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Mason Scientists Develop COVID-19 Antibody Measurement Technology to Rapidly Assess Virus Blocking Efficacy

by Tracy Mason

A cross-disciplinary team coordinated by scientists at Mason’s Center for Infectious Disease Research (CIDR), led by Yuntao Wu, Professor, School of Systems Biology, have developed the hybrid alphavirus-SARS-CoV-2 pseudovirus system that can robustly express reporter genes in cells within hours to rapidly measure neutralizing antibodies. Ha-CoV-2 pseudovirus was utilized against the COVID-19 virus and its variants including Alpha, Delta, and Omicron, as well as the currently emerging omicron BA.2 variant.

For full article, click here

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DOD funds Mason Scientists’ breakthrough breast cancer prevention and treatment research

by Laura Powers

George Mason University College of Science announced a $1.57 million dollar grant from the Department of Defense to fund a transformative approach for breast cancer treatment developed by scientists in Mason’s Center for Drug Discovery for Rare Diseases (CDDRD). This approach will both help individuals at a higher risk for developing tumors, and can also more effectively treat those that have failed therapeutics to treat the disease.

This effort, led by CDDRD Co-Director and Professor of Practice, Milton Brown, MD, PhD, aims to define the structural features and binding characteristics of BRCA1—a tumor suppressing protein to the estrogen receptor in breast cancer stem cells.  BRCA1 regulates critical cell processes needed for normal breast cell function. Women who test positive for a BRCA1 mutation are more likely to develop tumors over time and are at a higher risk for developing breast and ovarian cancer.

Over the next three years, the team, which includes chemist Yali Kong, PhD, tumor biologist Kan Wang, MD and assistant director of scientific operations Farhang Alem, PhD will work to develop a therapeutic drug that helps replace BRCA1 in women who are deficient, and provide a major unmet medical need by offering another therapy option for patients that become resistant to tamoxifen—one of the oldest hormonal therapies.

(top left to top right) Yali Kong, Farhang Alem, Kan Wang (center) Milton Brown. Photo by Evan Cantwell, Creative Services. 

The National Cancer Institute reports that one in every 500 women in the United States has a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation.

“A therapeutic like this would help hundreds of thousands of women,” said Dr. Brown. “Some women who test positive for the mutation select to have their breasts and ovaries removed in order to avoid the risk of getting cancer,” said Dr. Brown. “Imagine instead, these women would simply be able to take a pill and it’s like having BRCA1 again.”

Milton Brown on the lab with Yali Kong
In this breakthrough research grant, Mason chemist Yali Kong, PhD intricate synthesis and purifies the chemical compounds that are tested for BRCA1 actions through the estrogen receptor alpha. Photo by Evan Cantwell, Creative Services.

The team is also developing a novel approach to treating breast cancer by identifying a BRCA1 mutant stem cell responsible for metastasizing and invading other parts of the body. According to Dr. Brown, these breast cancer stem or stem-like cells are hard to find and, if left behind after removing a tumor, will cause the cancer to reoccur. Dr. Brown’s team, however, utilized a protein called DCLK1 to identify and target these cells. Over the next three years, the team will enhance the drug treating BRCA1 deficient patients to also have the ability to find and kill these specific cancer stem or stem-like cells—eliminating the need for more invasive treatments like mastectomies and providing an alternative for patients resistant to other drug, chemo, and radiation therapies.

“This is personalized, precision medicine targeting a specific type of cancer cell,” said Dr. Brown. “Our strategy can benefit both patient populations—those with cancer and those without.”

Kan Wong working in the lab
Cancer biologist Kan Wang, MD tests the new compounds, as part of this breakthrough research grant, for BRCA1 actions through the estrogen receptor alpha and inhibition of breast cancer stem or stem like cell properties. Photo by Evan Cantwell, Creative Services.

Other members of this grant include Mason statistician Naoru Koizumi, PhD, Breast Cancer expert Robert Clarke, PhD from the University of Minnesota, cancer pathologist Bashkar Kallakury, MD from Georgetown University, renown DCLK1 expert Courtney Houchen, MD from the University of Oklahoma, and Elaine North and Juliann Bryant who are a part of Mason’s sponsored programs. Submission and award data for the FY21 DoD Breast Cancer Breakthrough Awards show that only 6.1 percent of 493 applications were recommended for funding.

“I feel so honored to work with the scientists on this multi-institutional research team and to be selected for this meritorious breast cancer breakthrough award,” said Dr. Brown. “If we accomplish this, this will be a life-changing breakthrough for women.”

