Innovation Awards celebrate Mason researchers

On May 9, George Mason University celebrated its research enterprise with Innovation Awards, recognizing the Innovator of the Year and a Mason start-up, and those who received and/or licensed a patent.

Michael Buschmann’s team accepted the Innovator of the Year award from Vice President Andre Marshall (holding plaque) on his behalf. Photo by John Boal Photography

According to David Grossman, senior director of technology transfer and industry collaboration in Mason’s Office of Research, Innovation, and Economic Impact, this was the first time since 2010 that the university formally recognized researchers. Going forward it will be an annual event.

“At the Mason Innovation Awards, we were privileged to recognize the tireless pursuit of knowledge and the transformative impact of our faculty’s discoveries,” said Grossman. “Through their dedication, these researchers are helping shape the world with their groundbreaking technologies and pushing the boundaries of what is possible.”

The Innovator of the Year Award was awarded posthumously to Michael Buschmann, Eminent Scholar and the former chair of the Bioengineering Department within Mason’s College of Engineering and Computing. Buschmann help found the start-up AexeRNA Therapeutics Inc., in partnership with the university’s Office of Technology Transfer. He and his team licensed the commercial rights of four patents to the company. The technology AexeRNA is working on will make mRNA vaccines less costly and more readily available worldwide. Members of Buschmann’s AexeRNA team were recognized at the ceremony.

Saleet Jafri was awarded the Mason Start-up Award. Photo by John Boal Photography

The Mason Start-up Award was presented to Saleet Jafri, director of Mason’s Interdisciplinary Program in Neuroscience and professor in the School of Systems Biology, College of Science, for his company Pathodynamics. Pathodynamics has licensed three Mason patents and is developing a technology that solves the problem of cancer drug resistance, which is responsible for more than 90% of cancer deaths. Jafri has also received a Small Business Innovation Research award for the technology and is working with the Virginia Small Business Development Center’s Innovation Commercialization Assistance Program (ICAP).

Lance Liotta (left) and David Grossman holding Liotta’s Lifetime Disclosure Award. Photo by John Boal Photography

University Professor Lance Liotta, cofounder and codirector of the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine, was recognized with a Mason Lifetime Disclosure Award. During his career, Liotta has filed more than 120 patent disclosures. Disclosures are the first step toward a patent by making a public claim about an invention or discovery. Liotta has 100 inventions to date and the prototype of one of these inventions—Laser Capture Microdissection, a method to procure subpopulations of tissue cells under direct microscopic visualization—is in the Smithsonian Institution’s collection.

During the program, Gisele Stolz, senior director of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Programs at Mason, was recognized for recently receiving an Impact Award from the Commonwealth Cyber Initiative for mentoring students. Stolz has helped place more than 150 Mason students in internships with cyber-related start-ups.

Participants of the Virginia SBDC ICAP and national I-CORPS programs and Mason researchers who have patented or licensed a technology or invention were also recognized.

The awards for patents and licensed technologies are Plexiglas hexagons with magnets so researchers can add to their award over the years as they receive patents/licensing.

A list of those Mason researcher licensing technologies follows.

Mason Licensed Technology Awards

“Microscopic Particles for Target Bio-markers,” licensed to Ceres NanoSciences
Lance Liotta, Emanuel Petricoin, Alessandra Luchini Kunkel, Barney Bishop, Virginia Espina, Marissa Howard, and Fatah Kashanchi

“Self-Cleaning Intrusion Tolerance” licensed to SCIT Labs
Arun Sood

“Pre-Shot Sniper Detection” licensed to First Guard Technologies
Kenneth J. Hintz

“Cauldron” licensed to Cyvision Technologies
Sushil Jajodia

“Antiretroviral Compositions” licensed to Lentx
Yuntao Wu

“Biological Materials” licensed to Kera FAST
Barney Bishop, Monique van Hoek, Robin Couch, and Yuntao Wu

“Atomic Magnetometer” licensed to Twinleaf
Karen Sauer

“Protein–Protein Interactions” licensed to EMD Millipore
Alessandra Luchini Kunkel, Lance Liotta, and Virginia Espina

“Antiretroviral Cyclonucleotides” and “Pseudovirus Platform” licensed to Virongy
Yuntao Wu and Brian Hetrick

