Category Archives: Fairfax County Times

George Mason professors pioneer new way to study concussions

(Photo by Shamus Ian Fatzinger/Fairfax Times)

The third floor of Bull Run Hall on George Mason University’s Prince William campus plays host to plenty of mind­-bending science projects:­ laser capture microdissection, protein electronics and high­-resolution mass spectrometry are just a few of the technologies awaiting professors and students in the laboratory.

Yet the most complex and potentially influential findings to emerge from the school’s College of Science might come down to this: a kid spitting in a cup after football practice.

It happens once a week to the 12­- and 13­-year-­old kids playing for the Jets, an A­ League football team in the Central Loudoun Youth Football League. Athletic trainers collect the players’ saliva samples and send them to Dr. Shane Caswell, a George Mason professor and pioneer of the world’s first salivary biobank designed for concussion research in athletes.

Caswell stores the saliva in a freezer he dubs the “spit repository,” from which he eventually extracts the samples and runs them through sophisticated machinery to determine changes in protein variance that no other technique has been able to identify. Comparing each kid’s spit samples to previous submissions, he hopes to uncover a handful of proteins that can detect concussions.

Working alongside Caswell is another Mason professor, Dr. Chip Petricoin. Long accustomed to studying protein biomarkers for cancer research, Petricoin never imagined he’d wind up plying his trade for studies on traumatic brain injury and concussions. Continue reading George Mason professors pioneer new way to study concussions

Grant Hill pursues life beyond basketball


The ball had to stop bouncing eventually, but when it finally did, many disoriented onlookers needed a minute to pause and regain their bearings.

Could he really be done? Could Grant Hill, the oldest player in the NBA, a mainstay in the league long before the world knew LeBron James or even the Internet, really be calling it quits?

Even Shaquille O’Neal, whose own NBA perpetuity finally ended two years ago on the day, waved his hand in disbelief when the man only a few months his junior made the June 1 announcement on TNT’s NBA Finals pregame show. Hill’s casual declaration of closure took a minute to sink in, as if his contemporaries were suddenly unable to recognize him for a moment.

The retirement of a 40­-year-­old athlete well past his prime was hardly earth­shattering news, but it seemed to throw off some kind of order, like removing a star from the night sky. Here was a man who had been making his presence felt in the NBA longer than just about any high school student today has been alive, someone who was turning heads on the court before Dwyane Wade, Chris Paul, Tony Parker and Kevin Durant were even born. And here he was looking relieved, ready to drop 33 years of basketball with the same ease he dropped all those buckets.

But the most accomplished baller ever to come out of Reston isn’t really done. In fact, he’s just getting started.

Continue reading Grant Hill pursues life beyond basketball

Lake Braddock senior battles for comeback of his life

(Photo by Shamus Fatzinger/Fairfax Times)

His fingers twitched before wrapping around the handles of a wheelchair that was about to be left behind, at least for the time being. With a wary physical therapist by his side, Nick Balenger felt the hospital hallway open up as he slowly rose out of his chair and stared at his toughest challenge yet. A walk to the end of the hall seemed a daunting task for a boy who could manage little more than wiggle a few fingers four weeks earlier.

Tuesday’s 50­-foot trek marked the latest accomplishment of a high school senior bent on defying the limitations of paralysis on the road leading back to a normal life. Even with a platform walker at his aid, a walk of any length was barely believable for someone so closely removed from the July 25 accident that changed everything.

On that day, Balenger — a standout pitcher for Lake Braddock Secondary School’s state champion baseball team — went for a swim at Makena Beach alongside his father during the family’s much­-anticipated Hawaiian vacation. Balenger somersaulted into a wave and slammed against the underlying sandbar, leaving him immobilized before his dad pulled him out of the water. Continue reading Lake Braddock senior battles for comeback of his life

Rowing straight to London

Greatness was standing right before his eyes, but former McLean High School rowing coach Jim Mitchell couldn’t see it. In search of talent at his school’s football practice, he had no idea the teenager in front of him was an indomitable athlete, a sporting prodigy, a future Olympian.

“I just saw a big, tall kid,” Mitchell said.

Giuseppe Lanzone was nearing the end of his junior season as an offensive and defensive lineman. At that moment, he only was thinking about what this next practice would bring, not daring to let his mind drift to the next game or the next season.

Then Mitchell tapped him on the shoulder and issued a not­-so-­subtle demand that changed his life forever.

“He said, ‘Hey, what’s your name and what’s your phone number? You have to row during the winter,’” Lanzone recalled. Continue reading Rowing straight to London