes expression and drives malignancy. Her work holds great promise for developing new, improved therapies for these devastating diseases.

Bart Williams, Ph.D. 
Professor, Department of Cell Biology
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. 
Ning Wu, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Department of Metabolism and Nutritional Programming

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.

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Yang_Tao_255x187Tao Yang, Ph.D.
Interim Chair and Associate Professor, Department of 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.