Mason Positions Itself for New Frontiers in Research

Posted: February 20, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Research collage
A major thrust for research at George Mason will be in thematic areas related to health and medicine.
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By Robin Herron

George Mason University has analyzed its SWOTs – strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats – in the area of research and has come up with a lot more Ss and Os than Ws and Ts.

That’s not to say there aren’t challenges, says Matt Kluger, who was named vice president for research at Mason last year. But he’s been encouraged, during his short tenure at the university, by talk about entrepreneurship that can help drive the research endeavor.

“There is an entrepreneurial spirit on this campus and it’s very exciting. But we need to define what that means. We’re in the process of hiring a coordinator for entrepreneurial and business development activities, and that person will help demystify a lot of the entrepreneurial and business development activities on campus.”

Kluger notes that the academic model of research is traditionally centered on independent professional achievement, as faculty members work to build up their own portfolio to secure tenure. “But if you go into an industrial environment, they often recruit individuals who are much better at working as a team, because they understand that in order to solve complex problems, you need people who play well as a team.”

While he sees Mason as “a pretty collaborative university,” he thinks a new approach is in order.

Research Wrapped around a Theme

Matt Kluger
Matt Kluger, vice president for research at Mason

“I’ve been thinking about this for 20 or more years, and when I went to the Medical College of Georgia as vice president for research, I decided to break down the barriers among the five schools.” He created a research think tank to set up thematic areas of research and then recruit researchers thematically across the schools. “We did that and it was quite successful.”

Kluger feels George Mason is well on its way to this approach based on existing strengths and recent recruits. He names biomedical research as one thematic research area, and notes last year’s recruitment of two outstanding scientists in molecular medicine, Lance Liotta and Emanuel Petricoin III, who came from NIH and the Food and Drug Administration, respectively.

Another area is neuroscience. Mason is home to the Krasnow Institute for Advanced Study, where researchers study human cognition. Mason is also known for its strong Psychology Department.

Rehabilitative science ties in nicely with the other areas. And Mason’s newly reorganized and renamed College of Health and Human Services is home to that discipline as well as recently hired Naomi Lynn Hurwitz Gerber, the former chief of rehabilitation medicine at NIH.

With its heavy focus on research areas related to health and medicine, Mason is looking to capitalize on its existing relationship with Inova Health System, which is based in nearby Falls Church, Va., and is known for its outstanding medical staff within a network of hospitals and health care facilities throughout Northern Virginia. There are already a number of collaborative initiatives between the university and Inova, and the two are in the process of signing an affiliation agreement. An annual research symposium is being planned jointly to highlight research in neuroscience, cancer, liver disease and obesity and rehabilitation medicine.

Another thematic area for research somewhat outside the realm of health and medicine is in the global biosphere, where Mason already has existing strengths in investigating Earth and space through computational modeling.

Funding the Research

The major challenge when expanding research is in obtaining funding. But Kluger is not daunted by the challenge of raising millions of dollars for research, because he’s done it before.

In his six years at the Medical College of Georgia, Kluger saw its research base grow from $28 million to more than $80 million. The college was able to seize a major opportunity when money was available from the state’s share of the tobacco settlement. At the same time, the thematic areas were developed and outstanding scholars were recruited. “The reason why we grew so much in those areas was because as you start to build a reputation in an area, people say, ‘That’s the place I want to be. That’s where the action is.'”

Kluger sees no reason why this won’t work at Mason. “The rehabilitation area that Lynn Gerber brings to this campus will cross boundaries with both cancer research as well as neuroscience research. And all of these areas will cross bounds with the collaboration we have with Inova.

“In addition, a lot of the thematic areas of the biological initiative have heavy dependence on IT and engineering. I see the Volgenau School of Information Technology and Engineering playing a critical role as they recruit a director of bioengineering who will be a kind of glue that’s going to run through a lot of these programs.”

A physical symbol of Mason’s dedication to research is a new building called Research I that is going up on the Fairfax Campus. It is Mason’s first official “research” building, but is by no means the last. With the doors of the new building not yet open, Kluger is already looking at drawings for Research II and beginning to plan for Research III.

To find out more about research at Mason, see the research web site.

Ann Butler in lab
Neuroscience is one of the thematic areas for research at Mason. Above, Ann Butler of the Krasnow Institute and Department of Psychology, in the lab.

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