Research Groups

Research Groups

Adaptive Systems Laboratory

The overall goal of the Adaptive Systems Laboratory is to study complex adaptive systems—economies, social networks, ecologies, power grids, computer networks, immune systems, the brain, and so on — as they appear in natural and artificial contexts. The lab’s research activities reflect two complementary themes: a scientific approach to understanding complex adaptive systems via modeling and simulation, and an engineering focus on the ability to design, control, and modify complex adaptive systems. The principal investigator is Dr. Kenneth De Jong. Visit the scientific website.

Biomedical Imaging Lab

The primary research focus of the Biomedical Imaging Lab is the study of human pathophysiology and function using ultrasound energy in novel ways. The interdisciplinary group uses state-of-the-art ultrasound and laser instrumentation for developing new ultrasound, optical, and hybrid imaging techniques that can improve noninvasive diagnosis, screening, and treatment monitoring for a variety of diseases. The research also is aimed at better understanding the underlying mechanisms in disease progression. The group conducts pre-clinical research for demonstrating new concepts as well as translational research on human subjects. Ongoing research includes the study of myofascial pain syndrome, musculoskeletal disorders, stroke, vascular injuries, age-related macula degeneration, and development of novel upper extremity prostheses and wirelessly actuated drug-delivery implants. The research is funded by the National Institutes of Health, National Science Foundation, and the Veterans Health Administration.  The principal investigators are Dr. Siddhartha Sikdar and Dr. Parag V. Chitnis.
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Center for Neural Dynamics

The Center for Neural Dynamics explores the dynamical behavior of complex systems. Interests range from the mathematical analysis of abstract neuronal models to nonlinear time series analysis to how collective behavior emerges in large populations of interacting units. Analytical tools from dynamical systems theory and statistical mechanical approaches from the physical sciences are used. This work lays the foundation for understanding the dynamics of populations of neurons in the brain, for understanding therapeutic approaches for treating dynamical diseases, such as epilepsy, and has been supported by grants from the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health. Drs. Ernest Barreto and Paul So are the principal investigators. Visit the scientific website.

Center for Neuroinformatics, Neural Structures, and Neuroplasticity (CN3)

The Computational Neuroanatomy Group is a multidisciplinary research team devoted to the study of basic neuroscience. Members are specifically interested in the description and generation of dendritic morphology and its effect on neuronal electrophysiology. In the long term, the group seeks to create large-scale, anatomically plausible neural networks to model entire portions of a mammalian brain (such as a hippocampal slice or a cortical column). The research may offer a clear picture of how Alzheimer’s disease results in memory loss, particularly within the context of nerve cell pathology. This work has been supported by the National Institutes of Health.  The center director is Dr. Giorgio Ascoli. Visit the scientific website.

Center for Social Complexity

The Center for Social Complexity research involves the creation of computational models of socionatural systems that integrate cultural dynamics and environmental change. Some particular applications include modeling the rise and fall of polities in inner Asia (Mongolia and its neighbors) and the use of agent-based models to examine political instability and ecological dynamics in eastern Africa and Asia. This research is funded by the National Science Foundation and the Office of Naval Research. The principal investigator is Dr. Cioffi-Revilla who also serves as the National Academies’ Jefferson Science Fellow at the U.S. Department of State. Visit the scientific website.

Center of Excellence in Neuroergonomics, Technology, and Cognition

Dr. Raja Parasuraman conducts research in human factors and cognitive neuroscience. The first area concerns human performance in human– machine systems, particularly the role of human attention, memory, and vigilance in automated and robotic systems. His second area of research is the cognitive neuroscience of attention, where he has conducted studies using information- processing paradigms, event-related brain potentials, and functional brain imaging (PET, fMRI) in normal populations and in relation to aging and Alzheimer’s disease. He is also interested in the molecular genetics of attention and working memory. In addition, Dr. Parasuraman has developed the field of neuroergonomics, which he defines as the study of brain and behavior at work. Visit the scientific website.

Complex Adaptive Systems Research

This research integrates social, economic, environmental, and institutional perspectives, and combines computer modeling with other methods (surveys, interviews, and spatial analysis) to examine development in less-developed places and the sustainability of human environment systems. It addresses complex adaptive systems in general: what fundamental mechanisms give rise to the common properties of these systems, such as stability, resilience, and sustainability. In an attempt to understand cognitive foundations of high-level social behavior, she investigates the role languages play in human cognition. The principal investigator is Dr. Qing Tian. Visit the scientific website.