“Packet Flow Watermarking” licensed to CyberRock Tech
Xinyuan Wang                     

“Encryption IP Cores” licensed to Chaologix
Gaj Krzysztof and Panasayya Yalla

“Personalized Therapy” licensed to Avant Diagnostics
Emanuel Petricoin and Julia Wulfkuhle

“Thromboembolism Sleeve” licensed to Phase II Consulting and Staffing
Lance Liotta and Marissa Howard

“Laser Capture Microdissection” and “Tissue Molecular Profiling” licensed to Targeted Biosciences
Lance Liotta, Alessandra Luchini Kunkel, Virginia Espina, Amanda Nicole Haymond Still, Marissa Howard, and Philip Andrew Pappalardo

“Cancer and HIV Therapeutics” licensed to Targeted Pharmaceuticals
Catherine DeMarino, Fatah Kashanchi, Lance Liotta, and Virginia Espina

“HIV Vaccine” licensed to Viropeutics
Yuntao Wu

“Protein Painting” licensed to Monet Pharmaceuticals
Alessandra Luchini Kunkel, Amanda Nicole Haymond Still, Lance Liotta, Mikell Paige, and Virginia Espina

“Antidepressant Selection” licensed to Teahorse
Farrokh Alemi

“Honeybee Hive Therapy” licensed to Tri-State Proteomics
Alessandra Luchini Kunkel, Lance Liotta, and Rocio Solange Prisby

“mRNA Delivery Lipids” licensed to AexeRNA Therapeutics
Michael Buschmann, Mikell Paige, Suman Alishetty, and Manuel Carrasco

“COVID Contact Tracing” licensed to Vericord
Farrokh Alemi and Janusz Wojtusiak

“Wearable Devices for Managing Substance Abuse” licensed to LifeSpan Digital Health
Holly C. Matto and Padmanabhan Seshaiyer

“Precision Oncology” licensed to Pathodynamics
Mohsin Saleet Jafri and Soukaina Amniouel


Mason Honey Bee Initiative

The George Mason University Honey Bee Initiative (HBI) is an interdisciplinary effort supported by the work and expertise of colleagues across the university (College of Science, College of Education and Human Development, College of Computing and Engineering, College of Visual and Performing Arts, School of Public Health, and the School of Business).

The initiative offers opportunities to engage in sustainable beekeeping, perform scientific research, design art projects, connect with the community, and even study abroad.

Partnerships with the government, for-profit businesses, non-profit organizations, and community members are vital to the success of the initiative.


Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton helps Mason land federal funding for projects to benefit the well-being of residents across the state

Congresswoman Jennifer Wexton helps Mason land federal funding for projects to benefit the well-being of residents across the state
Colleen Rich
Mon, 01/30/2023 – 13:08


George Mason University researchers will soon be building upon their impact on the physical well-being of residents in both the Northern Virginia region and across the state thanks to a pair of projects championed by U.S. Representative Jennifer Wexton (D-VA).

Mason will receive more than $1 million for a center that will help in the fight against the growing opioid epidemic, and another $820,000 to establish a clinic that will help combat Lyme Disease and other tick-borne illnesses. Federal funding for both projects came as part of the federal omnibus appropriations bill that President Biden recently signed into law to fund the government through Fiscal Year 2023.

Wexton is a member of the House Appropriations Committee whose 10th District includes Manassas, where Mason’s Science and Technology Campus is located, as well as two Mason and Partner (MAP) Clinic locations that provide clinical care to underserved populations in Fairfax and Prince William counties.

Mason faculty member Rebecca Sutter (left) with Representative Jennifer Wexton during a February 2020 visit to a Mason and Partners (MAP) Clinic. Photo by Lathan Goumas/Strategic Communications

With its one-time federal investment of $1,037,519, the future Empowered Communities Partnership Center will leverage public and private partnerships in addressing abuse among high-risk individuals experiencing substance and opioid abuse disorder. That collaboration will include existing Virginia statewide and local criminal justice and public health partners for expanded coordination of care for those with opioid use disorder reentering the community following their release from incarceration.

“This federal funding that I’ve delivered for George Mason will help high-risk Virginians struggling with substance-use disorder get the help they need as they reenter the community after incarceration,” Wexton said. “The opioid crisis has hit Virginia communities hard, and it is an issue I’ve worked closely on throughout my career in public service. I applaud Mason’s efforts to establish this new center, which will help leverage public-private partnerships among local community leaders in our Commonwealth to prevent overdoses and save lives.”

