Ensuring Results: Lab’s New Accreditation Brings Significant Advantages for Research

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By Justin Lafreniere

Most of us have a checklist for work: file that report, call that person, punch in, punch out. For the scientists, staff and students in George Mason University’s Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine, that list is nearly 600 items long, ensuring that the laboratory is one of the best in the country and maintains its new accreditation from the College of American Pathologists (CAP).

Research at the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine focuses on prevention, early detection and individualized therapies for conditions as varied as Alzheimer’s disease, schizophrenia, Lyme disease, leukemia and traumatic brain injuries. Accreditation from the College of American Pathologists will hasten the testing process while making research practices more stringent.

Lance Liotta

The five-year process, which ranks the lab as “equal-to or more-stringent-than the government’s own inspection program,” according to the college, proved a significant challenge for Virginia Espina, research associate professor for the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine. According to Lance Liotta, co-chair of the center and the laboratory’s medical director, Espina “developed dozens of detailed protocols for two years before we were even qualified for our first inspection two years ago.”

“We were inspected on 596 criteria, with only three cited for improvement,” Espina notes of the latest review, a batting average of .994. Maintaining such stringent accreditation is a full workload. She notes that support from College of Science dean Peggy Agouris and the information technology department, purchasing for the lab, and hard work from all the scientists involved keeps the lab operating at a high level of quality. “Meeting our criteria requires daily, ongoing commitment to infrastructure and quality,” Espina says.

“We can never relax because we have to follow a long series of protocols daily and weekly,” Liotta says, alluding to standards on calibrating equipment, having a laboratory disaster plan, using specific labeling, ensuring software backups and dozens of other regulations.

Virginia Espina, research assistant professor, works with student interns on the Prince William campus through the Aspiring Scientist Summer Internship Program. Photo by Evan Cantwell.

Espina notes one of the benefits of accreditation: undergraduate biology and medical technology students, and graduate students from the School of Systems Biology, are involved in using the laboratory. “Our CAP lab also hosts high school and undergraduate student volunteers and our lab scientists mentor students in Mason’s Aspiring Summer Scientists Internship program too,” says Espina. During their education, students will study under rigorous laboratory standards.

The accreditation of the Center for Applied Proteomics and Molecular Medicine laboratory, the first of its kind dedicated to proteomics transitional research, provides significant advantages in advancing its mission-oriented medical research. “Work done under the auspices of CAP accreditation can be submitted to other regulatory agencies, such as the Food and Drug Administration, without the need for re-testing, and we can perform clinical research trials with human subjects for pharmaceutical companies or other sponsors,” Espina says.

According to Liotta, conducting clinical studies “under CAP certification saves several years when we want to race a new research finding to help patients.”

Write to Michele McDonald at mmcdon15@gmu.edu

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