Collaboration is a biomedical research imperative


Van Andel Institute, or VAI, in downtown Grand Rapids is a biomedical research and science education nonprofit established by Jay and Betty Van Andel in 1996.

When my parents considered building a research institute in Grand Rapids in the late 1990s, many people thought it a foolish endeavor.

No significant medical or scientific infrastructure existed at that time to support the kind of research they wanted to undertake. Grand Rapids’ economy was in the process of redefining itself, and the state of Michigan was struggling. The doubters made a very good case for taking Van Andel Institute to another larger, more established city and scientific corridor, but my parents decided to build the institute right here in Grand Rapids, their home.

Soon after opening Van Andel Institute, medical centers, universities and research facilities began to sprout up along what has come to be known as the Medical Mile.

Van Andel Institute is now surrounded by a collection of collaborators and partners, and a network of support that would have been unthinkable 15 or 20 years ago. Today, Grand Rapids is home to a world-class research institute, and the city is thriving, due in part to a medically driven economy with a focus on innovation.

The spirit of innovation has brought with it a move toward a more collaborative environment in biomedical research. Technological innovation enables scientists to work with equipment and specialties that are increasingly tailored to one specific area of focus, changing the way they work. Research teams are now often composed of molecular biologists, surgeons, biostatisticians and imaging experts, creating a dynamic that is inherently collaborative.

The amount of intellectual capital and expertise it takes to bring forward a new discovery in cancer or neurodegenerative diseases is staggering. More often than not, these discoveries can be attributed to research teams that work collaboratively with varying specialties.

Partnership is not just an internal or organizational model. When Van Andel Institute founded our research initiatives, we relied on partnerships for guidance and support. Today, these partners are vital components of our research development; they are organizations that share our passion for innovation and the power of biomedical research to change the course of human health.

Millions of individuals in the United States are suffering from cancer and neurodegenerative diseases and are in desperate need of improved diagnostics and therapies. Such advancements in human health depend on organizations working together and researchers of varying specialties following suit.

Embracing the future means doing so under the banner of powerful partnerships, and at Van Andel Institute we have seen the great potential in the process of collaboration.

David Van Andel is chairman and CEO of Van Andel Institute.

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