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Mason Science Trailblazer: Charles L. Bailey

by Tracy Mason

Charles (Charlie) Bailey retired effective February 1, 2022, having experienced an illustrious career as a visionary biodefense researcher and scientific trailblazer for George Mason University. Bailey’s vision and expertise led to one of his most notable contributions to Mason’s current biomedical research prowess, the Biomedical Research Laboratory (BRL), at Mason’s SciTech campus in Manassas, VA.

Photo provided.

Bailey’s vision and expertise led to one of his most notable contributions to Mason’s current biomedical research prowess, the biomedical research laboratory, or BSL-3 at Mason’s SciTech campus in Manassas, VA.

The Mason Distinguished Professor is also recognized for leveraging his extensive global network to establish significant research partnerships. His 27 funded research proposals contributed almost $51 million; $36 million of that funded research with Bailey acting as either PI or co-PI. In addition to partnering with the National Institutes of Health, other project collaborators include the U.S. Departments of Defense and Energy, the U.S. Army and Navy, Defense Threat Reduction Agency, Federal Bureau of Investigation, former Ambassador of Costa Rica to The United States, Ceres Nanosciences, and INOVA. 

Bailey also helped Mason actively recruit, inspire, and mentor prominent faculty and promising students to build the solid foundation of the university’s biodefense and infectious disease research programs.

Over the course of his career, Bailey has accumulated 44 years of in-depth experience in the functional area of medical countermeasures, specifically in infectious disease and biodefense-related research. He served in the U.S. Army for 25 of those years, studying the natural history of infectious diseases. The outcomes from those studies have been included in more than 100 articles in referenced books and journals.

Early scientific curiosity blossoms to successful global military career

The animals and insects Bailey encountered on the family’s dairy farm in Oklahoma fueled his scientific curiosity. He received his bachelors, master’s, and Ph.D. in entomology from Oklahoma State University and pursued this life-long interest while serving his country in the U.S. Army.

During his military career, Bailey was a research scientist in the South East Asia Treaty Organization medical research laboratory in Thailand; Chief of the entomology department at the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and Director of arboviral entomology at US Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Disease, (USAMRIID); and later Commander of USAMRIID. Even then Bailey was a trailblazer for scientists as the first Ph.D. scientist to be named commander of this 600-person laboratory. According to Bailey, “It had always been a physician or veterinary’s job, but I was the first Ph.D. commander of that lab.”

After retiring from the military, Bailey worked for the Defense Intelligence Agency, serving as the DIA’s Representative to the intelligence community, for biological terrorism threat analysis. Bailey then worked for private industry on multiple biological warfare related programs and served as Task Manager for the State Department to assess the former Soviet’s peaceful transitional measures pertinent to biowarfare research.

A bioresearch trajectory-defining hire
Bailey was recruited by Vikas Chandhoke to come to Mason in 2001. Mason wanted to expand its life sciences footprint based on the university’s strengths and at that time, the field of molecular biology was booming thanks to recent discoveries in human genome research.

“I decided we didn’t want Mason to catch up to where others were but rather wanted to establish leadership in the domains we selected for our growth,” Chandhoke explained. “Charlie’s significant and highly regarded USAMRIID research experience, combined with his influential national and global network, made him a critical component of our growth strategy.”

Once at Mason, Bailey realized one of the biggest challenges was animal research space. To accommodate and evolve this science, Mason needed a state-of-the-art laboratory similar to those he’d worked in previously.

BRL groundbreaking
BRL groundbreakinig. Photo provided.

Mason BSL-03: The House that Charlie Built
Mason competed for and was awarded a grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases to build the Biosafety Level-3 Laboratory at Mason because of the university’s highly regarded team of infectious disease experts and proven track record of biodefense research success.

“Charlie’s leadership was crucial for us to be competitive and successful in the BRL proposal,” Chandhoke said.

As lead PI, Bailey’s grant secured the project’s estimated $50.5 million funding, including $27.7 million from NIAID, the largest funded proposal Mason had received up to that time. The project also required another $20 million in matching funds from Mason which Bailey and the team he assembled also secured. And the Commonwealth of Virginia committed an additional $2.5 million for land acquisition.

Bailey designed the facility concept to evaluate therapeutics and vaccines against an aerosol challenge in animal models.  Opening in 2010, it was one of only a few laboratories in the nation with fully equipped Class III cabinet to evaluate aerosol exposures using small animals such as mice, etc. This aerobiology suite is part of the larger, still operational BSL-3 laboratory, housing Mason’s Center for Infectious Disease Research (CIDR) that is approved by both the CDC and USDA to perform select agent work.

