Light shines bright on research benefiting future generations

October 5, 2009
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It is generally agreed that the opening of the Van Andel Arena in downtown Grand Rapids created the city’s most significant economic “domino effect,” supporting a still-expanding restaurant and entertainment district.

Compared to the arena, however, the Van Andel Institute is a multiplier on steroids — with a worldwide domino effect.

The 10th anniversary of the Van Andel Institute next year and the celebration of its expansion in December will provide the community an opportunity to measure its successes.

From the day the VAI opened its doors in 2000 — and even in the year preceding — Grand Rapids became one of the world’s cancer battlefields. It was reported at the time that one in three men and one in four women would develop cancer during their lifetime. The American Cancer Society reported 3,185 new cases of cancer could be expected that year in Kent and Ottawa counties.

The “Hope on the Hill” has become a respected and quickly recognized research champion in the international field, largely through the reputation and diligence of founding director George Vande Woude, Ph.D. His reputation was built in the world’s research labs, including Plum Island and as director of the National Cancer Institute Division of Basic Sciences and an internationally recognized molecular oncology expert.

Health Quarterly contributing editor and columnist David Van Andel notes this month that the construction cranes used to construct the “Medical Mile” for the past 10 years are one-by-one disappearing, leaving in their stead more than $1 billion in philanthropic infrastructure that includes the new Michigan State University  College of Human Medicine, various medical facilities with specific areas of expertise, and Grand Valley State University’s Cook DeVos Center for Health Professions.

At this juncture, and on the eve of the Dec. 8 ribbon cutting at the expanded VAI, its leaders are recruiting 550 additional scientists, and eight students are enrolled in its graduate school. The health care facilities delineating Michigan Street hill also have been recruiting physician specialists.

It is a boost to the educational level of the Grand Rapids statistical area and to the city’s average household income. It is a boost to the city’s international stature and to its ethnic mix — and a very big boost in the fight for cancer cures.

VAI architect Rafael Vinoly will be part of the December celebration, which presents an opportunity for him to meet the scientists and researchers for whom he designed the building. VAI leaders say they often hear employees remark that they are happy to be “working in the light” instead of a basement lab.

The domino effect is and will be profound.

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