When the clock struck midnight on Dec. 31, Van Andel Institute’s 25th anniversary year drew to a close. As we reflect on this milestone in our organization’s history, we are more grateful than ever for the community that has embraced us and helped make our achievements possible.
Inscribed on a plaque in our lobby are the words of Margaret Mead: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed individuals can change the world. In fact, it’s the only thing that ever has.” As an independent research organization, Van Andel Institute is relatively small — but we are committed to the pursuit of big, bold ideas. West Michigan’s spirit is the same; although we are not a big city like New York or Chicago, our people have vision that surpasses even the largest locales. Twenty-five years ago, Grand Rapids was relatively unknown. Today, we are nationally recognized as a desirable place to live, work and play.
Around us on the Medical Mile, there are even more signs of innovation. In 2017, Michigan State University opened the Grand Rapids Research Center. From our vantage point on Michigan Street, we are watching MSU’s Grand Rapids Innovation Park grow by the day. In the other direction, Grand Valley State University’s Daniel and Pamella DeVos Center for Interprofessional House is now open to students. Over the past quarter-century, the West Michigan community has become a life sciences hub that attracts talent from all around the world.
In November, five VAI scientists were named to the 2021 Clarivate Highly Cited Researchers List — a distinction marking them as leaders in their fields. In the last year alone, we recruited six top-tier scientists to join our faculty. From up-and-coming stars to established experts in their fields, each one adds to the critical mass of scientists needed for a vibrant life sciences community. And, importantly, these six labs will bring jobs and federal research grants into the West Michigan economy.
The work of our top-notch faculty are at the forefront of these efforts, and their work is underpinned by the Institute’s state-of-the-art Core Technologies and Services — a collection of departments that offer specialized support for scientists both at VAI and collaborating organizations across the globe. These services, which include cutting-edge technology and deep expertise, are integral in bolstering our partnerships and putting VAI and Grand Rapids on the map for world-class biomedical research.
VAI scientists are working hard every day, leveraging the collective strength of global collaborators to address serious health challenges like cancer and Parkinson’s disease. Ongoing projects include an exploration of how diet and metabolism influence the immune system’s ability to fight infections and disease; research into improved therapies for cancer; and a study that will seek to answer the question of whether we would be the same person if we were born multiple times under the exact same circumstances — referred to as the “two yous” project.
As much as we celebrate our growth, we know that there is no “going it alone” in science. We all have a role in developing breakthroughs that transform the way diseases are diagnosed and treated, whether that’s health care providers, scientists or the many people who make our work possible. We remain mindful of the countless challenges that face our community, our country and our world — knowing that when we work together and leverage each of our strengths for the betterment of humanity, there is no doubt that we will succeed.
David Van Andel is chairman and CEO of Van Andel Institute.