Bailey worked closely with his NIH colleagues over a two-year process to design the safety, plumbing, airflow, and electrical plans for this complex facility. Once the design process was completed, the construction of the building took another 18 months.

Gary Zackowitz, Biocontainment Facilities Architect and coordinator of the NIAID RBL/NBL Network described Bailey’s involvement. “During construction of the Mason Biomedical Research Lab, Charlie walked the site and attended construction meetings. After construction, he played a major role in the formation of our Network and was one of the original Network Directors for a number of years. His contributions and leadership were instrumental in shaping the Network’s direction and ensuring its success,” Zackowitz said.

Dr. Bailey with Governor Allen
Bailey with Governor Allen.

On a more personal note, Zackowitz considers Charlie a friend and mentor. “As an architect, I was not familiar with much of the science, but Charlie is an educator and he does it well. I was able to benefit from his knowledge and patience.  Charlie will be the first place I turn the next time I need a science lesson!” 

Initially, the center focused on therapeutic treatments of Anthrax, as that was considered the largest threat from terrorism.  The lab’s therapeutic treatment focused on using a combination of anti-inflammatory and antibiotic drugs as treatment of the anti-inflammatory response of the host turned out to be more important than treating for the pathogen alone. 

Research to understand the world’s deadliest animal

According to Bailey, he began the first day of class each semester asking his students if they could identify the world’s deadliest animal. “It’s not the lion, or snakes, or even humans,” explained Bailey. “It’s the mosquito.” And Bailey should know; he returned from one trip in central Africa with Malaria.  Bailey studied mosquitos from around the world to confirm why a relatively small percentage of the 160+species of mosquitoes in the United States and 3,000+ worldwide were responsible for human and animal diseases.

During his military career, Bailey scribed three publications featured in the prestigious SCIENCE magazine, describing his vector-borne disease discoveries.

During his first Army assignment at the Walter Reed Army Institute, Bailey investigated how Eastern Equine Encephalitis virus survived the winter months when the Culex mosquito species responsible for transmission from birds to humans and horses, were in hibernation. Unlike many mosquitoes that hibernate as eggs or other immature stages, that group hibernated as mated adult females. Bailey located a population of thousands of hibernating adult females, in the mid of winter, located in old abandoned ammunition bunkers, along the Maryland, Virginia and Delaware coast. His team was able to isolate the virus from this population and determined how the virus was able to survive. They would emerge from hibernation as active vectors.

Rift Valley fever (RVF) virus causes explosive outbreaks of abortion in cattle, sheep, and goats in many regions of the African continent every few years. RVF epidemics always followed unusually heavy rainfall which resulted in flooding of natural depressions known as “DAMBOS” in grassland habitats. The fact that many species of mosquitoes survived adverse periods of drought as eggs, led Bailey to initiate research based on the hypothesis that “RVF virus survives in the eggs of mosquitoes for multiple years between epidemics.” This hypothesis was proven following isolation of the virus from mosquitoes reared from field collected eggs.  

Bailey collaborated with NASA scientists to use satellite remote sensing to predict outbreaks on RVF virus. Using these remote sensing techniques proved valuable at predicting future flooding of DAMBOS, thereby predicting outbreaks of the RVF virus.  This was the first demonstration by satellite technology, that a vector born disease, that normally only occurs every few years, can now be predicted 2 to 3 weeks in advance of an outbreak, thereby allowing public health workers to vaccinate in advance of an outbreak of disease.

Bailey points out that historically, Vector Born Infectious Diseases have always had significant impact on military operations.  “My career has always been motivated by protecting our soldiers from Biological Warfare threats, given the world’s deadliest animal has killed more soldiers than gun fire.” Bailey said.

In his recent studies, Bailey has been involved in the development of novel vaccine platforms and therapeutic countermeasures for the detection of multiple select agent viruses including Rift Valley Fever Virus and Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Virus.  Many of his efforts using host based signaling studies using B. anthracis, F. tularensis, RVF and VEE, (Venezuelan Equine Encephalitis Virus), have been published in peer reviewed journals and have led to the identification of host changes that are used as targets for novel therapeutic design.

Family ties

Dr. Bailey with daughter, Shelley
Bailey with daughter Shelley. Photo provided.

