Brain teasers

3 ways University of Houston researchers are innovating brain treatments and technologies

Three UH researchers are revolutionizing the way we think the brain works. Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images

While a lot of scientists and researchers have long been scratching their heads over complicated brain functionality challenges, these three University of Houston researchers have made crucial discoveries in their research.

From dissecting the immediate moment a memory is made or incorporating technology to solve mobility problems or concussion research, here are the three brain innovations and findings these UH professors have developed.

Brains on the move

Professor of biomedical engineering Joe Francis is reporting work that represents a significant step forward for prosthetics that perform more naturally. Photo courtesy of UH Research

Brain prosthetics have come a long way in the past few years, but a UH professor and his team have discovered a key feature of a brain-computer interface that allows for an advancement in the technology.

Joe Francis,a UH professor of biomedical engineering, reported in eNeuro that the BCI device is able to learn on its own when its user is expecting a reward through translating interactions "between single-neuron activities and the information flowing to these neurons, called the local field potential," according to a UH news release. This is all happening without the machine being specifically programmed for this capability.

"This will help prosthetics work the way the user wants them to," says Francis in the release. "The BCI quickly interprets what you're going to do and what you expect as far as whether the outcome will be good or bad."

Using implanted electrodes, Francis tracked the effects of reward on the brain's motor cortex activity.

"We assume intention is in there, and we decode that information by an algorithm and have it control either a computer cursor, for example, or a robotic arm," says Francis in the release.

A BCI device would be used for patients with various brain conditions that, as a result of their circumstances, don't have full motor functionality.

"This is important because we are going to have to extract this information and brain activity out of people who cannot actually move, so this is our way of showing we can still get the information even if there is no movement," says Francis.

Demystifying the memory making moments

Margaret Cheung, a UH professor, is looking into what happens when a memory is formed in the brain. Photo courtesy of UH Research

What happens when a brain forms a new memory? Margaret Cheung, a UH professor in the school of physics, computer science, and chemistry, is trying to find out.

Cheung is analyzing the exact moment a neuron forms a memory in our brains and says this research will open doors to enhancing memory making in the future.

"The 2000 Nobel laureate Eric Kandel said that human consciousness will eventually be explained in terms of molecular signaling pathways. I want to see how far we can go to understand the signals," says Cheung in a release.

Cheung is looking at calcium in particular, since this element impacts most of cellular life.

"How the information is transmitted from the calcium to the calmodulin and how CaM uses that information to activate decisions is what we are exploring," says Cheung in the release. "This interaction explains the mechanism of human cognition."

Her work is being funded by a $1.1 million grant from the National Institute of General Medical Science from the National Institutes of Health, and she's venturing into uncharted territories with her calcium signaling studies. Previous research hasn't been precise or conclusive enough for real-world application.

"In this work we seek to understand the dynamics between calcium signaling and the resulting encoded CaM states using a multiphysics approach," says Cheung. "Our expected outcome will advance modeling of the space-time distribution of general secondary messengers and increase the predictive power of biophysical simulations."

New tech for brain damage treatment

Badri Roysam, chair of the University of Houston Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is leading the project that uncovering new details surrounding concussions. Photo courtesy of UH Research

Concussions and brain damage have both had their fair shares of question marks, but this UH faculty member is tapping into new technologies to lift the curtain a little.

Badri Roysam, the chair of the University of Houston Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, is heading up a multimillion-dollar project that includes "super microscopes" and the UH supercomputer at the Hewlett Packard Enterprise Data Science Institute. Roysam calls the $3.19 million project a marriage between these two devices.

"By allowing us to see the effects of the injury, treatments and the body's own healing processes at once, the combination offers unprecedented potential to accelerate investigation and development of next-generation treatments for brain pathologies," says Roysam in a release.

The project, which is funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke (NINDS), is lead by Roysam and co-principal investigator John Redell, assistant professor at UTHealth McGovern Medical School. The team also includes NINDS scientist Dragan Maric and UH professors Hien Van Nguyen and Saurabh Prasad.

Concussions, which affect millions of people, have long been mysterious to scientists due to technological limitations that hinder treatment options and opportunities.