Computational and Experimental Neuroplasticity (CENlab)

The Computational and Experimental Neuroplasticity Laboratory is a multidisciplinary research group devoted to the study of learning and memory. Under Dr. Avrama Blackwell’s leadership, lab members try to understand how individual brain cells store memories. In particular, they investigate the intracellular events underlying learning in the basal ganglia and hippocampus. The long-term goals are to understand how addictive drugs and alcohol hijack the reward-learning centers of the brain and how Parkinson’s disease produces deficits in motor learning. Visit the scientific website.

Computational Hemodynamics Lab

This laboratory focuses on the development and clinical application of image-based computational modeling of blood flows in cerebral arteries. In particular, the lab focuses on the study of brain aneurysms, abnormal dilatations of the cerebral arteries that can rupture and cause hemorrhagic strokes, which have a high degree of mortality and long-term disability. Specifically, the research centers around investigating the underlying mechanisms governing the formation, growth, and rupture of cerebral aneurysms; identifying hemodynamic characteristics to assess the risk of rupture; understanding the effects of different possible therapeutic choices for improving and personalizing current treatment planning; and understanding the effects and performance of different medical devices used in treatment. The lab’s approach consists of creating patient specific computational models from medical images to formulate hypotheses that can be tested clinically; in other words, data generated from personalized computer simulations are connected to clinical observations to gain knowledge about the disease process, its diagnosis, and its treatment. This work is conducted in close collaboration with clinicians from the Interventional Neuroradiology Unit of Inova Fairfax Hospital and other institutions, including the Mayo Clinic; University of Pittsburgh; University of California, Los Angeles; University Hospital of Helsinki (Finland); Intituto Clinico ENERI (Argentina); and Clinica Medellin (Colombia). The principal investigator is Dr. Juan Cebral. Visit the scientific website.

Cressman Lab

The Cressman Lab focuses on neuronal dynamics and the physical mechanisms that underlie activities supported by the brain. Its research is aimed at elucidating the fundamental dynamic modes that occur in normal, as well as pathological, brain functions. The likelihood of pathological behaviors, such as seizures or migraines, depends on the modulation of environmental variables, such as ion concentrations, that may affect a switch between different functional states of neuronal networks. Through mathematical modeling and experimentation, principal investigator Dr. John Cressman hopes to understand the biological mechanisms that normally equilibrate these variables in the hope of identifying targets and therapies that could control or even cure afflictions. Visit the scientific website.

Developmental Evolutionary Neurobiology Lab

Current research in the Developmental Evolutionary Neurobiology Lab focuses on two areas. One is the development and evolution of the forebrain of vertebrates. The other is how brain nuclei are formed. The long-term goal of this research is to determine how vertebrate brains are built using the processes of evolution and development. Modern and classical morphological techniques are used to provide answers to these questions. The principal investigator is Dr. Michael Pritz. Visit the scientific website.

Economic Complexity

Dr. Rob Axtell’s research on economic complexiy involves computational and mathematical modeling of social and economic processes. Specifically, he works at the intersection of multi-agent systems, computer science, and the social sciences, building so-called agent-based models of a variety of market and nonmarket phenomena. Visit the scientific website.

Geographical Information Science and Agent-based Modeling Research

The work of principal investigator Dr. Andrew Crooks aims to explore and understand natural and socio-economic environments using tools such as geographical information science, spatial analysis, social network analysis, and agent-based modeling methodologies. Some applications include pedestrian movement, containing the spread of diseases, and humanitarian assistance. Visit the scientific website.

Human Neurogenetics Laboratory

The Human Neurogenetics Laboratory, part of a collaborative effort among the Inova Neurosciences Institute, Inova Health System, and the Krasnow Institute, has the overarching goal to bridge basic neuroscience discovery and clinical application. Within this framework, principal investigator Dr. Robert Lipsky’s research focuses on understanding molecular genetic mechanisms underlying neurological disorders. Current projects focus on regulation of short- and long-term gene expression through mechanisms independent of changes in the DNA sequence itself. These molecular effects acting on the genome are generally referred to as “epigenetic” events. Epigenetic events can activate or silence entire classes of genes in a cell’s response to changes in the environment, ultimately altering an organism’s response. One current project has the objective of identifying epigenetic biomarkers that are associated with regulation of genes in response to mild traumatic brain injury and determining the role of these genes in predicting improved recovery in brain-injured patients.

