Guest Column

MSU research center, VAI celebrate shared vision

September 29, 2017
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Grand Rapids is a city with new purpose — a city in many ways reborn, reshaped into something unexpected and unique. Already known for its furniture and manufacturing capabilities, Grand Rapids also has become a bustling hub of biomedical research, clinical care and higher education.

This transformation is no accident. More than 20 years ago, community leaders envisioned the development of a robust health sciences corridor that would improve people’s health and the regional economy. In the mid-1990s, their ideas seemed almost impossible to achieve. Our community has never been one to shy away from a challenge, and today, the Medical Mile is thriving.

In September, we welcomed an important addition to the Medical Mile. Michigan State University’s Grand Rapids Research Center (GRRC) is an $88-million facility housing 44 researchers who study diseases and disorders like autism, cancer, infertility, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s. Van Andel Institute currently has 33 principal investigators and is recruiting several more. Combined, we will nearly double the number of world-class scientists in Grand Rapids within the decade. New avenues of scientific discovery that ultimately impact human health are inevitable, and this growth also is bound to help grow the regional economy.

A history of collaboration

Van Andel Institute and MSU had been fostering collaboration for several years before MSU opened the Secchia Center, the headquarters of the College of Human Medicine, in 2010. The addition of a medical school in our burgeoning scientific community accelerated the region’s transformation. When the Secchia Center opened, Van Andel Institute leased wet lab space to MSU’s newly recruited research teams. This physical proximity was an open invitation for MSU and VAI scientists to collaborate and work together — using shared core services and developing long-lasting relationships on joint projects studying cancer, epigenetics and Parkinson’s disease. As MSU teams move to the GRRC and VAI expands its own faculty, scientists will continue to share ideas, technology and equipment, and conduct research that can change lives.

In addition to research collaborations and resource sharing, MSU and VAI also offer a joint M.D.-Ph.D. program that builds bridges between scientific discovery and patient care and gives physician-scientists the knowledge and tools they need to be leaders in their fields. This program also provides an avenue for collaboration with regional health care systems, as many of the physician-scientists hold clinical positions in area hospitals.

A critical mass

A critical mass of scientific talent is crucial for the development of a booming health sciences ecosystem. Scientists look for environments that encourage collaboration and the sharing of ideas, and supportive communities that will give them the resources they need to do great science. Grand Rapids is becoming known as a promising location where the best and brightest scientific minds can work and develop their careers. Together, alongside an existing network of hospitals, academic institutions and health systems — including Spectrum Health, Mercy Health Saint Mary’s, Grand Valley State University, Mary Free Bed Rehabilitation Hospital, Pine Rest Christian Mental Health Services, and Ferris State University — MSU and VAI will ensure this critical mass of talent grows and flourishes for years to come.

Looking toward the future

Today, the dreams of 20 years ago have become a reality — built by the bold ideas, shared passion and the creative imagination of an entire community. West Michigan is a place where academia, industry and philanthropy are connected in an incredibly powerful, layered way that expands the vibrancy and scope of our collective potential. As we continue to nurture new collaborations, expand our reach and succeed in our shared mission to improve health, we do so together.

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

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