By Sarah Marilyn
Cutting-edge research is taking place in our very own backyard and students can be a part of it. New scientific advancements are being made at the Van Andel Institute in an effort to minimize symptoms and eventually develop a cure for cancer, Parkinson’s disease, and other life-threatening illnesses.
Dr. Patrik Brundin, Deputy Chief Scientific Officer and Director of the Van Andel Institute Parkinson’s Disease Center has dedicated his life to finding new ways to minimize and cure symptoms that occur with Parkinson’s. His inspiration and drive stem from his father’s struggle with the disease.
“My father was diagnosed with Parkinson’s when I was 12,” Brundin said. “It was a difficult and scary time for our family and with few answers. From then on, I knew I wanted to understand Parkinson’s and find a way to stop it.
“Later, when I was in school in the U.K., I was required to develop a formal research question and endeavor to answer it as part of earning my high school diploma,” Brundin said. “It was known that manganese miners often experience Parkinson’s-like symptoms. I decided to create a model to understand how manganese affects the brain. It was my first foray into Parkinson’s research — and I’ve never stopped. To this day, my father’s memory drives me.”
“Right now, we can only treat Parkinson’s symptoms as such, finding a medication that slows or stops disease progression is the ultimate goal,” Brundin said. “There are several exciting clinical trials underway to investigate medications with the potential to impact progression, many of which are repurposed medications from other conditions. Many of these trials already have produced promising data — we are hopeful that we are close to a breakthrough.”
Brudin collaborates with other scientists who share a mission is to understand neurodegenerative diseases and develop new therapies.
“One of our main focal points is Parkinson’s disease, and we also are very interested in Alzheimer’s Disease. Also, we are looking at slightly less common disorders like multiple system atrophy or dementia with Lewy bodies. Our aim ultimately is to develop a way to treat these diseases so they never occur or at least to slow the progressions so they are arrested at the very early stages of the disease.“
The Van Andel Institute welcomes internship applications from undergraduate and medical students from across the U.S. who are looking for research experience in a professional laboratory setting.
“We encourage students to visit vai.org to learn more about the programs,” said Zane McMillin, a content specialist at the Van Andel Institute. These opportunities are posted at www.vai.org/careers when they are available. VAI adheres to COVID-19 health and safety guidelines, and we will use the latest guidance from health authorities to determine whether future internships will be virtual or in-person.”
The Van Andel Institute internship program is designed to give students the opportunity to be mentored by professionals in their chosen research field. VAI typically has anywhere from 20–25 students for an intense, 10-week research experience that provides an understanding of the latest research methods, instruments, and testing procedures. At the program’s conclusion, students give an oral or poster presentation about their experience to VAI research staff. This program is great for those looking to grow and go into the research field.
Applications for summer internships are posted to vai.org/careers in December and are typically due in early February. VAI internships are paid positions.