Van Andel Institute

Van Andel Institute (VAI) is an independent biomedical research and science education organization committed to improving the health and enhancing the lives of current and future generations. Established by Jay and Betty Van Andel in 1996 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, VAI has grown into a premiere research and educational institution that supports the work of more than 400 scientists, educators and staff.

Grand Rapids, MI
EIN 52-2000820
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Fighting cancer is a team effort

By Dr. Peter A. Jones and Dr. Steve Baylin

Co-leaders, Van Andel Research Institute–Stand Up To Cancer Epigenetics Dream Team

Four years ago, we embarked on a collaborative endeavor to improve cancer treatment by establishing the Van Andel Research Institute–Stand Up To Cancer (VARI–SU2C) Epigenetics Dream Team, a multi-institutional effort to identify new, more effective cancer therapies and test them in the clinic, ultimately improving patient care.

Since then, we’ve been hard at work, launching clinical trials at sites across the U.S. and abroad to investigate innovative new treatments for lung cancer, bladder cancer, colorectal cancer and two blood cancers called acute myeloid leukemia and myelodysplastic syndrome. We are hopeful that these efforts will help move the needle on cancer treatment and give patients better options that improve their lives and wellbeing.

Today, we’re thrilled to announce the launch of a new trial, which explores a novel combination of the immunotherapy medication durvalumab and the epigenetic medication guadecitabine for the treatment of liver cancer, pancreatic cancer, bile duct cancer and gallbladder cancer. Currently, few treatment options exist for these notoriously aggressive malignancies, a problem that contributes to their overall poor prognosis.

This combination of medications attacks cancer on two fronts: First, by thwarting its ability to hide from the body’s natural defenses and, second, by enhancing the immune system’s ability to seek and destroy tumor cells. The result, we believe, will be a one-two punch against these tough-to-treat diseases.

The trial is currently open at University of Southern California under the leadership of Dr. Anthony El-Khoueiry and is anticipated to open soon at The Sidney Kimmel Comprehensive Cancer Center at Johns Hopkins under the leadership of Dr. Nilofer Azad and at Hoag Memorial Hospital Presbyterian under the leadership of Dr. Diana Hanna. Information on eligibility may be found at clinicaltrials.gov.

As the number of trials we support grows, so too does the team itself. We are extremely pleased to welcome two new members — Garvan Institute of Medical Research in Sydney, Australia, represented by principal investigator Prof. Susan Clark, Division Head of Genomics and Epigenetics, and Indiana University (IU) represented by principal investigator Dr. Kenneth Nephew, Professor of Cellular and Integrative Physiology at IU School of Medicine.

Both are leaders in their fields — Dr. Clark in exploring the role of epigenetics in development and cancer, and in pioneering many revolutionary technologies used today in labs across the globe; and Dr. Nephew in studying epigenetics in ovarian and breast cancers, and in developing strategies to overcome drug resistance.

They will be joined by investigators Dr. Kathy Miller, the Ballve Lanterno Professor of Oncology at IU School of Medicine and Associate Director of Clinical Research at Indiana University Melvin and Bren Simon Cancer Center, and Dr. Anthony Joshua, Director of Oncology at Garvan Institute of Medical Research and Kinghorn Cancer Center.

All of these new developments are anchored by our common, unifying mission — to improve cancer treatment and give patients more healthy years. By working together and harnessing the resources, talent and expertise of leading scientists, physicians and organizations, we have high hopes that we can make that goal a reality.

Learn more about the team, our clinical trials and our members here.

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In 2019, VAI was ranked 30th in the top 100 nonprofit/nongovernmental organizations worldwide by The Nature Index, which measures institutional scientific output.30
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VAI and its scientists collaborate with leading researchers, physicians, health care organizations and companies around the world to translate breakthroughs in the lab into lifechanging new therapies for people with cancer, Parkinson’s and many other diseases.
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VAI annually supports more than 2,600 K-12 students with education programs that foster a life-long curiosity about science and develops critical thinking skills.
Learn more at
www.vai.org/