GMU, Inova Health System Form Partnership

GMU, Inova Health System Form Partnership

Transitional Centers created with hope to tailor research, personalize medicine at bedside.

A new partnership between George Mason University and Inova Health System will combine research to create medicine that can be tailored to individual patients and brought directly to the bedside at Inova Hospital.

In attempt to increase the research to find a cure for cancer, along with learning more about liver diseases, the partnership will unite two newly hired GMU scientists, Lance A. Liotta, from the National Institutes of Health and Emanuel F. Petricoin III from the Federal Drug Administration, with Inova's Zobair Younossi, executive director liver transplant program at Inova Fairfax Hospital.

"We're hiring the best people with the best interest in mind," said Douglas Cropper, executive vice president Inova Health System.

Through the partnership, GMU's scientists will combine laboratory research with Inova's clinical staff and implement any medical discoveries through clinical trials with Inova Hospital's patients.

"We're employing cutting edge technology to not only discover diseases earlier, but also tailor the treatment," said Petricoin about the partnership. "We're ultimately doing this to make a difference at the beside."

ADDING TO THE EXISTING structure of a transitional research center, the partnership will allow the institutions to potentially find a cure for cancer, find treatments for metabolic syndrome, cardiopulmonary diseases and neurodegenerative and liver diseases.

The partnership also allows for the hire of scientists, like Liotta and Petricoin, who will co-direct the center for applied proteomics and molecular medicine — one of the three transitional research centers.

The two other centers will focus on biomedical genomics and the study of genomics of liver diseases.

Through their research, Liotta and Petricoin will further investigate proteomics, a recently discovered path in molecular medicine that studies protein activity in cells.

According to GMU, the study of protein activity in cells and understanding how protein functions in altered or diseased cells, will help scientists develop new tools and strategies for diagnosing and treating cancer and other diseases.

The hope is, through the study, scientists will be able to create tailored medicine — based on how the disease operates within the individual.

This contrasts with today's universal medicine, that may not work for every patient.

"We want to hit the ground running," said Vikas Chandhoke, associate dean of research, director of life sciences for GMU. "We plan to get additional people as well and be ready to go by mid-summer."

J. Thomas Hennessey Jr., chief of staff to GMU president Alan Merten, said funding for the centers will come from grants and contracts, strategic alliances with the biotechnology and pharmaceutical industries, in addition to technology agreements and royalties and any donations.

Last year, he said the university as a whole received approximately $72 million for research.

Within the next two years Hennessey projected, with federal government funding, the school could receive an excess of $100 million.

Cropper said Inova has received $8 million in grants over the years and currently has about $1 million in grant funding.

Hennessey said although it took about five years to get this partnership finalized, because GMU and Inova have partnered in the past, it was not unusual that the two would work together to increase research at the three centers.

"This is the most significant thing we've done together so far," said Cropper.

ALONG WITH STUDYING protein activity in cells, the additional centers will focus on cellular function in body fluids, to potentially detect diseases earlier and offer risk assessments to patients.

Because of the possibility to detect diseases earlier in patients, medical professionals will then be able to directly translate findings to patients at Inova Hospital.

"We're hoping to develop clinical trials immediately with Inova," said Petricoin. "But, it will take time before we have answers."

Petricoin said immediately administering treatments to patients is uncommon for most scientists.

But, because of the partnership, researchers will be able to work with Inova's healthcare professionals to directly benefit any patients that meet the criteria for assistance.

He said if they were not partnered with the hospital, the scientists would have to wait for FDA approval before implementing any medical treatments — which can take a long time.

"If we made discoveries that held up in a clinical trial," said Petricoin, "then it becomes something we can develop with clinical diagnostic testing."

James Cooper, chairman of the department of medicine, Inova Fairfax Hospital, said although the group hopes to start its research by summer, additional scientists will be hired over the next four years.

"Inova already has clinical trials going on," he said. "We're hoping to expand what we're already doing."

In addition Petricoin said because transitional work takes time, they will have to "make sure what we're doing works" before publicly announcing results.

In addition to working at the Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church, laboratories and support facilities will be maintained at GMU's Prince William campus in Manassas, with the possibilities of additional facilities to be developed as research expands.

"We have already established an expertise in human tissue and human body fluid," said Petricoin. "Now we need to translate that to the bedside, we need to have constant interaction with technicians at the bedside and need to feed them with information."