Sci City Marks Its Day

April 16, 2007
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FurnitureCity is evolving in this millennium to SciCity

The groundbreaking last week to triple the size of the Van Andel Institute was marked by unseasonably snowy weather, but perhaps such a contrast on an April day only underscored the fact that the work at VAI and Van Andel Research Institute is uncommon and holds surprise as it is increasingly able to fulfill its mission.

In just the past two weeks, the research institute has announced new clues as to how cancer cells spread — the dreaded and deadly metastasis — in several forms of the disease. Retiring Director George Vande Woude, one of the world's most renowned experts in molecular oncology, has continued his "hunt" in a career spanning more than 40 years. This week the Business Journal reports on the VARI development of a method enabling researchers to identify and measure alterations in carbohydrate structures on proteins that are thought to play a role in diseases such as cancer. The work has been specific to pancreatic cancer. The findings are published in the May issue of Nature Methods.

The implications of such work are heard and felt around the world. VAI CEO David Van Andel expects to be able to "aggressively" advance into research related to Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.

It would seem inconsequential to consider the impact of the VAI on Grand Rapids, on this region, or on the state of Michigan, but the domino effect is compelling.

—The $170 million project provides space for another 550 new employees, which the VAI will employ 800 researchers and administrative staff in the next two years.

—The groundbreaking work is supported by a $125 million annual budget funded by endowments, research grants and private philanthropy.

—U.S. Rep. Vern Ehlers compared the VAI to a "mini United Nations," with researchers from 17 countries.

—The "hope on the hill" is a beacon for the advancement of math and science education.

The cultural diversity, education and income level ramifications all will have a profound effect on this community. It has already prompted new college and university education sections, as well as research.

The VAI is largely responsible for the attraction of the MichiganStateUniversity medical school to Grand Rapids and is certainly the catalyst for the transformation of the

Michigan Street
hill to a "medical mecca" of health care facilities and life sciences businesses.

The domino effect includes a tremendous magnet for other such facilities, for downtown housing and for the long-anticipated "critical mass" of residents that make this region increasingly attractive for growth in retail, convention and entertainment businesses. (There is evidence of such growth this week in the Focus section on Hospitality.)

SciCity last week did indeed witness an uncommon day.    

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