Mason receives $100,000 from GO Virginia for COVID-19 antibody and diagnostic testing study

Amira Roess

George Mason University’s College of Health and Human Services and College of Science received a  $100,000 GO Virginia Economic Resilience and Recovery Grant to improve COVID-19 symptom monitoring, tracking and diagnostics, with the ultimate goal of helping Virginians with a safe return to work.

The pilot program focuses 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. Tailored stress management interventions and programs will be developed from the pilot program to enhance safe return to work for these populations.

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. It includes integration of symptom, exposure and behavioral data with regular testing following exposures.

Amira Roess, an epidemiologist and professor in the Department of Global and Community Health, is leading the project. 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.

The team of co-investigators includes Kathi Huddleston, Cheryl Oetjen, and Grace Lawrence from the School of Nursing, Janusz Wojtusiak from the Department of Health Administration and Policy, and Virginia Espina from CAPMM.

“With breakthroughs in screening, surveillance and testing, Mason faculty are leading efforts to fight COVID-19 in the region and around the country,” said Aurali Dade, Mason’s interim vice president for research, innovation and economic impact. “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.” 

Lance Liotta

Forty graduates from Mason’s College of Health and Human Services’ School of Nursing in Fairfax, Prince William, and surrounding counties will kick off the program, which will increase to 80 School of Nursing graduates.

Each participant will receive a kit consisting of nasal swabs, COVID-19 diagnostic tests, biweekly antibody tests, and a mobile phone app for contact tracing. They also will be asked to complete a daily two-minute COVID-19 symptom and exposure screening form. The methods used can be rapidly scaled and integrated into other workforce sectors.

A widely available, noninvasive antibody test coupled with enhanced diagnostic testing would have a significant impact on the region’s ability to resume key operations, regional economic leaders said, and 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.

Christina M. Winn, executive director of the Prince William County Department of Economic Development, agreed. "It's such an important step in building confidence in our community and preparing our region for safely getting back to work." 

The GO VA Economic Resilience and Recovery Grant Program was created by the Virginia Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) Growth and Opportunity for Virginia Board. Mason 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,” said Sara Dunnigan, deputy director, GO Virginia and Economic Development at DHCD. “This collaborative project is a perfect example of an innovative regional solution that leverages unique assets in Northern Virginia.”