Discoveries Magazine


The Trailblazer

Illustration: John Cuneo

Name: Jennifer Van Eyk, PhD, director of Basic Research, Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center at the Cedars-Sinai Heart Institute; director, Advanced Clinical Biosystems Research Institute; and the Erika J. Glazer Chair in Women’s Heart Health

[ Proteomics expert, avid hiker and painter ]

Unconventional Route: Jennifer Van Eyk is a leader in proteomics, which uses molecular biology, biochemistry, and genetics to analyze the structure, functions, and interactions of proteins. Proteomics utilizes large molecules, such as antibodies and enzymes, which are found in every living cell and play a critical role in bodily processes. But, just as she’d prefer bushwhacking to taking a conventional hiking trail, this Canadian-born scientist brings an unusual approach to her lab: pipeline-ism. Her team takes ideas from basic discovery, tests them, and then produces technology for clinical use.

Access Points: “Ultimately, we want to produce something that a clinician can use and measure, which means you have to be in the clinic, the laboratory, or the pharmacy,” Van Eyk says.

Forging a Path: Just as hikers consider their body types, strengths, and weaknesses when selecting personal gear or a trail, medicine is shifting from the one-pill-fits-all mentality to personalized approaches. Van Eyk and her team are leading the pack in this new era: “People are dynamic. You have your own genetic predisposition. You have your own environment. You have the memory of your body’s experience. Medicine should be just as precise.”

Cell Insiders: Van Eyk’s team is unusually skilled and technologically equipped to quickly conduct millions of tests that suss out what is going on inside a cell. “We can use this process to monitor chemical pathways and determine the impact of a drug in a particular cell type. Then we can do it on other cell types and get more effective drugs. That gives you precision medicine.”

On the Horizon: Though much of Van Eyk’s success is in heart disease research, her ideas can be applied to other areas. Her team is collaborating with the Cedars-Sinai Board of Governors Regenerative Medicine Institute to find protein biomarkers generated from induced pluripotent stem cells for treating diseases in motor neurons. In this technology, cells derived from a patient’s skin or blood are manipulated genetically to return to an embryonic state so that they can be transformed into any cell type in the body.

Ain’t No Mountain High Enough: Dedicated hikers see a mountain, climb it, look around, and see other challenges to conquer. “Some people get caught in those valleys between the mountains and the ocean because it’s comfortable,” says Van Eyk, who hikes and bikes twice a week, and walks to work every day. “The people in my pipeline, or researchers I like to recruit, will cross that valley. Once they reach the shore and realize it really is an ocean, they have the wherewithal to start swimming.”

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