Van Andel Institute Research Symposium Showcases Latest Developments in Parkinson's Research

Published: Sep 17, 2012

Grand Rapids, Mich. (September 17, 2012) - Van Andel Institute (VAI) is hosting a scientific symposium September 19-20 that gathers some of the world’s most noted experts in Parkinson’s disease and reinforces the region’s growing reputation in the field of Parkinson’s research.

Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s Disease features experts from nearly a dozen nations including Australia, Malaysia and Sweden. The purpose of the event is to showcase the latest research in the field and to honor Andrew B. Singleton, Ph.D., of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) with the first Jay Van Andel Award for Outstanding Achievement in Parkinson’s Disease Research. The award honors outstanding achievement in the field of Parkinson’s research and is named after Van Andel Institute founder Jay Van Andel who died from the effects of the disease in 2004.

“This is truly a gathering of some of the world’s greatest minds in Parkinson’s disease research,” said chief event organizer Patrik Brundin, M.D., Ph.D., Chair of the Jay Van Andel Translational Parkinson's Disease Research Laboratory and Director of Van Andel Institute’s Center for Neurodegenerative Science. “We will be sharing the results of recent and ongoing research that will become the building blocks for therapies that may be commonplace a decade from now.”

The event also features keynote addresses by noted Parkinson’s experts Ted Dawson, M.D., Ph.D., of The Johns Hopkins University, who will speak on the topic of Looking Forward to Tomorrow’s Therapies for Parkinson’s Disease, and Roger Barker, Ph.D., of University of Cambridge, who will speak on the topic of Matching Therapies to Patients: The Complexities of Disease Heterogeneity in Parkinson’s Disease.

“Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s Disease is exactly the type of symposium Jay Van Andel envisioned his hometown hosting someday,” said VAI Chairman and CEO David Van Andel. “He would be pleased that ‘someday’ has arrived much sooner than many expected.”

About Dr. Andrew B. Singleton

Dr. Andrew Singleton is best known for his work aimed at understanding the genetic causes of Parkinson's disease – work that is opening entire new fields of research.

His first well-known work described the discovery of a duplication and triplication of the alpha-synuclein gene that causes a severe, early-onset form of Parkinson's disease. Scientists already knew that a few extremely rare mutant forms of the protein were bad, but Dr. Singleton showed that too much of the normal protein also has ramifications.

One year later he led the group that was the first to identify mutations in the LRRK2 gene as a cause of familial Parkinson's disease. Occasionally new mutations arise in this gene, which can explain some of the cases of the more common, sporadic Parkinson's disease.

Since then, Dr. Singleton’s laboratory has focused more on the complex genetics of Parkinson's, describing more than 15 common genetic risk factors for this disease. His laboratory has active research programs investigating genetic diversity and the consequences of genetic alterations, particularly in the context of the brain and aging, using systems biology-based approaches.

“We honor Dr. Singleton for his tireless efforts, his seminal discoveries and his tremendous contributions to the field of Parkinson’s research,” said David Van Andel. “His presence strengthens the recognition of Van Andel Institute and West Michigan as a growing, internationally-recognized center of disease research.”

Parkinson’s Research on West Michigan’s Medical Mile

Grand Challenges in Parkinson’s Disease is the latest event in a series of research and clinical developments all within blocks of one another on Grand Rapids’ “Medical Mile,” which situates West Michigan as a potential national leader in basic and translational Parkinson’s research:

• The Michigan State University Morris K. Udall Center of Excellence in Parkinson’s disease is a $6.2 million project funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). These MSU investigators, whose labs are located within VAI, are actively collaborating with Dr. Brundin’s team to develop a world-class Parkinson’s disease enterprise spanning basic, translational and clinical research.

• Dr. Brundin’s lab at Van Andel Institute is studying neurodegenerative disease in general with a particular emphasis on biomarker discovery, disease modification and the development of regenerative therapies for Parkinson’s disease. Plans call for the development of five research groups with about 80 researchers to be phased in over the next five years.

• In 2009 Saint Mary's Health Care opened its Hauenstein Center to treat patients with Parkinson's disease and to provide a full array of additional neuroscience services. Specialists in neurological disorders and a significant number of their patients can now be found mere blocks from the research taking place at VAI, a proximity that potentially enhances and streamlines the clinical trial process.

About Van Andel Institute

Established by Jay and Betty Van Andel in 1996, Van Andel Institute is an independent research organization dedicated to preserving, enhancing and expanding the frontiers of medical science, and to achieving excellence in education by probing fundamental issues of education and the learning process. This is accomplished through the work of over 200 researchers and in collaborative partnerships that span the globe.

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