From tools that make diagnosing and treating diseases easier to technologies that protect computer systems and water quality, Mason scientists are working to translate their discoveries into interventions and applications that have social, cultural, and economic impact.
- Diagnosing Lyme Disease—Nanotrap® particles invented by Emanuel “Chip” Petricoin and Lance Liotta, directors of Mason’s Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine, are made of hydrogel (similar to contact lenses but really small) and can be engineered to selectively “trap,” concentrate, and collect a diverse range of compounds from such fluids as blood, urine, saliva, and sweat. They are using this technology in a Lyme Disease urine test that is currently in clinical trials and will hopefully be on the market in early 2014.
- Removing Arsenic from Ground Water—In some developing areas, village water wells often contain the poisonous element arsenic. In Bangladesh alone, more than 18 million people daily drink arsenic-contaminated water. For Bangladesh native and Mason chemistry professor Abul Hussam, this threat hit close to home. After years of research and testing, Hussam and his brothers developed the SONO filter, which costs only $35 and lasts at least five years. Simple, inexpensive, and made with easily available materials, the filter won the million-dollar National Academy of Engineering’s 2007 Grainger Prize. More than 250,000 of these filters can be found in homes, schools, and businesses in Bangladesh, Nepal, and India.
- Store Anything—An open-source (free!) tool developed by the geniuses at the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media, Zotero collects all your research in a single, searchable interface. You can add PDFs, images, audio and video files, and screenshots, and Zotero automatically indexes the full-text content of “your library,” enabling users to find what they are looking for with a few keystrokes. The center offers a variety to open-source tools including Omeka, an online publishing platform designed especially for museums and historians.
- A Tisket, a Tasket, a DNA Basket—Gene therapy and its potential to further personalized medicine is one of the hot topics in medicine today. One of the challenges facing researchers pursuing this line of inquiry is how to deliver the therapeutic small interfering RNA (siRNA) to the appropriate site in the body. To the body, siRNA can appear to be a viral infection so it triggers the immune system. To thwart the body’s immune response, Mason biologist Ancha Baranova has developed a cloaking device—what she calls a “DNA basket” —to prolong the life of the siRNA and improve its chances of reaching the target site.
- Making Toil and Trouble for Hackers—Understanding that computer networks are only as strong as their weakest links, University Professor Sushil Jajodia and researchers from Mason’s Center for Secure Information Systems have developed a software that can pinpoint areas within a network that are vulnerable to cyber attacks. Called Cauldron, the software transforms raw data into easy-to-read graphics showing where attacks on a network could occur, which allows users to manage susceptible areas and conduct real-time analysis.
- Breaking Down Antibiotic Resistance—Mason researchers Monique van Hoek and Barney Bishop have developed antimicrobial peptides, or small chains of amino acids, that are able to break bacteria’s protective coating, the very thing that makes the “germ” resistant to antibiotics and other agents.
- Mapping the Brain–Mason neuroscientist Giorgio Ascoli and his team at the Center for Neural Informatics, Neural Structures, and Neural Plasticity have developed a number of tools for mapping and archiving neurons to get a better idea of how the brain works—and they are sharing them with colleagues from around the world.
- Hunting Down HIV—Mason researcher Yuntao Wu has developed a nucleic acid that seeks out and destroys cells infected with HIV, leaving uninfected cells unharmed.