Who's who

3 Houston innovators to know this week

These three innovators to know are responsible for solving problems here in Houston. Courtesy photos

A good innovator sees a need and fills it. Whether it's a bigger budget for new hospital technology, a network for female software developers in Houston, or access to creatives for nonprofits, these three Houston innovators are responsible for filling the needs of Houston's innovation ecosystem.

Roberta Schwartz, chief innovation officer of Houston Methodist

Roberta Schwartz is leading the innovation initiative at Houston Methodist. Courtesy of Houston Methodist

Houston Methodist has always been an innovative hospital system, says Roberta Schwartz, chief innovation officer, so it was not really that surprising that a group of hospital officials had an interest in new technologies.

"As we watched these technologies come in, we found that there were a number of us within the organization that were just talking about it all the time and watching how we could really revolutionize the way we worked by embracing these new technologies," Schwartz says.

The group named itself the "digital innovation obsessed people," however, now that group calls itself the Houston Methodist Center for Innovation, and Schwartz is leading the initiative. Read more about Schwartz and the new center here.

Alex Anderson, founder of Good Measure

Alex Anderson started Good Measure to help nonprofits have access to creatives and storytelling tools. Courtesy of Alex Anderson

Houston-based nonprofit, Good Measure, completed its third creative workshop last week — and its first outside of Houston. Nuu Group's Alex Anderson and Tres Garner founded Good Measure to help nonprofits with storytelling and media, and they took their efforts to New York City to work with Memphis-based youth violence nonprofit, Grounded.

Just like the last Good Measure project, volunteer creatives has less than 72 hours to create a slew of branding materials, including user experience-focused designs, web pages, photos, videos, and more for the nonprofit.

"My hope is that each and every individual who attended sees the impact that our craft skills can make," Anderson wrote in a post on Medium. "We certainly can volunteer our time and work with nonprofits, but the real question is whether we can return to our day jobs, to clients with big budgets and capitalistic mindsets, and influence their decisions—to push them from opportunistic to purposeful."

Silver Ehiwario, director of Women Who Code Houston Chapter

Silver Ehiwario flipped careers a while back, and now she hopes to help other women with that process. Courtesy of Silver Ehiwario

Making a career switch is never easy — but it's extremely hard for women trying to enter the technology industry. Women Who Code, a global organization, just opened up shop in Houston, thanks to seven female directors, including Silver Ehiwario, who changed her career to tech recently.

"We are able to see a lot of people are changing their careers from what they have done before — just like I changed mine," she says. "We need communities where they can be inspired." Read more about Ehiwario and Women Who Code here.

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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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