According to state statistics, clients with substance abuse disorders transitioning from incarceration are up to 129 times more susceptible to overdose in the first two weeks following their release.

The center will work to prevent overdose opioid use and limit the burden to the state healthcare system by coordinating care across systems of support and developing new models of community care. The project will document the differential impacts substance abuse has on underrepresented populations and use that evidence to support effective new implementation approaches that improve connection to and engagement with integrated community services.

Rebecca Sutter, a professor of nursing within Mason’s College of Public Health and the co-director of the Mason and Partners (MAP) Clinics and the Empowered Communities Program, will oversee the center.

“We are building upon our programs to expand our impact,” Sutter said. “This is a partnership center with the local community guiding its work while acting as a learning laboratory for the next generation of public health strategists and leaders.”

Nationwide, federal and local officials are reporting alarming spikes in drug overdoses, with evidence suggesting that continued isolation from the global pandemic, economic devastation, and disruptions to the drug trade are fueling the surge. This partnership center will help improve coordination and promote readiness among health departments, community members, healthcare providers, public health, law enforcement and government agencies for local, regional, and state impact.

“Funding for mental health and substance use prevention allows the College of Public Health and our Mason and Partner (MAP) Clinics to expand our impact and prepare future providers for evidence-based practice in screening and assessment, treatment, and recovery,” said Melissa J. Perry, dean of the College of Public Health. “We are grateful to Representative Wexton for her continued support for these mission-critical areas of research and practice and for her commitment to meeting the needs of high-risk individuals experiencing substance and opioid use disorder. Through the new partnership center and learning laboratory, we look forward to continued collaboration with the local community and our elected officials to make a lasting impact in Northern Virginia.”

According to the most recent data from the Virginia Department of Health, overdoses in the commonwealth resulted in more than 21,000 emergency room visits in 2021, and more than 10,800 from opioids alone. The number of fatal overdoses from all substances that year was an increase of 69 percent from 2019, while the number of fatal opioid overdoses in 2021 had increased by 80 percent since 2019. Fentanyl was involved in nearly 72 percent of all of Virginia’s drug overdose deaths in 2020.

Available data indicate that a disproportionate number of opioid overdose deaths are in persons living in rural areas of less privileged socioeconomic status.

Lance Liotta. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services

The Center for Advanced Testing: Tick-Borne Disease Diagnostic Clinic is the other project for which Wexton successfully fought to have funded to meet the needs of Northern Virginians by combating the rising number of tick-borne illnesses throughout Virginia.

Buoyed by the one-year federal investment of $820,000, the center will provide a suite of unmatched Mason technologies for diagnostic testing that will lead to improved early intervention and reduce illness.

“I’m proud to have secured federal funding that will help George Mason begin their unique diagnostic testing technology for tick-borne illnesses like Lyme disease,” Wexton said. “Mason scientists have been leaders in helping to prevent long-term illness and disability from these diseases, which are becoming more common in Virginia and across the country. I’m grateful to Mason for their work on this issue, and look forward to this next step in their groundbreaking program which will keep more Virginians healthy and safe.”

Like many parts of the United States, Virginia is experiencing an increase in tick-borne illnesses, with particularly high numbers of confirmed cases in Fauquier, Loudoun, Prince William, and Rappahannock counties. Lyme disease and other tick-borne illnesses are causing great suffering and economic loss to the state.

Early diagnosis for tick-borne diseases such as Lyme disease is critical in preventing significant morbidity and mortality, but there is currently a shortage of adequate and accessible testing throughout Virginia.

“This is really going to be special,” said Lance Liotta, a University Professor and center co-director and medical director of Mason’s Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine within Mason’s College of Science. “Our unique medical technology to diagnose tick-borne diseases began many years ago with a Mason summer student Temple Douglas working in Alessandra Luchini’s lab, and has been developed and perfected by funding from the [National Institutes of Health], the Cohen Foundation, and the Commonwealth of Virginia. Our team is thrilled to expand our clinical trial under this special funding to now offer routine testing for the entire commonwealth. Early diagnosis of Lyme disease can be followed by immediate treatment to prevent suffering.”

The federal funds will be used to launch the clinical deployment of diagnostic testing that will allow for a quicker and more efficient diagnosis.

