The Van Andel Institute in Grand Rapids plans to use its resources and space to cultivate a new area of cancer research that studies heritable changes in gene activity not caused by changes in DNA sequences.
Dr. Peter A. Jones, the research institute’s director of research and chief scientific officer, says the research effort, called epigenetics, will allow the institute to undertake an aggressive recruitment goal by drawing several well-known scientists to form the basis for the program. From there, the existing faculty will be integrated into the agenda.
Ultimately, the institute seeks to develop epigenetic therapies that can be applied to those with cancer and neurodegenerative diseases. “We’re very interested in pushing the envelope, and we’ve (seen) some very exciting results with treatments of lung cancer patients, where we’re combining epigenetics therapy with immunotherapy, (which) seems to prolong the life of patients,” Jones says.
An example of an epigenetic treatment on the market is Vidaza, which is the standard of care for a bone marrow disorder called myelodysplastic syndrome, Jones says.
As part of establishing the institute as a “global epigenetics research hub,” Jones will develop a consortium of four academic institutions in the United States and one abroad to develop epigenetic therapies. He says the consortium will carry on the work started by Hollywood, Calif.-based Stand Up to Cancer’s Epigenetics Dream Team.
“We are embracing this field of study, extolling epigenetics to a hurting world that is hungry for answers,” said David Van Andel, chairman and CEO of the Van Andel Institute. “Paired with our translational research that is speeding the delivery of new therapies from research bench to bedside, (along with) establishing an epigenetics hub with Dr. Jones at the helm, will impact millions of lives.”