George Mason University wins grant for “return to work” pilot programs for antibody and diagnostic testing

Pilot initiative builds ability to deliver testing, contact tracing, and stress management protocols among health care providers, with goal of rapidly scaling to other sectors

Fairfax, Virginia, September 28, 2020 — George Mason University’s College of Health and Human Services and College of Science have been awarded a $100,000 GO Virginia Economic Resilience and Recovery Grant to establish critical infrastructure to improve COVID-19 symptom monitoring and tracking, and diagnostics and facilitate a safe return to work.

The initiative will simplify workplace monitoring for symptoms and testing for the COVID-19 virus and antibodies and will improve how contacts are traced when the virus is detected. Capabilities such as effective and easy-to-scale methods for diagnostic and antibody testing and contact tracing are key to a safe return.

The interdisciplinary project brings together epidemiologists, nurse researchers, health informatics specialists, and laboratory scientists to create a holistic return to work program that can be scaled up. Dr. Amira Roess, an epidemiologist and professor in the Department of Global & Community Health, is leading the project, which includes integration of symptom, exposure, and behavioral data with regular testing following exposures. Roess brings extensive experience in outbreak and emergency preparedness and response. She advises public and private organizations, including K-12 schools, judicial systems, universities, and businesses on how to safely resume operations.

Dr. Lance Liotta, professor in the School of Systems Biology and co-director and co-founder of Mason’s Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine (CAPMM) is leading a team that developed a novel saliva-based antibody test, which is easier to use than other tests and has the potential for higher sensitivity and specificity than previous formats.

“With breakthroughs in screening, surveillance, and testing, Mason faculty are leading efforts to fight COVID-19 in the region and around the country. The research happening here helps lay the groundwork for the economic recovery of Northern Virginia and the potential for developing commercially-available tests right here in the region,” said Dr. Aurali Dade, Mason’s interim vice president for research, innovation and economic impact.

The pilot will focus on understanding the physical and mental health impact of COVID-19 on the workforce, especially among essential, front-line workers such as those in health care, first responder roles, education, and retail. The team plans to use the results to develop tailored stress management interventions and programs to enhance safe return to work for these populations.

Leaders at the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority and Prince William Department of Economic Development voiced their support for the pilot initiative and the impact a widely available, non-invasive antibody test coupled with enhanced diagnostic testing can have on the region’s ability to resume key operations. Bringing a COVID-19 testing protocol to market in Northern Virginia could also have longer-term benefits to the region and its growing life sciences and information technology sectors.

“This is an important effort to understand more about COVID-19 and its effects on the population, and I am delighted to see it moving forward,” said Victor Hoskins, president and CEO of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority. “This effort also is the latest example of innovators in the Northern Virginia technology community collaborating to improve people’s lives, and we should be proud that this kind of discovery happens here.”

“I’m so proud to call Mason one of Prince William County’s own and I’m excited to see this study move forward,” said Christina M. Winn, executive director of the Prince William County Department of Economic Development. “It’s such an important step in building confidence in our community and preparing our region for safely getting back to work.”

The GO Virginia Economic Resilience and Recovery Grant Program was created by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) Growth and Opportunity for Virginia Board. George Mason University matched the grant with $50,000 in funding. “In creating the Economic Resilience and Recovery program, the GO Virginia State Board pivoted resources to focus on near term strategies to mitigate the economic impacts of the pandemic and this project is a perfect example of an innovative regional solution.  This collaborative project leverages unique assets in Northern Virginia and we look forward to seeing the results of this pilot and its potential to inform reopening strategies,” said Sara Dunnigan, deputy director, GO Virginia and Economic Development at DHCD.

The Fairfax County Economic Development Authority promotes Fairfax County as a business and technology center. In addition to its headquarters in Tysons, Fairfax County’s largest business district, the FCEDA maintains business investment offices in six important global business centers: Bangalore/Mumbai, Berlin, London, Los Angeles, Seoul and Tel Aviv. Follow the FCEDA on Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and YouTube.

The Prince William County Department of Economic Development’s mission is “to improve the County’s economic base by encouraging new businesses to locate in Prince William County, retain existing businesses and encourage existing businesses to expand.”  The Department works hard to create a pro-business, globally-competitive environment that generates new, high-quality, and sustainable job opportunities for our citizens and engages in a broad portfolio of services, partnerships, and strategic alliances to benefit the business community and stimulate the economy.

The Fairfax County Economic Development Authority and the Prince William County Department of Economic Development are members of the Northern Virginia Economic Development Alliance. Other members of NOVA EDA are the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership, Arlington County, City of Fairfax, City of Falls Church, Fauquier County, Loudoun County, City of Manassas and City of Manassas Park.