Mason scientists have developed a technology for patient sample self-collection that does not require refrigerated shipment and storage. One patient sample can be used to detect signatures derived directly from all the major known tick-borne pathogens.

The technology, which has undergone scientific peer review and been supported by NIH funding, is amenable to epidemiologic surveillance and will be used to screen high-risk outdoor workers exposed to tick bites, as well as hikers along the Appalachian Trail and others.

The Mason test addresses the urgent unmet need of accurately diagnosing and treating early-stage tick-borne infections before they progress to cause chronic suffering and disability, including cognitive impairment and cardiac failure. Urine samples or ticks collected from patients who come to the clinic with a tick bite will be shipped out for rapid analysis. Results will be communicated to the requesting physician within 24 hours, enabling immediate initiation of appropriate therapy if pathogens are present.

Mason officials anticipate seeing 600 samples per month, and will be relying on high-tech automation equipment to help meet the demand from the five clinics set up throughout Virginia’s 10th District.

“Mason scientists possess a strong commitment to leverage our research, intellect, and creativity to solve grand challenges that positively impact our communities, both locally and around the world,” said Fernando Miralles-Wilhelm, dean of Mason’s College of Science. “We are grateful to Representative Wexton for her continued support for these critical areas of research and for her commitment to helping us address these medical needs of Northern Virginians.”

The conventional serology test for Lyme disease, which has low sensitivity and specificity, usually takes about 6 to 12 days to process at major diagnostic laboratories. In contrast, the Mason test turnaround time will be as soon as 24 hours, and can test the ticks as well as the samples.

Mason’s proposal was submitted by Liotta and Ali Andalibi, the senior associate dean and chief scientific officer for the College of Science.


Alessandra Luchini honored by SCHEV with Outstanding Faculty Award

Alessandra Luchini honored by SCHEV with Outstanding Faculty Award
Melanie Balog
Thu, 01/12/2023 – 16:50


George Mason University’s Alessandra Luchini is among the 12 educators statewide set to be formally recognized by the State Council of Higher Education for Virginia (SCHEV) with a 2023 Outstanding Faculty Award.

Alessandra Luchini
Photo by Creative Services

Luchini, a professor in Mason’s Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine (CAPMM) within the College of Science, is Mason’s 28th faculty member to be so honored since the award’s inception in 1987.

“This has been unbelievable,” said Luchini, the director of the Biosciences PhD Program within the School of Systems Biology, “because it is the highest honor in Virginia, and there are so many thousands of faculty with huge impact in their research. It is a complete honor, and I am incredulous.”

Outstanding Faculty Awards recognize faculty at Virginia’s public and private colleges and universities who exemplify the highest standards of teaching, scholarship and service. The award includes a $7,500 gift from the Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation when they are formally recognized at an in-person ceremony in Richmond on March 7.

Mark R. Ginsberg, Mason’s provost and executive vice president, lauded Luchini for her efforts.

“Professor Luchini is an exemplary member of the Mason faculty,” Ginsberg said. “I am delighted she has been recognized for her dedication to the education and development of her students and her outstanding and higher consequential research. She exemplifies the Mason spirit and is setting an example for future educators and scientists who will no doubt stand on her shoulders.”

Luchini’s research interests include developing technologies that improve current diagnostics and therapeutics for diseases, including cancer and inflammatory and infectious diseases.

She is a co-founder of Ceres Nanosciences Inc., which was created in 2008, and Monet Pharmaseuticals, created in 2019. In 2011, Luchini was named one of Popular Science’s Brilliant 10.

Most recently, Luchini contributed to the fight against Lyme disease by help leading a team of CAPMM researchers that was named one of 10 Phase 1 winners of the LymeX Diagnostic Prize by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation.

“Lyme disease is probably what I have been closer to,” Luchini said. “I interact with doctors who recommend patients for our clinical trials, I interact with patients and I hear their stories and, hopefully, my research allows them to understand a little bit more about what they have and how they can improve their health. It is a good reality check and a good reminder of why we do what we do—which is to help people.”

Outstanding Faculty Award nominees are selected by their institutions, reviewed by a panel of peers and chosen by a committee of leaders from the public and private sectors. SCHEV received 74 nominations this year before the group was narrowed to 24 finalists and the 12 eventual winners.


