VAI scientists named to Highly Cited Researchers list

From left, Dr. Patrik Brundin, Peter A. Jones , Russell Jones, Peter W. Laird and X. Edward Zhou. Courtesy Van Andel Institute

Five Van Andel Institute scientists recently were included on a list of the world’s top researchers.

Grand Rapids-based Van Andel Institute said Tuesday, Nov. 16, its scientists Dr. Patrik Brundin, M.D., Ph.D.; Peter A. Jones, Ph.D., Ds.C. (hon); Russell Jones, Ph.D.; Peter W. Laird, Ph.D.; and X. Edward Zhou, Ph.D., were included in Clarivate’s 2021 Highly Cited Researchers list, a distinction marking them as leaders in their fields.

The annual list identifies researchers who demonstrated “significant influence” in their chosen area or areas of study through the publication of multiple highly cited papers during the past decade. Their names are drawn from the publications that rank in the top 1% by citations for field and publication year in the Web of Science citation index. Only about one in 1,000 scientists in the world make this elite list, according to Clarivate.

Citations, or references, to a scientist’s published work by other researchers are considered to be a measure of influence and impact in the scientific community.

“It is increasingly important for nations and institutions to recognize and support the exceptional researchers who are driving the expansion of the world’s knowledge,” said David Pendlebury, senior citation analyst at the Institute for Scientific Information at Clarivate. “This list identifies and celebrates exceptional individual researchers at Van Andel Institute who are having a significant impact on the research community as evidenced by the rate at which their work is being cited by their peers. The research they have contributed is fueling the innovation, sustainability, health and security that is key for our society’s future.”


Brundin, deputy chief scientific officer at VAI, investigates the mechanisms that give rise to Parkinson’s disease, a progressive neurological disorder that affects more than 7 million people worldwide. Brundin’s research is redefining the understanding of Parkinson’s, from how it spreads in the brain and throughout the body to investigating the role of infections in the disease’s earliest stages. His goal is to develop new therapies that slow or stop disease progression or that repair the brain — feats not possible with existing treatments. Along with research in his lab, Brundin chairs the scientific committee of the International Linked Clinical Trials initiative, a program spearheaded by Cure Parkinson’s and supported by VAI that moves repurposed medications into clinical trials for Parkinson’s.

Peter Jones 

The chief scientific officer of VAI, Jones is a pioneer in epigenetics, a growing field that explores how genes are regulated and that has vast implications for the development of new therapies for cancer and other diseases. His discoveries helped usher in a new class of drugs 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 (AACR), 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 Jones

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. He the chair of VAI’s Department of Metabolism and Nutritional Programming, an elected member of the College of New Scholars, Artists and Scientists of the Royal Society of Canada and an Allen Distinguished Investigator in Immunometabolism.


Laird, professor, department of epigenetics at VAI, is an expert in epigenetics, a field that explores when and how the instructions in our genetic code are carried out. Epigenetic mistakes play major roles in cancer and, as such, serve as important targets for new treatments. Laird has developed several technologies that he leverages to identify crucial epigenetic alterations that convert otherwise healthy cells into cancer cells. He is a principal investigator for the National Cancer Institute’s Genome Data Analysis Network and served in a leadership role for The Cancer Genome Atlas, a now-completed multi-institutional effort to molecularly map 33 different types of cancer.


Zhou, senior research scientist, Li Lab, and department of structural biology, VAI, is a structural biologist whose research explores how the architecture of molecules governs how they work — and how abnormal changes to molecular shape can influence disease. He has contributed to numerous discoveries, including identification of the structure of a major molecular drug target that can be leveraged to treat a host of diseases, as well as structures that provided revelatory insights into drought resistance in plants.

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