GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. (WOOD) — Dr. Peter A. Jones, Chief Scientific Officer at the Van Andel Institute (VAI), has once again secured a prestigious grant from the National Cancer Institute’s Outstanding Investigator Award program, receiving nearly $7.9 million for a seven-year research endeavor aimed at unraveling the mysteries of cancer’s epigenetic errors. This renewed funding will support his ongoing work to understand the errors and potentially pave the way for groundbreaking cancer treatments.

“It is an absolute honor to receive a second Outstanding Investigator Award from the National Cancer Institute,” Jones said. “This vital funding will enable us to continue studying the intricate mechanisms that drive cancer — and explore strategies to translate our discoveries into potential new treatments.” 

The Outstanding Investigator Award, initially granted $7.8 million in funding to Jones in 2017. He has always been pushing the boundaries of epigenetic research since first pioneering the studies that launched the field of epigenetics in the 1980s. Jones is globally recognized for his work in the field.

Epigenetics focuses on factors that influence gene expression without altering the DNA sequence itself. Notably, epigenetic errors are prevalent in nearly all human cancers, making Jones’ research critical for the development of innovative treatments.

One of Jones’ significant contributions includes his research into the epigenetic modifier 5-azacytadine, which ultimately led to its approval for the treatment of myelodysplastic syndrome (MDS), a precursor to blood cancer.

The renewed grant will bolster the exploration of a critical epigenetic player in cancer—DNMT3A. This molecule plays pivotal roles in brain development, body size regulation, and blood formation. Errors in DNMT3A are common in leukemia, yet the precise mechanisms driving cancer development remain elusive.

Working to unravel these mysteries, Dr. Jones and his team, which includes VAI Assistant Professor Evan Worden, Ph.D., will harness VAI’s extensive research infrastructure, including its cutting-edge cryo-electron microscopy (cryo-EM) suite. Cryo-EM enables scientists to visualize molecules at the near-atomic level, offering profound insights into their functions in health and disease.