Mason team is one of 10 Phase 1 winners of the LymeX Diagnostics Prize

Mason team is one of 10 Phase 1 winners of the LymeX Diagnostics Prize
John Hollis
Tue, 12/06/2022 – 10:44

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University Professor Lance Liotta is the co-founder and co-director of Mason’s Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine. Photo by Creative Services

A George Mason University team led by Alessandra Luchini and Lance Liotta has been named one of 10 Phase 1 winners of the LymeX Diagnostics Prize by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Steven and Alexandra Cohen Foundation.

Each of the Phase 1 winners have received $100,000 and an invitation to participate in the second phase of the contest whose aim—depending on future funding— is to accelerate the development of Lyme disease diagnostics.

“This is an important, direct test for tick pathogens that can be used not only for diagnostics, but also to monitor the success of treatment,” said Liotta, a University Professor and the co-director and co-founder of the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine (CAPMM) within Mason’s College of Science. Luchini is a professor within CAPMM.

Research by the Mason team centered around a urine-direct test that targets specific protein molecules made by the Lyme organism itself to provide direct information about pathogen activity and Achilles’s heel targets for acute and persistent Lyme disease, in many ways similar to long COVID.

The ultimate goal of the competition is to help expedite the development of diagnostics for Food and Drug Administration review.

Luchini said she was “honored and excited” about the selection of their work.

Alessandra Luchini is an associate professor within CAPMM. Photo by Creative Services

“This is a great opportunity to bring our research work to the next level, to transform the technology into a test that can be run in any clinical laboratory and help thousands of patients with their struggles with Lyme disease,” she said.

There were 52 entries in the contest’s first phase, using techniques such as radiological imaging, geonomics sequencing and microfluidics, according to the Cohen Foundation. Approaches used for diagnosing other infectious diseases, such as COVID, were incorporated into some of the submissions. Technical reviewers evaluated the submissions before they went to the panel of judges.

“Early detection and treatment are essential in the fight against this debilitating disease. The Phase 1 winning solutions provide hope for a future in which anyone can quickly and easily get an accurate Lyme disease diagnosis,” said Cohen Foundation President Alexandra Cohen. “We look forward to advancing the next generation of innovative Lyme disease diagnostics and providing the necessary structure for winners on their path to FDA review and approval.”

Lyme disease is the most common vector-borne disease in the United States. Caused by the bacterium Borrelia burgdorferi, it is most often transmitted to humans through the bite of infected blacklegged ticks. Typical symptoms include fever, headache and fatigue. If left untreated, the infection can spread to joints, the heart, and the nervous system.

The current two-tier serological testing system used to detect Lyme disease relies on the presence of antibodies and can only be used four to six weeks after infection to assess prior exposure. In contrast, the Mason test measures proteins coming directly from the bacteria, thus it provides a real-time reading on the state of the infection.


Mason team playing a role in the Cancer Moonshot Initiative

Mason team playing a role in the Cancer Moonshot Initiative
John Hollis
Tue, 11/29/2022 – 11:58


Emanuel “Chip” Petricoin is the co-founder and the co-director of Mason’s Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine. Photo by Creative Services

A team of George Mason University scientists has a role in the White House Cancer Moonshot Initiative, and their work could help in the mission to reduce cancer rates in half over the next 25 years. 

The U.S. government is partnering with researchers to reduce  cancer deaths by bringing together a large community of patients, advocates, researchers and clinicians. 

Researchers from the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine (CAPMM) within Mason’s College of Science are working on a molecular profiling technology that would better identify the most effective drugs in the fight against specific cancers.  

“I think it’s very realistic to reduce cancer death rates in half in 25 years,” said Emanuel “Chip” Petricoin, a University Professor and the co-founder and co-director of CAPMM. 

Petricoin cited better technologies and approaches for early detection, a growing cadre of targeted therapeutics and immunooncology drugs that are precision-tuned for specific individuals, and the democratization and commoditization of molecular profiling that allows patients to get therapies tailored to their specific needs as the reasons for his optimism. 

The development of the Reverse Phase Protein Array (RPPA) as part of the Applied Proteogenomics OrganizationaL Learning and Outcomes (APOLLO) network is helping to prepare patients for therapy in future versions of the trials. 