Bailey’s daughter, Shelley, followed in his footsteps. Bailey ‘hooded’ his daughter when she received her Ph.D. in biological sciences from Mason. Shelley served in the military as lead of a clinical laboratory in a hospital in northern Iraq. “Before being sent to Iraq, and after returning from Iraq, she was assigned to the same laboratory where I spent 13 years of my career,” Bailey said. 

According to Bailey’s spouse, Melissa, he became a huge Dallas Cowboy fan. Famous for his sense of humor throughout his career, some may recall Bailey couldn’t resist joking with the Governor on the BRL dedication “stage”, by wearing his Dallas Cowboy hat, following Allen’s participation in Mason’s BRL laboratory opening in 2010. (Then Gov. Allen’s brother, Bruce Allen, was the Washington Redskins Football team General Manager, and his father George Allen was the former Head Coach). 

Skilled, supportive collaborator
“Charlie was one of the main reasons we came to Mason in 2005,” said Lance Liotta, Mason School of Systems Biology professor and co-director of Mason’s Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine (CAPMM). “He was one of the first we talked with at Mason to bring proteomics into infectious disease research. He saw the value and included it in his design of the BSL-3 facility.” Liotta explained.

Charlie Bailey
(left to right) Charles L. Bailey, Melissa Bailey and Román Macaya, PhD. Photo provided.

“Charlie had a great way of connecting people and identifying big picture opportunities,” said Emanuel Petricoin, Mason School of Systems Biology professor and CAPMM co-director.  “He helped bring our infectious disease experts together to collaborate, using the advanced technology to see the effect on the body and evaluated new treatments based on how the pathogens worked.” Petricoin added.

“It has always been a pleasure to work with Charlie, the big man with the big smile,” said Macaya, former Ambassador of Costa Rica to the United States and current President of the Costa Rican Social Security (CCSS), the institution that provides all public health care.  “When our embassy called George Mason University´s Biomedical Research Laboratory in 2015 to explore a possible collaboration in infectious disease research, Charlie opened the door and enthusiastically welcomed the proposal,” Macaya explained. These relationships proved invaluable in 2020 to fast track a collaboration between Mason, the University of Costa Rica, and the CCSS to assess the potency of horse antibodies in neutralizing live SARS-CoV-2 virus. “The results from Mason led to the dosing decisions for two clinical trials on these biologicals and the collaboration continues with Mason today.” 

“Charlie went out of his way to empower his faculty.  He truly wanted us to succeed and was committed to providing the necessary support and resources to ensure our success. I am grateful for all the opportunities that he provided me, which jumpstarted my career in emerging infectious diseases,” said Kylene Kehn-Hall, former Associate Director Mason’s School of Systems Biology and now Virology Professor at Virginia Tech.

“Charlie was especially skilled at facilitating collaborations, making connections with industry, academia, and government scientists, both domestic and international. I have many fond memories of traveling to Kenya and Costa Rica with Charlie, where we established lasting international collaborations,” Kehn-Hall added.

 Charlie Bailey with Kylene Kehn-Hall
Bailey with Kylene Kehn-Hall at the BRL. Photo provided.

“I owe Charlie a lot,” said Aarthi Narayanan, Director of Translational Research in ATCC Federal Solutions. “Throughout my time at Mason as an associate professor of biology and researcher, he was an unwavering source of support and enthusiasm. He always encouraged me, not just when I experienced success, but also was supportive when I may not have gotten an important proposal funded.” Narayanan explained.

Many of Bailey’s Mason colleagues share the same strong sentiment when characterizing his impact. “Mason’s work in infectious disease and animal models gained stronger footing because of Charlie. He’s gone above and beyond the call of duty to establish Mason in the infectious disease space. At this time of his retirement, we all owe him a heartfelt ‘thank you.’” Narayanan added.

Bailey’s trail blazing is far from over. Bailey and his wife Melissa reside and operate Bailey’s Walking After Midnight Farm, north of Winchester, VA, near Berkeley Springs, WV which offers trail rides to both novice and experienced riders along with a BnB experience. 

Thank you for your service, Charlie and here’s to wishing you many more ‘happy trails!’  

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Andalibi and Alem receive funding for facility and building system upgrades support for Mason Biomedical Research Laboratory

Nov 15, 2021

by Elizabeth Grisham

Ali Andalibi, Senior Associate Dean, College of Science, and Farhang Alem, Research Scientist, Center for Infectious Disease Research (formerly NCBID), Assistant Director of Scientific Operations, received $3,330,000 from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services for: “Facility and Building System Upgrades Support for the Mason Biomedical Research Laboratory.” 

