The Mason Spirit: The Magazine for Alumni and Friends of George Mason University George Mason University

From Bedside to Bench

Through a university collaboration, alumnus makes great strides in liver research

By Laura S. Jeffrey

There's hope for those suffering from liver disease thanks to pioneering research being conducted by George Mason University graduate students and faculty. The work is led by a Mason alumnus who has proven that sometimes you can go home again.

Zobair M. Younossi, MD, BS Biology '84, is codirector of Mason's Center for the Study of Genomics in Liver Diseases. The center, located on the Prince William Campus, is a collaboration between Mason and Inova Fairfax Hospital, where Younossi is executive director of the Center for Liver Diseases and medical director of the Liver Transplant Program.

Younossi, a native of Afghanistan, came to the United States when he was 21 years old with his family in 1980 to escape political turmoil. Fluent in French and Persian, Younossi had already completed some medical school training, but in the United States, he had to start all over again, including learning English. He worked his way through Mason, graduating with honors in 1984.

Younossi continued his education, earning his MD from the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in New York in 1989 and a master of public health degree from the San Diego State University School of Public Health in California in 1995. Along the way, he completed a medical residency as well as a fellowship in gastroenterology and hepatology at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in La Jolla, California, and worked as a hepatologist and senior researcher at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation. In 2000, he joined Inova Health System.

At about the same time, Mason established the Center for the Study of Genomics in Liver Diseases in collaboration with Inova to bring together teams of clinical investigators and scientists to conduct research in this fast-growing area of medicine. Younossi became codirector of the Mason center in 2002 as well as an affiliate professor of biomedical sciences. The center's other director is Vikas Chandhoke, associate dean of research for the College of Arts and Sciences (CAS).

The center's high-tech laboratories and state-of-the-art equipment enable students and faculty in CAS' Department of Microbiology and Molecular Biology to grow and maintain liver cells, study the differences between healthy and diseased cells, and investigate treatment options for patients with liver disease.

"We focus on translational research," Younossi says, "taking information from the bedside to the bench, and vice versa." The center has become an international leader in this type of research, with students and faculty presenting their findings at a number of conferences worldwide and publishing journal articles and book chapters.

Younossi himself is a leader in clinical research on several liver disease issues. With his research team at Inova and Mason, he is studying the genomics and proteomics of obesity-related nonalcoholic fatty liver disease, metabolic syndrome (including obesity), fibrosis, and hepatitis C. He has received several awards, including being named in the prestigious Who's Who in Health Care; has written or cowritten several book chapters and approximately 200 abstracts and articles for publications; and sits on the editorial boards of several medical journals.

Younossi says when he first returned to Mason, he was impressed with its "incredible transformation, not only in terms of the buildings but in the size and diversity of the student population."

"I believe Mason has evolved into the most important postsecondary academic institution in the area," Younossi says, "and the potential for the future is fantastic. There's a real opportunity to affect people all over the world with our research."


Photo of Zobair M. Younossi

Zobair M. Younossi