His team’s unique approach and a Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendment (CLIA)-certified laboratory are two big reasons why Mason’s CAPMM team has been continuously funded by the Department of Defense’s Apollo Moonshot project for the past four years, Petricoin said. 

The CAPMM team has a new initiative to develop a far less invasive “liquid biopsy” assay technology platform that requires a blood sample rather than a tumor biopsy to provide specific drug target information that will better fight the cancer. 

Petricoin likes the direction in which he sees the research headed and says the only potential obstacle would be convincing insurance companies and pharmaceutical companies to pay for and provide the drugs at no cost for those trials. 

“I can easily see cancer death rates even falling by 80 to 90% in 25 years compared to now,” he said. “I predict most cancer will become a chronic disease, managed like we do with other diseases, like diabetes.”

Chip Petricoin can be reached at

For more information, contact John Hollis at

About George Mason 

George Mason University is Virginia’s largest public research university. Located near Washington, D.C., Mason enrolls nearly 40,000 students from 130 countries and all 50 states. Mason has grown rapidly over the past half-century and is recognized for its innovation and entrepreneurship, remarkable diversity and commitment to accessibility. Mason celebrates 50 years as an independent institution. Learn more at


Mason researchers receive funding for Murtha Cancer Center Clinical Proteomics Platform – RPPA Assessment In The APOLLO Program.

Elizabeth Grisham

Emanuel Petricoin and Lance Liotta, Co-Directors of Mason’s Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine (CAPMM),received funding for: “Murtha Cancer Center Clinical Proteomics Platform – RPPA Assessment in the APOLLO Program.” 

Petricoin and Liotta will: 

1. Lead the RPPA discovery proteomics efforts in the Murtha Cancer Center Clinical Proteomics Platform. This includes receipt of tissue lysates, tissue sections or enriched cell preparations, and preparation of lysates, along with all aspects of the RPPA workflow including plating, printing, staining, and image-based data extraction. All data will be jointly shared and analyzed with APOLLO investigators; 

2. Participate in the weekly executive APOLLO team meetings to review scientific and programmatic progress; 

3. Provide scientific guidance and technical oversight for the RPPA capability as part of the Murtha Cancer Center Clinical Proteomics Platform; 

4. Represent the scientific accomplishments of the Murtha Cancer Center Clinical Proteomics Platform at local, regional, and national scientific conferences; 

5. Assist in preparation and delivery of technical and programmatic briefings as necessary; 

6. Prepare technical quarterly and annual reports for the Murtha Cancer Center Clinical Proteomics Platform; 

7. Coordinate and participate in weekly technical review meetings; 

8. Meet with scientific staff weekly to review progress and plan next technical objectives for the Murtha Cancer Center Clinical Proteomics Platform; 

9. Help prepare technical publications and presentations; and 

10. Help develop new collaborative opportunities and sustainment of ongoing collaborations for enrichment of the Murtha Cancer Center Clinical Proteomics Platform translational impact. 

The researchers received $281,319 from the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences on a subaward from the Henry M. Jackson Foundation for this project. Funding began in May 2022 and will end in late April 2023. 


Mason’s surveillance testing team honored for its efforts

Mason’s surveillance testing team honored for its efforts
John Hollis
Mon, 02/28/2022 – 15:46


Mason formally recognized the many dedicated scientists, first responders, program administrators and medical personnel whose tireless efforts paved the way for the school’s successful COVID-19 surveillance testing program during the global pandemic. Photo by Evan Cantwell/Creative Services

George Mason University officials on Monday formally recognized the many dedicated scientists, first responders, program administrators, staff and medical personnel whose tireless efforts paved the way for the school’s successful COVID-19 surveillance testing program during the global pandemic.

The reception in their honor at Merten Hall was Mason’s way of giving a heartfelt thanks for a job well done.

“I can give you all a thousand thank you’s,” said Mason President Gregory Washington. “And I know the reality is that it doesn’t happen if you all don’t make the commitment, if you all don’t put in the hard work, if you all don’t put in the extra hours, if you all don’t have to deal with the changing policies and the struggles that we were in many cases foisting upon you. But you did it, you did it admirably and your results are spectacular.”

Since the program’s inception in fall 2020, Mason has administered more than 155,000 COVID tests to students, faculty and staff. Processing the tests in Mason’s own labs means results are returned within 24 to 48 hours. The fast turnaround time meant Mason scientists could quickly identify and isolate positive COVID cases which lead to timely notification to those members of our community that needed to self-isolate to mitigate outbreaks within the Mason community.

