Van Andel Institute doctor receives multi-million dollar grant for cell communication research

GRAND RAPIDS, Michigan (WOOD) – Stephanie Grainger, Ph.D., of the Van Andel Institute, received a
$ 2,375,000, five-year Maximizing Investigators Fellowship from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences of the National Institutes of Health. The grant will help Grainger’s research into Wnt, a vital molecular pathway, at the heart of a myriad of important processes that guide early body building and continue throughout life. Wnt is a critical type of cellular communication that promotes healthy development, such as tissue regeneration, but, when disrupted, can stimulate cancer, osteoporosis, heart disease, and other illnesses.

“Much like the foreman on a construction site, Wnt controls almost everything the body does throughout
development: for example, it communicates where the head should go in relation to the feet and, in adults,
coordinates resources to heal wounds and replenish stem cells, ”said Grainger. “I am honored to receive this
award, which will help us answer long-standing questions that have profound implications for correcting errors in the Wnt pathway as a means of treating disease. “

Wnt has long been studied by scientists as a potential target for new cancer therapies, but developing treatments has been difficult. The challenge lies in understanding the specific interactions between the molecules of the vast Wnt network. Better understanding could help scientists like Grainger develop highly targeted solutions for specific problems while leaving the rest of the way untouched, resulting in fewer side effects.

Grainger and his team will focus on two major players in the path: Wnt9a and Fzd9b. These molecules,
which are found outside of cells, interact to transmit chemical messages to and from cells. What is not
It’s clear, says Grainger, how Wnt9a and Fzd9b enter the cell to deliver their payload of information.

“The Wnt path works in a careful balance – too much or too little Wnt activity can have devastating effects
consequences, ”Grainger said. “Solve the exact mechanism by which Wnt9a and Fzd9b do their work
could have massive implications for therapeutic development and a ripple effect for understanding other parts of the path.

Grainger joined the VAI biology department in August. She is the second researcher at the institute to receive the Maximizing Investigators’ Research Award in the past four years. The price is very competitive and gives scientists “greater stability and flexibility, thus improving scientific productivity and the chances of major breakthroughs”.

Learn more about Dr. Grainger and the research conducted at the Van Andel Institute, here.

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