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Popular Science Names Mason Researcher to Its List of Top Scientists Under 40

Sep. 19, 2011

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Annual "Brilliant 10" Listing Features Mason Nanoscientist Alessandra Luchini

Manassas, Va.—George Mason University is pleased to announce that Alessandra Luchini, assistant professor in the School of Systems Biology and researcher at Mason's Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine (CAPMM), has been named one of Popular Science magazine's top scientists under the age of 40 in its annual "Brilliant 10" listing.

Luchini, who is the only scientist from the Mid-Atlantic on the list, was selected for her groundbreaking work with nanoparticles. In 2008, Luchini and a team of CAPMM researchers introduced a unique nanotechnology that captures and concentrates rare disease biomarkers in blood or urine in order to improve the diagnosis and treatment of cancer and other diseases.

For more than a decade, the editors of Popular Science have been seeking out promising young researchers at labs across the nation. This year's "Brilliant 10," which hit newsstands last Thursday in the October 2011 issue of the magazine, represent the best of what science can achieve and demonstrate America's continuing cutting-edge research.

"Our annual 'Brilliant 10' feature is a testament to the importance of scientific research and a salute to the dazzling young minds driving it," said Mark Jannot, editorial director, the Bonnier Technology Group and Editor-in-Chief, Popular Science. "Each year, we solicit nominations from hundreds of eminent scientists and whittle the candidates down to the ones whose work really blows the tops of our heads off."

Luchini's breakthrough nanoparticle technology is now commercially available as new iterations are currently in research and development. Over the past few years, the technology has been in clinical testing and the results are promising. These nanoparticles capture, concentrate and preserve cancer and other disease markers in a single step. The nanoparticles are simply added to blood or urine in order to catch these disease biomarkers, similar to how a lobster trap catches lobsters.

"Dr. Luchini's nanoparticles have revolutionary potential to improve the diagnosis of early stage cancer and infectious disease," says Dr. Lance Liotta, co-director of CAPMM who nominated Luchini for the award. "This could reduce suffering and death for millions."

In fact, this nanotechnology, licensed under the name Nanotrap® through Ceres Nanosciences Inc., has been used by many other research groups as a tool to discover molecules in body fluids. The invention has enabled the discovery of a plethora of new biomarkers, which were not possible to detect before because of their low concentration and unstable nature.

Originally intended to diagnose cancer biomarkers, this technology, also referred to as "smart hydrogel nanoparticles," has countless other uses in diagnostic and treatment settings. Currently, this nanotechnology is in clinical testing for two very diverse uses: testing urine for the presence of human growth hormone (HGH), which will have wide impact on the world of sports, and testing blood or urine for Lyme disease, an early-detection and non-invasive option to the current diagnostic test. CAPMM scientists have also used the nanoparticles to discover diagnostic markers for prostate, ovary, colon, lung andbreast cancers, as well as melanoma and sarcoma.

In 2009, Luchini was awarded the Premio Award for the top Italian woman scientist in North America by Bridges to Italy, an international business association, and the Italian Women Inventors and Innovators Network. Later that year, she was also named a Gold Innovation in Science Award winner by the European Women Inventors and Innovators Network (EUWIIN).

Luchini received her doctorate from the University of Padova in Italy. She has been working with CAPMM since 2004. She has authored or co-authored more than 20 peer-reviewed articles. She has also licensed eight different patents, most related to the hydrogel nanoparticles.

She originally came to Mason with a fellowship sponsored by the Italian Istituto Superiore di Sanita' (the Italian equivalent of the National Institutes of Health), which continues to support her research to date. The nanoparticle projects are funded by the National Institutes of Health's National Cancer Institute and National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases.

Of the honor, Luchini says, "To be recognized among this group of innovative scientists in this year's Brilliant 10 is an extraordinary honor. I am humbled to be in such great company. As I represent the results of a team effort, I am very grateful to the wonderful people I work with at Mason and in CAPMM that have been mentors, role models and friends to me."

For more on Luchini's work, please visit our news site for more information. To set up an interview with Luchini to discuss the Popular Science listing or her current research, please contact Leah Fogarty at 703-993-8781, lfogart1@gmu.edu. High-resolution images of Luchini are available upon request or click here to view them.

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