Community critical in fight against disease


Every day, Grand Rapids’ Medical Mile hums with the work of thousands of brilliant minds.

Teams of highly skilled doctors, nurses and specialists come together to administer groundbreaking treatments that improve patients’ lives. Students come to learn — gaining important skills and knowledge that set them up to be the next generation of health and research professionals. Scientists from around the world also come to Grand Rapids, fueled by a curiosity that powers their search for answers to some of society’s most pressing health-related challenges.

This powerful mix, coupled with Grand Rapids’ entrepreneurial and innovative spirit, generates a strong gravitational pull that draws people from around the globe to West Michigan. For Van Andel Institute (VAI), this has manifested in the recruitment of world-class scientists who are at the forefront of groundbreaking discoveries.

But science can’t simply stay in a laboratory. It must be translated into actionable advances that help humanity. And, importantly, it must be shared with the public.

What we are doing on the Medical Mile could transform the way we prevent, diagnose and treat myriad diseases. That’s a lofty goal and is underpinned by a simple truth: We could not do any of this without community advocacy and support.

It is a privilege and a responsibility to share news of scientific discoveries with the community because these advances belong to all of us. In the past six months, we’ve welcomed hundreds of people to the institute through our Public Lecture Series. These quarterly events give community members a chance to learn about the latest research and how it could affect their lives or the lives of their families and friends. To date, we’ve covered how the appendix could be a starting point for Parkinson’s; how basic research and a potential new test could change pancreatic cancer diagnosis and treatment; and how scientists are decoding the genetic contributors to Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Lewy body dementia.

Our next lecture, which will be held Sept. 25, will feature two physician-scientists who will highlight how a discovery in the lab can become a life-changing treatment in the doctor’s office. A Focus on Translational Medicine is scheduled for noon-1 p.m., Wednesday, Sept. 25, at the institute, 333 Bostwick Ave. NE, Grand Rapids. The event is free and open to the public. Registration is required and may be completed at

Now more than ever, science is a collaborative effort. It is incumbent upon us all to advocate for research that could positively shape humanity’s future. After all, the more people who understand these diseases and what’s being done to combat them, the better equipped we are to meet pressing health challenges in the years to come.

Through the Public Lecture Series and other initiatives, VAI is dedicated to the hope found in biomedical research and science education to improve the health and enhance the lives of current and future generations. The fight against disease is too big and important a battle for scientists to go it alone. 

With our community’s support and participation, we can make sure the future our children and grandchildren will inherit will be far healthier and more hopeful than it is today. As leaders in health care, biomedical research and education, we have the unique opportunity to serve as advocates for the power of great science; and together we can rally our community around this important work. There is no doubt that when we work together, connected by this shared mission, we will not fail. 

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

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