Trent heads VAI research

February 11, 2009
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David Van Andel, Chairman and CEO of Van Andel Institute today announced the appointment of Jeffrey M. Trent, Ph.D., as the new VAI Research Director.  Trent will succeed founding Research Director George Vande Woude, Ph.D., who stays on as head of the Laboratory of Molecular Oncology.

Van Andel also announced the formation of “an alliance and affiliation agreement” with the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), a research organization founded by Trent in Phoenix, Ariz.  According to a news release, the alliance between the two organizations will combine the basic research focus of VAI with the translational expertise of TGen to bring scientific discoveries from the laboratory to patients more quickly and efficiently.

“This affiliation concludes a search for George Vande Woude’s successor, which has ended with the best possible result — a renowned director leading Van Andel Research Institute (VARI) and an alliance that strengthens two of the nation’s fast-emerging leaders in biomedical research,” said Van Andel.  “We are excited to welcome Dr. Trent and TGen as they combine forces with us in our mission to enhance lives and eradicate disease.”

“This alliance demonstrates that VAI and TGen are at the forefront of redefining a borderless, collaborative, national and international scientific community that transcends geographical limitations,” said Van Andel.

Prior to founding TGen in late 2002, Trent served for nearly a decade as the founding Scientific Director of the Division of Intramural Research of the National Human Genome Research Institute of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland. Trent will retain his roles at TGen as President, Scientific Director, Senior Investigator, and Acting Director of TGen’s Genetic Basis of Human Disease Division.

“Combining many of the scientific, educational, financial and business potentials of TGen and VARI will advance the research of both institutions and enhance the economic development of both Arizona and Western Michigan,’’ said Trent, who assumes his new role at VAI upon implementation of the agreement. “This alliance will elevate both organizations in the world of scientific research.”

Both VAI and TGen are young nonprofit research organizations that have triggered the regional growth of the life sciences and biomedical industries in West Michigan and Arizona.  Both organizations have a strong focus on cancer, have instituted international collaborations, have established laboratories outside of their primary campuses, and have complementary missions.

VAI has established a strong program of basic research focused on discovering the cellular, molecular, and genetic origins of disease and using that information to identify “biomarkers” that can help predict and diagnose diseases, and lead to the development of safer, more effective treatments. TGen’s focus is on discovering the molecular basis of disease and accelerating new drug development to advance clinical treatments for patients, and includes research on a number of diseases, including Alzheimer’s, autism, diabetes and multiple subtypes of cancer.

“VARI is on the verge of expanding its already strong basic research programs and implementing further translational research,’’ said Daniel Von Hoff,  M.D., TGen’s Physician-In-Chief and a world-renowned cancer scientist.

“TGen is poised to translate the discoveries generated in laboratories from both organizations into real solutions for patients,’’ said Von Hoff. “This is a terrific opportunity to work together and increase our chances for making a difference for our patients.’’

Outgoing VAI Research Director George Vande Woude, Ph.D., who had held top administrative posts at the National Cancer Institute (NCI) since the early 1980’s, will achieve a long-held desire to return to the lab full-time. Vande Woude, a member of the prestigious National Academy of Sciences, will stay on at VAI as head of the Laboratory of Molecular Oncology. 

“This is a great moment for both Institutions. I have known Dr. Trent professionally for nearly 20 years and have always admired him as one of the nation’s leading scientists.  One of Dr. Trent's greatest attributes is bringing together researchers from many disciplines to work on problems that will improve human health,” Vande Woude said.

Before joining VAI in 1999, Vande Woude held many roles at the NCI, including director for the Division of Basic Sciences.  Vande Woude was also director of the Advanced Bioscience Laboratories – Basic Research Program at the NCI’s Frederick Cancer Research and Development Center.  Vande Woude has been integral to several important discoveries that continue to impact cancer research today, including his work with the MET gene, now an important target in the development of anti-cancer drugs.

“Dr. Vande Woude has done an extraordinary job of building our research programs from the ground up,” said Van Andel.  “His vision and stellar reputation in the scientific community have helped to make Van Andel Institute and cancer research what they are today and we are grateful for his vital contributions.”

The strategic affiliation agreement that has been initiated between the two organizations is expected to be finalized by July 1, 2009.

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