Kabbani Lab

The Kabbani Lab works in neuroproteomics, a field that aims to study the complete network of cellular proteins in nerve cells and examine how proteins contribute to neuronal processes, such as development, plasticity, and repair. The research centers on identifying and characterizing protein interactions for cell surface receptors that bind the neurotransmitters dopamine and acetylcholine within the adult mammalian brain. These receptor systems are known to mediate neuronal activity, driving brain function such as cognition, memory, and attention. In addition, they have been implicated in addiction to drugs of abuse and are associated with the mechanisms of human disorders such as schizophrenia and thus represent important targets in pharmacological drug development for brain disease. The principal investigator is Dr. Nadine Kabbani. Visit the scientific website.

Microfluidic Single-Cell Analysis Laboratory in Engineering

The focus of the μ-SCALE Lab is to investigate the signal transduction intermediates involved in the migration and the proliferation of cells. These characteristics are fundamental to most biological processes and represent critical hallmarks of cancer. Traditional cell biology assays gather aggregate data from a pool of a large number of cells that may not be actually representative of a given subpopulation of cells (e.g., malignant cells) in question. Therefore, the μ-SCALE Lab studies diseases at the single cell level, under controlled spatial and temporal microenvironments, to enhance our conceptual understanding of the real-time cellular responses. For this purpose, members use the microfluidics technology that offers an ideal approach for processing small samples and analyzing individual cells. They also collaborate with doctors and surgeons to understand practical medical challenges and accordingly design noninvasive techniques for point-of-care diagnostics and therapeutic development. The principal investigator is Dr. Nitin Agrawal. Visit the scientific website.

Molecular Neuroanatomy and Developmental Neurogenetics Laboratory

The Molecular Neuroanatomy and Developmental Neurogenetics Laboratory is a multidisciplinary research group devoted to the study of the molecular genetic and neurogenomic mechanisms underlying the development and modulation of functional neuronal architectures with a specific emphasis on dendritic development and the relationships between dendrite morphology and behavioral function. Under the leadership of principal investigator Dr. Dan Cox, the lab uses the fruit fly (Drosophila melanogaster) as a model system for exploring these questions. Current research efforts are focused on elucidating transcriptional, epigenetic, and cell signaling mechanisms that serve as key mediators of neuronal morphology underlying the establishment of functional neural networks. Behaviorally, the lab has a central interest in the cellular and molecular bases underlying nociception. These research efforts are supported by grants from the National Institutes of Health and private agencies. Visit the scientific website.

Multi-Scale Systems Biology Laboratory

The Multi-Scale Systems Biology Laboratory uses computational analysis and simulation of biological systems to understand normal and pathophysiology. Its approach leverages bioinformatics, novel numerical algorithms, and modern parallel computer architectures to enable numerical simulations that span many spatiotemporal scales from the molecular to the organ level. In particular, it is applying our approaches to understand cardiac physiology and disease, mitochondrial function, activation of the immune response and disease infection, and signaling in neuronal and other systems. The lab’s research focuses on simulating in detail the function of the biomolecular pathways in cells and how they combine to give cellular function under normal and pathological conditions. These detailed cellular models form the basis of models of cellular networks that give rise to the function of organs. Through these efforts they strive to understand the cellular and subcellular defects that give rise to disease to motivate new drug targets and therapies.  The principal investigator is Dr. Saleet Jafri. Visit the scientific website.

Nanotechnology Lab

The Nanotechnology Lab aims to develop effective nanocarriers to improve the treatment of devastating diseases, including cancer, diabetes, and cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. Researchers synthesize different nanovehicles, such as polymeric particles, liposomes, and micelles. Some projects aim to understand the chemical mechanisms involved in the formation of such nanocarriers so as to have better control of their physicochemical properties. Biomedical applications of these nanocarriers include drug delivery, vaccines, and imaging contrast agents. The Nanotechnology Lab also investigates the pulmonary toxicity aspect of carbon nanotubes.  The principal investigator is Dr. Carolina Salvador-Morales. Visit the scientific website.

Neural Engineering Lab

The Neural Engineering Lab’s main thrust is the investigation of neural network dynamics and their applications to neural disorders. Primary cell cultures can be tracked over months as they are developing on microelectrode arrays. This system is used to investigate the dynamics and the interaction between electrodes and the biological tissue. Other areas of research in the lab focus on engineering methods to ameliorate neural disorders and on designing assistive technology to help people with disabilities. The principal investigator is Dr. Nathalia Peixoto. Visit the scientific website.