The quick turnaround required immense time and staff power, key factors in helping keep the community safe while elevating Mason to national prominence for its response to the pandemic. The university’s ability to  monitor the prevalence of COVID within the campus community and transmission rates played a key role in the decision to open its doors on time for fall 2021 and spring 2022 semesters.

Lance Liotta, the co-founder and co-director of the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine within Mason’s College of Science which oversaw the testing, called what his team accomplished “historic.” Liotta noted that his team conducted 1,000 thousand tests on Friday, Feb. 25, without a single positive case of COVID.

Carol Kissal, Mason’s senior vice president for administration and finance, lauded the team for their efforts that have served to inspire the entire Mason community.

“You have all been part of something that is pretty phenomenal,” she said.

The surveillance and diagnostic testing program started in the Ángel Cabrera Global Center parking garage in late August 2020, where staff overcame the elements and other unexpected technological hurdles to help Mason navigate the early stages of the COVID pandemic and COVID virus of which very little was known at the time. It wasn’t long before Mason’s COVID Response Team and scientists had devised new collection procedures at sites across all of Mason’s campuses, each aimed at keeping site staff and test participants safe through an efficient and expeditious testing process.

Mason’s reliable surveillance testing system is also critical in allowing Mason student-athletes to continue competing safely throughout the pandemic.



Honey bees and their honey could be a big help in solving police cases

Honey bees and their honey could be a big help in solving police cases
John Hollis
Tue, 01/18/2022 – 14:33


Volunteers plant perennials at the Forensic Science Research and Training Laboratory in support of ongoing research to determine if traces of human remains can be identified in the plants or in the honey produced by pollinators. Photo by Shelby Burgess/Strategic Communications

An unlikely collaboration between George Mason University’s Honey Bee Initiative and the new outdoor Forensic Science Research and Training Laboratory could yield critical advances in forensic science. 

Mason teams from a number of different fields are working in unison at the Science and Technology Campus in Manassas, Virginia, on an ambitious project to see if the honey produced by bees after feeding on flowers can help them better locate missing persons. 

“The focus of forensics is to solve cases,” said Mary Ellen O’Toole, the head of the Forensic Science Program within Mason’s College of Science and a former FBI profiler. “Outdoor crime scenes have always posed a challenge to investigators, particularly identifying the location of human remains. The bee research will allow us to scientifically demonstrate that identifying bee activity in bee farms or in the wild and analyzing their proteins can help lead investigators to human remains. In this case, the bees are our new partners in crime fighting, and that’s amazing science.” 

Proteins in bee honey contain biochemical information about what the bees have fed upon. That information has previously been used to detect the chemical signature of pesticides in honey, allowing observers to deduce what specific types of pesticides were being used within the five-mile radius from the hives that honey bees typically frequent. 

Similarly, O’Toole and her team believe that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) of human decomposition might likewise be found in bee honey, allowing authorities to then triangulate where missing human remains might be located. That ability could ultimately help spare grieving families additional extended angst while also saving thousands of hours in the search for a missing person. 

“If we can determine what the VOCs are for humans and differentiate that from other animals, we could then use the bees and their honey as sentinels, and, hopefully, find missing persons and solve cases,” said Anthony Falsetti, an associate professor of forensic science. 

Their belief is based on the premise that flowering plants near dead bodies will uptake the VOCs before being fed upon by the bees and ultimately being deposited in their honey. 

Alessandra Luchini, an associate professor within Mason’s Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine (CAPMM), has perfected a method to extract proteins from the honey. She and Lance Liotta, a University Professor and CAPMM co-founder and co-director, have been involved with the project from the outset, following the idea’s origins at one of the monthly research meetings with the Forensic Science Program. 

Honey bees are very specific in the kinds of the flowers to which they’re attracted. Doni Nolan, Mason’s Greenhouse and Gardens sustainability program manager from the School of Integrative Studies within the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, applied her expertise to the project, choosing the right flowers to plant within the specific one-acre section of the newly opened Forensic Science Research and Training Laboratory that will house the remains of human donors in a heavily wooded area. The honey bee hive on the SciTech Campus is located several hundred yards away from the Forensic Science Research and Training Laboratory. 

