Who's Who

3 Houston innovators to know this week

From a former astronaut to growing software company leaders, here are three innovators to know. Courtesy photos

This week's set of innovators to know are familiar with pivoting careers. All three had successful careers — from energy finance to space exploration — before jumping into a new field. And each set of prior experience prepared them for what they are doing today.

Alex Colosivschi, founder and CEO of Currux

Courtesy of Currux

Alex Colosivschi had a successful career in energy finance before he started his company, Currux. He was walking in his Rice Village neighborhood when the idea came to him. He realized that despite the green surroundings, he was choked by the smell of engine exhaust.

"I started with thinking about the future of energy and how the industry will adapt to a world of electric, autonomous and shared mobility, and the need to reduce CO2 emissions," he says.

Tim Kopra, partner at Blue Bear Capital

Courtesy of Blue Bear Capital

It might not be easy to connect the dots between Tim Kopra's NASA career and his current role at Blue Bear Capital, but for Kopra, it makes perfect sense.

"On face value, it may sound like an odd match, taking someone with a tech and operational background and putting them in venture, but quite frankly it feels very familiar to me because my career has really been focused on working on complex technology and operations with very small teams," Kopra says. "It's not just a theoretical understanding of the technology, but understanding how to use the technology and how it works."

Stuart Morstead, co-founder and COO of Arundo Analytics

Courtesy of Arundo Analytics

Stuart Morstead spent the bulk of his career in consulting, so he knows the importance of understanding the needs an industry has. He co-founded Arundo Analytics to address the analytical needs energy companies have on a regular basis.

Morstead says that most industrial companies that encounter issues with operations such as equipment maintenance "lack the data science and software capabilities to drive value from insights into their daily operations."

Arundo is growing — both from a funding standpoint as well as through its staff. The Houston company has big plans for its 2019.

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This UH engineer is hoping to make his mark on cancer detection. Photo via UH.edu

Early stage cancer is hard to detect, mostly because traditional diagnostic imaging cannot detect tumors smaller than a certain size. One Houston innovator is looking to change that.

Wei-Chuan Shih, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering, recently published his findings in IEEE Sensors journal. According to a news release from UH, the cells around cancer tumors are small — ~30-150nm in diameter — and complex, and the precise detection of these exosome-carried biomarkers with molecular specificity has been elusive, until now.

"This work demonstrates, for the first time, that the strong synergy of arrayed radiative coupling and substrate undercut can enable high-performance biosensing in the visible light spectrum where high-quality, low-cost silicon detectors are readily available for point-of-care application," says Shih in the release. "The result is a remarkable sensitivity improvement, with a refractive index sensitivity increase from 207 nm/RIU to 578 nm/RIU."

Wei-Chuan Shih is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering. Photo via UH.edu

What Shih has done is essentially restored the electric field around nanodisks, providing accessibility to an otherwise buried enhanced electric field. Nanodisks are antibody-functionalized artificial nanostructures which help capture exosomes with molecular specificity.

"We report radiatively coupled arrayed gold nanodisks on invisible substrate (AGNIS) as a label-free (no need for fluorescent labels), cost-effective, and high-performance platform for molecularly specific exosome biosensing. The AGNIS substrate has been fabricated by wafer-scale nanosphere lithography without the need for costly lithography," says Shih in the release.

This process speeds up screening of the surface proteins of exosomes for diagnostics and biomarker discovery. Current exosome profiling — which relies primarily on DNA sequencing technology, fluorescent techniques such as flow cytometry, or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) — is labor-intensive and costly. Shih's goal is to amplify the signal by developing the label-free technique, lowering the cost and making diagnosis easier and equitable.

"By decorating the gold nanodisks surface with different antibodies (e.g., CD9, CD63, and CD81), label-free exosome profiling has shown increased expression of all three surface proteins in cancer-derived exosomes," said Shih. "The sensitivity for detecting exosomes is within 112-600 (exosomes/μL), which would be sufficient in many clinical applications."

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