Neuro-oncology Research Lab

Dr. Allen Waziri’s research focuses on glioblastoma multiforme, the most malignant primary brain tumor. His laboratory is interested in clinical and translational research that will lead to new treatments and therapies for glioblastoma multiforme. The two main areas of interest are identifying and treating the sources of tumor immunosuppression and studying tumor cell invasion and proliferation. Recent work has identified neutrophils as a major player in tumor immunosuppression and current work is focused on developing further insight into the role that activated neutrophils play in the biology of glioblastoma multiforme and the benefits that may be derived by targeting this population. To study cell migration and proliferation, Waziri’s lab has optimized a slice culture system where patient tumor tissue is kept alive for several weeks. This step allows for the evaluation of the behavior of tumor cells in their natural environment and testing of patient specific responses to therapies targeting invasion and proliferation.

Neuroimaging Lab

Research in the Neuroimaging Lab revolves around the development of new algorithms to describe changes in tissue integrity as they are depicted by magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain, with applications in multiple sclerosis, healthy aging, and osteoporosis. With a strong focus on clinical MRI, techniques developed aim at a better understanding of the evolution of degenerative diseases. At the same time, the lab is active in applying image and data analysis techniques for remote biometrics and stress detection using conventional cameras.  The principal investigator is Dr. Vicky Ikonomidou. Visit the scientific website.

Origin of Life Laboratory

This laboratory focuses on the origin of life. Recent work has shown how the entire metabolic chart is potentially an emergence of simple autocatalytic metabolic systems, such as the citric acid cycle. Transition metal ligand complexes provide for early catalysts. The goal is to elucidate deep pruning rules, analogous to the Pauli Exclusion Principle, that would inevitably lead to carbon-based life under a manifold of conditions throughout the universe. The project is currently funded by private donations to the George Mason University Foundation. The principal investigator is Dr. Harold Morowitz.

Physiological and Behavioral Neuroscience in Juveniles (PBNJ) Lab

The Physiological and Behavioral Neuroscience in Juveniles Lab is a multidisciplinary laboratory that examines relationships between animal behavior and brain function predominantly during the late postnatal period. Research focuses on developmental changes in synaptic plasticity and neural network activity in the hippocampus that signal the end of network construction and the beginning of adult-like information processing. In collaboration with other Krasnow laboratories and other Mason units, the lab also studies navigation strategy selection in adult rats as a model for adaptive performance and habit formation in humans and material and biological factors that limit the longevity of prosthetic devices. Current methodological efforts are directed at creating genetically encoded optical voltage sensors to observe the activity of thousands of neurons in the hippocampus simultaneously and reveal network activity at the cellular level at a scale larger than ever before possible.  The principal investigator is Dr. Ted Dumas. Visit the scientific website.

Sensorimotor Integration Lab

The Sensorimotor Integration Lab conducts translational research investigating human sensory- motor integration, motor learning, adaptation and control using computational and experimental approaches. There are two major themes to this work. The first involves applying engineering control theory to biological systems, specifically modeling the behavior and coordination of the oculomotor and arm movement systems. The second, using behavioral approaches, involves determining the mechanisms that underlie visual stability and perception, specifically during the disruptions to visual input that occur during eye movements used to sample the environment. Ongoing projects include determining the influence of eye movements and internal movement-monitoring signals in guiding goal-directed actions and the computational processes underlying visual perception, motor adaptation, and memory consolidation.  The principal investigator is Dr. Wilsaan Joiner.  Visit the scientific website.

Social Cognition and Interaction Lab

The Social Cognition and Interaction Lab pursues two lines of research to study the mind-brain relationships of human social cognition by applying a multimethods approach that combines paradigms from cognitive psychology and experimental economics with neuroimaging (brain structure, function, and connectivity), neuroendocrinology, and neurogenetics. The first line of research aims to understand the biological bases of how social cognitive processes (e.g., trust, reciprocity, social intelligence) shape cooperative and competitive behaviors in social, economic, and political contexts. The second line of research is designed to shed light on the neuroplasticity of social cognition in healthy development and recovery from brain injury. Such an approach can help to promote new perspectives in understanding the neural architecture of social cognition and transfer basic research findings into treatment for and prevention of social brain disorders, ultimately providing benefits to human health.  The principal investigator is Dr. Frank Krueger.  Visit the scientific website.