Economic Development and Health Care

Spectrum and VAI collaborate on cardiovascular program

February 7, 2014
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Van Andel Research Institute and Spectrum Health are collaborating to bring Dr. Stefan Jovinge, M.D., Ph.D., to Grand Rapids to continue his research in cardiovascular science, specifically in the potential of regeneration in the heart.

The partnership between the two organizations, combined with a donation on behalf of the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation, will bring Jovinge to the Medical Mile.

“I think that there is a unique possibility of having these two great institutions so close to each other, and there is so much that hasn’t been done when it comes to cardiovascular science,” Jovinge said. “For a clinician scientist like me to have such a huge, high-quality center beside a research center — which hasn’t been doing cardiovascular science before — is like a gold mine.”

David Van Andel, chairman and CEO of VAI, said Jovinge’s work has completely changed the way the medical and academic communities regarded the heart’s ability to repair itself.

“Dr. Jovinge’s presence will dramatically increase the footprint by which medical research is conducted here in Grand Rapids,” said Van Andel.

As principal investigator, Jovinge will lead clinicians and researchers in a new cardiovascular effort known as The DeVos Cardiovascular Research Program. The aggressive and ambitious program has four sectors and will focus on continued collaboration between Spectrum Health and the VAI.

“What’s equally significant is that the two leading medical centers will openly share resources, taking a little step aside, if you will, from the competitiveness and coming together in a very unique way to forge a relationship that we believe will have tremendous opportunity,” said Van Andel.

Jovinge credited the DeVos Foundation with making it possible to meet the high objectives planned for the new program.

“I am impressed by the philanthropy in West Michigan, in general — the DeVos family especially,” said Jovinge. “There is an enormous philanthropy, not only among donors but also among patients to be willing to take part in studies and help science.”

The new program will concentrate on cell engineering; multi-center patient treatment and clinical trials; cell source identification and scientific training; and training opportunities for interns, fellows and graduate students.

President and CEO of Spectrum Health Richard C. Breon emphasized the collaboration and study Jovinge will bring will take cardiovascular research to the next level.

“It’s a pleasure for us to be a part of this milestone, this collaborative effort,” said Breon. “This kind of cutting-edge research is going to put us right at the center of gravity, I think, in the world. So I don’t think we can overstate the importance of having somebody like him here and what he brings to the table.”

The focus on cardiovascular research and care is relevant due to the fact that heart disease is the leading cause of deaths in the United State for both men and women. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 600,000 people die from heart disease each year in the United States.

The American Heart Association released a report, “Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics: 2014 Update,” which estimated annual total costs of cardiovascular disease at $315.4 billion. The amount includes $193.4 billion as direct expenditure costs, including medical services provided by physicians and prescriptions.

Another part of the figure accounts for lost productivity, which is estimated at $122 billion. The AHA also projected the estimated total cost from 2012 to 2030 to increase roughly 132 percent from $396 billion to $918 billion.

“Heart disease exists and exerts a terrible toll,” said Van Andel. “I don’t think the lesson should be lost on any of us that working in a cooperative fashion to reduce the scourge of heart disease is going to be very, very important.”

The partnership between the two medical giants also is meant to be a step toward giving patients hope, Van Andel said.

“I think what we’ll try to do is to take the stuff that is discovered on the bench, translate it to the patients’ bedside, and this is going to be exciting,” said Breon. “It very much fits our vision of Spectrum Health, of taking care of people.”

Jovinge outlined several goals for the program. Not only does he hope to make regenerative heart discoveries but also to establish VAI as an international hub for cardiovascular research.

“Research has, due to the economic recession, taken a major hit internationally and also on the national level in the U.S. Van Andel Institute is a well-established research organization with a very aggressive policy to expand, which has several very interesting recruitments in the pipeline. I’m proud to be one of those.”

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