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Will This 'Burb Find the Cancer Cure?

Washington DC Tech

We didn't know Prince William County is home to a team of researchers trying to detect and cure cancer. At Bisnow’s Prince William County: Harnessing Innovation event yesterday in Manassas, we learned that's just the beginning.

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One of the most important ingredients for a region to be competitive is a world-class research university, says George Mason president Ángel Cabrera. The university is just 40 years old (a teen in the higher ed world), but it's one of the top 200 research universities in the world—one of four in Virginia on that list. Its Prince William campus has become a science and tech campus, with a biosafety lab doing research on infectious diseases, sports medicine, and personalized medicine. Bill Gates recently called on a GMU researcher at the campus’ Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine to learn more about personalized medicine.

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Ceres Nanosciences was spun out of that same center in 2008 to create diagnostic tools for detecting difficult-to-spot diseases. Ceres CEO Ross Dunlap says the first NanoTrap product will offer diagnostics for Lyme disease, and the company is working on a diagnostic test for malaria and Ebola. He also says others outside of the DC region are taking note of what’s going on in the county, even though most people in the region think of Northern Virginia as Fairfax and Arlington counties.

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Allessandra Luchini was one of the GMU researchers who helped develop the NanoTrap. The idea came from a high school intern in the lab, she says. The intern co-authored the study and has her name on the patent. Allessandra, who recently moved to GMU’s Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine from Italy, says researchers there are working on ways to identify diseases before symptoms are known, cures for ongoing diseases, and developing preventative treatments for cancer. A clinical trial at Inova is showing promise, she says.

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Micron, a memory chip and semiconductor company, is the elder statesman of the innovation community in Prince William. It came to Manassas a decade ago to launch one of its most advanced facilities. The memory chips that go into cars, for example, are made at Micron's Manassas facility. Government affairs manager Todd House says Micron products are shipped daily through Dulles, and he sees Prince William on a faster trajectory than Research Triangle Park a few years ago. In the last five years, the company has been working with local schools to build a STEM pipeline for the future workforce through mentoring programs and robotics teams.

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Another GMU spin out was Computer Game Design graduate Kyle Bishop (right), who launched Little Arms Studios. The company works out of GMU’s Simulation & Gaming Institute and developed an educational game for firefighter training. It’s being used in Fairfax and Prince William counties. The company has been able to recruit interns from GMU, and the incubator has taught Little Arms about running a business while developing products. Key Cybersecurity founder Shawn Key, whom we wrote about Monday, says being close to GMU and Northern Virginia Community College has boosted recruiting. The key is to get the investment community to realize the innovation going on.