Mason and Inova Health System Forge New Research Collaboration

Posted: February 23, 2009 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Lynn Gerber with patient
Mason professor and physician Lynn Gerber works with a patient in the new Functional Assessment Laboratory located at Inova Health System’s Center for Integrated Research, an outgrowth of the Mason-Inova partnership.
Photo by Evan Cantwell

By Marjorie Musick

What do you get when you mix a world-class health system with an innovative, entrepreneurial university? A very successful research collaboration.

For more than nine years, researchers at Northern Virginia’s Inova Health System and George Mason University have been collaborating on groundbreaking research on obesity, liver disease and cancer. Now, the two have taken the relationship one step further with the establishment of the Inova Life Sciences Research Collaboration Fund – GMU.

Inova Health System has provided Mason $1 million to create this fund to stimulate and enhance collaborative research in the life sciences. The scope of research includes chronic disease management, obesity, heart disease, stroke, end-of-life provisions, genomics, proteomics, ethical issues and patient experience.

Roger Stough
Roger Stough, Mason vice president for research and economic development
Creative Services photo

The fund will be administered by Roger Stough, vice president for research and economic development at Mason, and Zobair Younossi, executive director of research at Inova Health System.

Inova is also providing valuable labs to carry out some of these collaborative research projects. Construction was recently completed on the Center for Integrated Research, a full-scale integrative research facility located in Inova’s Claude Moore Health Education Center building, which was built specifically to house these collaborative research efforts.

“The hope of the new fund was to encourage additional areas of research collaboration between investigators at Mason and Inova,” says Younossi. “Our research results will be used to implement discoveries in new disease biomarkers and develop individualized treatment protocols and outcomes research projects.”

Three Mason researchers who are currently conducting groundbreaking work with Inova are Ancha Baranova, Lynn Gerber and Lance Liotta.

Ancha Baranova

Associate Professor of Molecular Biology and Microbiology in the College of Science

Baranova is studying metabolic syndrome, diabetes, nonalcoholic fatty liver disease and hepatitis C. She is hopeful that this research will eventually lead to noninvasive early diagnostics.

“At this time, there is no curative drug treatment for obesity-related fatty liver disease, so diagnostics are more important than ever,” says Baranova. “This is primarily translational research; therefore, what we find in our lab will one day be used in the clinic.”

Because of the lab at Inova, Baranova has already seen a difference in the speed with which her team is able to conduct their collaborative investigations.

Ancha Baranova with assistants
Ancha Baranova, center, with researchers Mike Estep, PhD Biosciences ’08, and Aybike Birerdinc, PhD Biosciences ’09, in the Inova lab. Both were PhD students of Baranova at Mason; Estep is now employed by Inova.
Photo by Evan Cantwell

“I’m immensely happy that we now have access to this facility. Previously, we had to bring samples from Inova to Mason’s campus. The transport of samples increased the risk of defreezing – especially in the summer. Now we can keep everything in one place.”

Lynn Gerber

Professor and Director of the Center for Study of Chronic Illness and Disability (CCID) in the College of Health and Human Services

Gerber and faculty from CCID study rehabilitation for patients with pulmonary hypertension and nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, as well as the relationships between fatty liver disease, physical activity and performance.

Zobair Younossi and Lynn Gerber
Zobair Younossi, executive director of research at Inova Health System, with Lynn Gerber.
Photo by Evan Cantwell

Gerber has been closely collaborating with Inova investigators and has been overseeing the implementation of these projects at Inova’s new Functional Assessment Laboratory located at Inova Health System’s Center for Integrated Research.

This lab is equipped with advanced mobility assessment equipment that includes a treadmill and exercise bike. These tools allow her team to analyze the movements of patients suffering from debilitating side-effects of chronic diseases.

“My focus is rehabilitation, and my areas of interest include function. One of the most valuable functional measures is ambulation or walking, and specifics of that, such as stride parameters and balance. Our equipment allows us to examine how well our patients can move, as well as potential explanations for increased or decreased mobility,” says Gerber.

Gerber is grateful to Inova for providing her team with access to patients and clinical collaborators, as well as the space, equipment and expertise to conduct their research. She is hopeful that the studies will lead to new therapies for improving the function of patients who are suffering from functional limitations.

“This is an opportunity that is everyone’s wildest dream. Imagine an integrated research program in a workspace that is so well designed and welcoming!

“Dr. Younossi really gets the credit for his vision and leadership,” adds Gerber.

Lance A. Liotta

Professor of Life Sciences and Codirector of the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine in the College of Science

Lance Liotta
Lance Liotta

Liotta and partner Emanuel F. Petricoin, professor of life sciences and co-director of the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine, are breaking new ground in proteomics research. The two are studying biomarkers (or indicators of disease in tissue and bodily fluids) related to cancer, myeloma, heart disease, liver disease and obesity.

“We are conducting a variety of excellent projects with Inova in the realm of clinical proteomics and translational research. They are fantastic collaborators, and I’m proud to work with them,” says Liotta, who is also a physician.

“It’s a creative, true synergistic relationship in terms of working together with them. So it’s the dedicated people, it’s the unique clinical material and access to doing the work there, too.”

Emanuel Petricoin
Emanuel Petricoin

Liotta is hopeful that his investigations will lead to the development of new noninvasive tests for cancer, resulting in earlier diagnosis and new strategies for individualizing therapy for higher efficiency.

“Why are we here doing research on cancer? To help patients. And here is an opportunity to do clinical research trials from discoveries that we’ve made with our collaborators. It’s not just more of the same. It’s moving to the next level, where we’re actually testing these ideas in patients and, hopefully, we’re helping them,” says Liotta.

For Inova, which also partners with other institutions of higher learning such as Virginia Commonwealth University, this new collaboration is intended to benefit both the greater scientific community and the residents of Northern Virginia.

“This collaboration is a superb opportunity for two institutions that can complement and really help each other,” says Younossi. “It is through research that we will have the ability to offer cutting-edge care and treatment protocols to our patients and our community in the greater Washington region and beyond.”

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