Philanthropists get Swedish scientist to move heart regeneration research to Grand Rapids

Feb 5, 2014

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.

David Van Andel, the chairman and CEO of the Van Andel Institute, says it's teaming up with Spectrum Health to try to do something about it.

“Somebody that suffers a heart attack maybe has damage to the heart, we could maybe regrow a portion of the heart back so that they don’t have to suffer the long-term effects of that,” Van Andel said.

Regrowing portions of the heart, or making a biological pacemaker, are both still a way off.

For years, cardiovascular researcher and cardiologist Dr. Stefan Jovinge of Sweden has been trying to find ways to bring heart tissue back to life.

“For a scientists, a clinician scientist as me, this is like a gold mine,” Jovinge said.

The gold mine is, mostly, the deep pockets of West Michigan philanthropists. A “significant” amount comes from the Richard and Helen DeVos Foundation.

“But not only from donors but also from patients, I have seen how willing they are at efforts to cure disease,” Jovinge said.

No one will say exactly how much money it took to attract Jovinge. But he’s positive it’ll help recruit other leading researchers to Grand Rapids, too. He says the recession destroyed many scientific research efforts.