VAI names laboratory head


Jiyan Ma. Courtesy Van Andel Institute

The Van Andel Institute has appointed a laboratory head focused on a nuanced area of study within the field of neurodegenerative diseases.

The biomedical research and science education institute in downtown Grand Rapids said last month that its Van Andel Research Institute has appointed Dr. Jiyan Ma as head of the laboratory of prion mechanisms in neurodegeneration.

Parkinson’s research

The appointment is an effort to expand VAI’s research portfolio and impact on the field of Parkinson’s disease research.

Ma will oversee a team of eight to 10 researchers and focus on studying misfolded proteins, which are often associated with neurodegenerative diseases.

The goal of the research is to develop therapeutics addressing the degenerative aspects of Parkinson’s disease.

The laboratory will also look at how the misfolded proteins are associated with the spread of Parkinson’s disease in the brain.

Ma said he wants to work with others at the institute to discover new solutions.

“I want to collaborate with the other scientists in the center to go after these research problems from a variety of different angles and then combine our knowledge in order to bring about a new discovery,” Ma said. “Just as Albert Szent-Gyoryi said, ‘Discovery consists of seeing what everybody has seen and thinking what nobody has thought.’”

Other relationships explored in Ma’s laboratory will include the link between prions and Alzheimer’s disease and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, which is a condition affecting nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

NIH grants

Ma’s research will be aided by two federal research grants from the National Institutes of Health, based on his past work looking into the relationship between prions and neurodegenerative diseases.

Two of the diseases he focused on were bovine spongiform encephalopathy, or mad cow disease, and its human variant, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease.


Ma was previously part of the faculty at The Ohio State University, teaching molecular and cellular biochemistry.

He received his medical training from Shanghai Medical University, before attending the University of Illinois at Chicago for his Ph.D.

He then continued post-doctoral training at the Howard Hughes Medical Institute at University of Chicago. 

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