VAI Expands Facility, Research Capacity

January 9, 2008
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GRAND RAPIDS — The Van Andel Institute broke ground in 2007 on a $170 million expansion that will enable it to broaden its research focus, triple its  laboratory space and open its doors to 550 new research positions over time. The expansion will significantly enhance the institute’s capacity to impact human health through basic and translational cancer research.

The VAI’s mission is to conduct research into the genetic and molecular origins of disease and translate those discoveries into effective treatments, so more researchers and more labs only bode well for those efforts.

An eight-story, 240,000-square-foot addition is being built on to the institute’s existing facility on Bostwick Avenue. Upon its completion in 2009, the expanded facility will have 402,000 square feet. When it’s fully built-out, fully staffed and operating at capacity, the Van Andel Institute will employ 800 researchers and administrative staff whose work will be supported by a $125 million annual budget.

The institute is funded by a combination of endowment, research grants and private philanthropy.

With a larger research team and more room to work, the VAI will be able advance new initiatives in basic and translational research, said CEO David Van Andel. It will be able to expand its research focus to include neurological disorders and other chronic illnesses, particularly through a new lab dedicated to Parkinson disease research. The institute will also be able to move more aggressively into research related to Alzheimer’s disease and into some new areas of cancer research, he said.

As the institute grows, so will industry in West Michigan, Van Andel predicted. He said the expansion will create more opportunities for VAI to partner with area health care institutions and apply its genetic and molecular research to diagnoses, therapies and new procedures that directly impact people in this region.

Furthermore, an expanded facility with an expanded focus presents more opportunities to commercialize and create new industries, which is going to be a “tremendous” boon for West Michigan and Michigan as a whole, he said.

Additionally, the 70-seat conference center and 90-seat cafeteria that’s planned for Phase II, combined with the existing 325-seat Tomatis Auditorium and the Cook-Hauenstein Hall, will enable the institute to host major scientific research conferences.

The new addition will house the Van Andel Institute Graduate School, which began operation last fall, and will also be used by new students of the new Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, which is being built across the street.

U.S. Rep. Vernon Ehlers, R-Grand Rapids, said Grand Rapids is rapidly becoming a center for medical research, in large part because of the VAI’s research efforts.

“Thanks to the Phase II expansion, both our area and our nation will continue to benefit from groundbreaking discoveries at the Van Andel Institute,” Ehlers said.

“Couple this with MSU’s expansion and the VAI Ph.D. program — we are not only building buildings; we are building programs, research efforts and people.”

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