GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — The Van Andel Institute (VAI) marked a significant scientific milestone by presenting Dr. Virginia M.Y. Lee, Ph.D., with the 2023 Jay Van Andel Award for Outstanding Achievement in Parkinson’s Disease Research. Dr. Lee is a trailblazer in the world of neurodegenerative disorders, with an impact spanning Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and related conditions.

Her pioneering research has unraveled the protein-based mysteries underlying these debilitating diseases, providing crucial insights into how these pathologies spread and harm brain cells. These insights hold promise for developing treatments that could slow or halt disease progression.

“Our understanding of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s diseases would not be what it is today without Dr. Lee’s extensive, groundbreaking contributions. She is an exceptional scientist whose vision and leadership are driving forces toward new therapies for these devastating disorders,” said Darren Moore, Ph.D., chair of VAI’s Department of Neurodegenerative Science and co-chair of the 2023 symposium.

Dr. Lee’s pioneering research includes the identification of misshapen proteins as potential culprits behind several neurodegenerative diseases: alpha-synuclein in Parkinson’s, tau in Alzheimer’s, and TDP-43 in frontotemporal lobar degeneration. She has also demonstrated how these proteins aggregate, forming clumps that damage and eventually kill brain cells. This progressive damage is responsible for hallmark symptoms such as the loss of voluntary movement in Parkinson’s and cognitive decline in Alzheimer’s.

The Jay Van Andel Award, established in 2012 to honor VAI Founder Jay Van Andel, celebrates individuals who have made exceptional contributions to Parkinson’s disease research while improving human health. Jay Van Andel courageously battled Parkinson’s disease for a decade before his passing in 2004, and this annual award continues to pay tribute to his legacy.