Children's Health

Gerber Foundation Grant Provides Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital Researchers Opportunity to Unlock Secrets of Rare Diseases

$350,000 grant will enable the study of rare diseases in undiagnosed neonatal patients

April 27, 2021

Grand Rapids, Mich., April 27, 2021 – The Gerber Foundation has awarded Spectrum Health Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital a $350,000 grant to study rare diseases in undiagnosed neonatal patients.

The grant will allow researchers at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital to study the use of two genetic tools, rapid whole genome sequencing and RNA-sequencing.

Rapid whole genome sequencing is a newer technology that has the capability of diagnosing childhood-onset genetic diseases in as little as 15 hours, with a 40-57% detection sensitivity rate.

This is far superior to standard genetic testing. RNA-sequencing is a technique that detects the quantity and evaluates the functionality of using RNA from a biological sample as a diagnostic tool at a given moment. Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital previously combined the utilization of these two sequencing methodologies to describe a new genomic phenomenon termed ‘viral induced genetics’Viral Induced Genetics Revealed by Multi-Dimensional Precision Medicine Transcriptional Workflow

Researchers plan to expand this approach and will study if using the tools together improves diagnostic accuracy and helps pediatric patients and families better understand their rare or unknown disease.

“We are honored to receive this generous grant. The support from the Gerber Foundation allows us to better understand rare diseases in our youngest patients,” said Surender Rajasekaran, MD, research medical director and pediatric intensivist, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital. “Today, we seek to find answers that will impact our pediatric patients through innovative research.”

Over the next three years, Dr. Rajasekaran and Caleb Bupp, MD, FACMG, medical geneticist, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, will use the Gerber Foundation grant funding to execute this new research strategy and demonstrate the scalability of pairing both genetic tools. This research is in partnership with Michigan State University.

In 2018, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital was the first in Michigan to utilize rapid whole genome sequencing through a partnership with Rady Children’s Institute for Genomic Medicine. This work has expanded in scope and scale, but there is still much to learn.

Rare disease research is an area of strength and expertise at Spectrum Health and it directly supports the organization’s vision to deliver personalized health made simple, affordable and exceptional. This has included discovery of new genetic syndromes, novel treatment strategies and an impact that spans the globe.

According to the Rare Disease Network, one in 10 people have a rare disease and more than 6,000 rare diseases have been identified. There is no cure for most rare diseases and 95% have no treatment available.

Throughout the last 47 years, the Gerber Foundation has supported Spectrum Health in many impactful ways. Most notably, the Gerber Foundation helped open the Gerber Foundation Neonatal Center at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, a Level IV neonatal intensive care unit.  Additionally, they provided grants for the Gerber Neonatal Family Support Center, Gerber Endowed Chair for Infant Nutrition and Development and several program grants.

About Spectrum Health
Spectrum Health System, a not-for-profit, integrated health system, is committed to improving the health and wellness of our communities. We live our mission every day with 31,000 compassionate professionals, 4,600 medical staff experts, 3,300 committed volunteers and a health plan serving 1 million members. Our talented physicians and caregivers are privileged to offer a full continuum of care and wellness services to our communities through 14 hospitals, including Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital, 150 ambulatory sites and telehealth offerings. We pursue health care solutions for today and tomorrow that diversify our offerings. Locally-governed and based in Grand Rapids, Michigan, our health system provided $585 million in community benefit in fiscal year 2019. Thanks to the generosity of our communities, we received $30 million in philanthropy in the most recent fiscal year to support research, academics, innovation and clinical care. Spectrum Health has been recognized as one of the nation’s 15 Top Health Systems by Truven Health Analytics®, part of IBM Watson HealthTM.


Tim Hawkins
Media Relations
Office: 616.486.6091
Mobile: 616.443.0361

Tim Breed
Media Relations
Office: 616.267.9890
Mobile: 231.260.1141