Volunteers prepare to plant flowers at the Forensic Science Research and Training Laboratory. Photo by Shelby Burgess/Strategic Communications

In November, students and researchers planted several different species of plants, which bear highly scented white and yellow blossoms, near the spots where the human remains will soon be displayed. Additional plants native to this area will be planted in the spring before the first honey samples are examined, Nolan said. 

“You’re trying to see if the honey and the bees can help us find a body and solve a homicide,” said Nolan, who has a biology degree from Mason and is working on a PhD in biosciences. 

The five-acre, Forensic Science Research and Training Laboratory opened in early 2021, making Mason just the eighth location in the world capable of performing transformative outdoor research in forensic science using human donors and the only one in the Mid-Atlantic region. 

Donation of human remains to the research facility will come through the Virginia State Anatomical Program (VSAP), which is a part of the Virginia Department of Health. Go here to learn more about donating your body to science. 

Mason also entered a partnership with FARO Technologies, Inc. that resulted in the world’s first FARO-certified forensic laboratory. 

In addition to those in the Forensic Science Program, the multidisciplinary project also includes the caretakers of the honey bees, as well as researchers and students from CAPMM, as well as from the Department of Environmental Science and Policy within the College of Science and Office of Sustainability, all of whom helped select the plants for the research design.


Mason research could change the way concussions are diagnosed

Mason research could change the way concussions are diagnosed
Colleen Rich
Thu, 07/01/2021 – 10:54


Two research professors at George Mason University, in collaboration with global partners, have discovered the same protein biomarkers in the saliva of youth and collegiate athletes who have experienced concussive and sub-concussive impacts.

Shane Caswell

The findings, if validated in larger, independent studies, could be used to develop a new, rapid, noninvasive, saliva-based test for concussion diagnosis and management, as well as a way to monitor changes to the brain following exposure to repetitive sub-concussive impacts.

The study, conducted by Mason professor of athletic training Shane Caswell and University Professor Emanuel Petricoin, was recently published in the Journal of Neurotrauma.

“Salivary biomarker research can, hopefully, enhance already existing tools that diagnose concussions, as well as track brain health over time,” said Caswell, one of the study’s lead researchers and executive director of Mason’s Sports Medicine Assessment, Research, and Testing (SMART) Laboratory. “This is valuable, not only in all levels of sports, but also in military settings.”

Concussion and repeated sub-concussive impacts, which are blows to the head that do not produce immediate symptoms, could have long-term adverse health consequences if athletes return to contact activity too soon.

Concussion management currently relies on subjective measures to inform clinical judgement. New strides have been made recently, such as a handheld blood test developed by Abbott Laboratories to diagnose concussions. But there continues to be limited understanding of how repeated sub-concussive impacts, that frequently do not cause concussion symptoms, affect the brain.

Emanuel Petricoin

“There is a need for nonsubjective, diagnostic measures to be able to assess someone’s traumatic brain injury level, either in a concussed or sub-concussed state,” said Petricoin, co-director of Mason’s Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine (CAPMM). “This is important for health care providers so that they can make accurate medical judgements.”

Mason’s research identified antibodies in saliva that target proteins such as HTR1A, SRRM4, and FAS, which are known to play a role in brain physiology and function. Their presence correlates with concussions and how many hits and athlete sustained during a season of play.

Compared to healthy athletes, individuals who were diagnosed with a concussion, or who suffered high exposure to sub-concussive impacts, showed an elevation of the same salivary biomarkers.

The research team worked with youth, high school, and collegiate athletic teams and their medical staffs across the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, to collect saliva to create a Sport-Related Head Trauma Salivary Biobank. This first-of-its-kind biobank contains saliva collected from healthy athletes, athletes diagnosed with concussions, and athletes who sustained repetitive sub-concussive impacts.

Sensors worn by the athletes measured the number and severity of hits. Collected saliva was tested using a Mason-developed nanoparticle technology. Analysis was completed by researchers at the KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm, Sweden, which is a leader in the world of autoimmunity research.

“Once someone has experienced a concussion, it is hard to know when they are fully healed from it, meaning it may take less of an impact for a second concussion to occur,” Petricoin said. “It’s important to study concussion biomarkers in youth because growing evidence suggests that if we can monitor head impacts more effectively, it will support their long-term health.”

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