For full article, click here

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Hakami developing stable cell line for production of exosomes carrying EIAV GP90 glycoprotein for vaccine development

Ramin Hakami, Associate Professor, School of Systems Biology, and researchers in his lab are purifying exosomes from the EIAV-gp90 cell line. They are doing so to demonstrate that exosomes have gp90 on the surface and can be used to develop a new type of vaccine for horses.  

Preliminary results generated will be used for future grant applications from the Center for Infectious Disease Research (CIDR) and Mason, and for collaborations among Mason, the virology firm Virongy, LLC, and Prince William County to promote regional economic development in the life science arena. “

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Mason scientists explore herbal treatment for COVID-19

“Could an over-the-counter health “shot” help fight COVID-19? George Mason University researchers think it just might.

Cell and Bioscience recently highlighted research led by Yuntao Wu and Ramin Hakami, in which they examined the potential anti-coronavirus activities of an over-the-counter drink called Respiratory Detox Shot (RDS).”

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Yuntao Wu and Ramin Hakami investigating COVID-19 therapies

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Noble Life Sciences to Conduct Research on Mason SciTech Campus in Collaboration Agreement with National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases

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Innovation Pharmaceuticals and George Mason University Release Laboratory Testing Results Demonstrating Brilacidin’s COVID-19 Treatment Potential

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The Telegraph (UK) highlights potential antibiotic from Komodo dragon blood

Monique Van Hoek from the School of Systems Biology comments on the synthetic molecule created at Mason by combining two genes found in Komodo dragon blood.

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Mason’s NCBID and University of Costa Rica Develop Equine Antibody-based Therapeutic to Neutralize Coronavirus

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Chimeron Bio and George Mason University’s National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases Partner to Develop a Coronavirus (COVID-19) Vaccine using ChaESARTM Technology

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Emergex and GMU’s National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases Partner for Highly Pathogenic RNA Virus Studies

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Mason virologist helping find ways to better diagnose the coronavirus

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Mason scientists’ DNA nanotech research could target illnesses such as the coronavirus

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Improved Treatment for HIV, Cancer Patients

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Mason researcher, Dr. Yuntao Wu, helps identify a T cell marker that could help lead to improved treatment for HIV, cancer patients.

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Multi-Drug Resistant bacteria killed by Alligator antimicrobial peptides

Dr. van Hoek and research associate Stephanie Barksdale published a paper in January 2017 in Developmental and Comparative Immunology, “Cathelicidin antimicrobial peptide from Alligator mississippiensis has antimicrobial activity against multi-drug resistant Acinetobacter baumannii and Klebsiella pneumoniae.” In this paper, Dr. van Hoek and her team describe a powerful cathelicidin peptide from the American alligator. This antimicrobial peptide and fragments have very strong activity against a number of Gram-negative bacteria, including multi-drug resistant strains. Experiments indicate that these peptides work by punching very small holes in the bacterial membrane; however, these peptides do not do the same to mammalian cells.

To Read the Full Article Click here:     http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0145305X16304293?via%3Dihub 

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Tasso, Ceres Nanosciences, George Mason University, and the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases receive $4.25M to develop a universal surveillance platform for infectious disease outbreaks.

MANASSAS, Va. — September 28, 2017 — Tasso, Inc. (Tasso), Ceres Nanosciences (Ceres), George Mason University (Mason), and the United States Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID) today announced the commencement of a $11.7 million program, funded by the Defense Threat Reduction Agency (DTRA), to develop a reliable, safe, and simple universal surveillance platform for infectious disease outbreaks.

Read the press article: http://www.ceresnano.com/press

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Mosquitoes take on rabbit fever and win

Researchers at George Mason who are investigating potential new sources of antibiotics are looking at unlikely sources including alligator blood and mosquitoes, said Monique van Hoek, a professor in Mason’s School of Systems Biology and at the National Center for Biodefense and Infectious Diseases.

Read the full article: https://www2.gmu.edu/news/253116

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Bugged Out: Bed Bugs Could Be Key in Development of New Antibiotics

Dr. van Hoek’s bed bug collaborative research may yield alternatives to antibiotics.

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Mason Researchers Looking for Fresh Answers in a Medieval Disease

George Mason University professor Ramin M. Hakami is searching for new ways to treat modern ailments by studying bacterial and viral biodefense agents, including the medieval disease notoriously known as the Black Death.

Read the press article: https://www2.gmu.edu/news/1924

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Dr. van Hoek receives 2013 OSCAR Mentoring Excellence Award