"We can now go in with eyes wide open whereas before we had only a very incomplete view with insufficient detail," says Roysam in the release. "The combinations of proteins we can now see are very informative. For each cell, they tell us what kind of brain cell it is, and what is going on with that cell."

The technology and research can be extended to other brain conditions, such as strokes, brain cancer, and more.

Here's your one-stop shop for innovation events in Houston in September. Getty Images

The busy fall event season is kicking off this month with tons of Houston innovation pitch events, educational panels, and networking opportunities.

If you know of innovation-focused events for this month or next, email me at natalie@innovationmap.com with the details and subscribe to our daily newsletter that sends fresh stories straight to your inboxes every morning.


September 5 — MassChallenge Texas in Houston Finale and Startup Showcase

The top startups from the inaugural MassChallenge Texas cohort in Houston will be recognized by community leaders to a room full of potential investors and customers, MassChallenge mentors, VIP community leaders, and their loved ones.

Details: The event is from 6 to 8 pm on Thursday, September 5, at House of Blues Houston (1204 Caroline St.). Learn more.

September 5 — Frost Bank: Fail Forward Series

Join Impact Hub Houston for an evening of #FailForward — behind-the-scenes stories straight from entrepreneurs on the challenges they faced trying to access and raise funding for their small business or startups. And, learn from bankers and financial experts what those entrepreneurs could have done to make their journey easier and more successful.

Details: The event is from 6 to 8 pm on Thursday, September 5, at BakerRipley Leonel Castillo Community Center (2101 South Street). Learn more.

September 6 — Finding your Product-Market fit via the W3 method

Amos Schwartzfarb, Author of Sell More Faster - The Ultimate Sales Playbook for Startups and Managing Director of Techstars Austin will deliver a hands-on workshop for founders (seed through Series A) that will enable you to identify the path to achieving product-market fit. Included in the $25 workshop is a signed copy of Sell More Faster.

Details: The event is from 11 am to 12:30 pm on Friday, September 6, at WeWork Labs (708 Main St., 3rd floor). Learn more.

September 10 — Founder Institute's inaugural cohort graduation showcase

The fresh (and first) graduates of the Founder Institute in Houston are celebrating the completion of their program. The graduation celebration will consist of a leadership focused commencement speech, hearing from the graduates (remarks and pitch), and showcase where each company will have a display table and be able to be speak one-on-one.

Details: The event is from 6 to 9 pm on Tuesday, September 10, at Station Houston (1301 Fannin Street, #2440). Learn more.

September 11 — Energy and Clean Technology Venture Forum XVII

The Rice Alliance's Energy and Clean Technology Venture Forum is the largest energy and clean technology venture capital conference in the U.S. open, to all emerging energy technology companies (both traditional energy and alternative energy).

Details: The event is from 8:30 am to 5 pm on Wednesday, September 11, at Jones Graduate School of Business (Rice University, 1900 Rice Blvd.). Learn more.

September 12 — HX Capital Summit 2019: Presented by JPMorgan Chase

Join Houston Exponential for its 2nd Annual Capital Summit, which will focus on the latest activity amongst Houston investments. This one-day event will highlight panel discussions from all aspects of Houston's innovation scene.

Details: The event is from 7:30 am to 3 pm on Thursday, September 12, at the Shell Auditorium (Rice University). Learn more.

September 12 — Cooley x JLABS @ TMC: Medtech Startup Fundamentals

Join Cooley, JLABS, and TMC Innovation for a half-day seminar gathering leading executives, investors, entrepreneurs, and thought leaders in the medical technology industry. Speakers will explore market trends and share strategies on how to position your startup for growth and success.

Details: The event is from 12:30 to 5:30 pm on Thursday, September 12, at the JLABS @ TMC (2450 Holcombe Blvd). Learn more.

September 17 — Raising Capital with Investment Crowdfunding

Station Houston, NextSeed, and the Greater Houston Black Chamber of Commerce are putting on a discussion about fundraising online.

Details: The event is from 11:30 am to 1:30 pm on Tuesday, September 17, at Station Houston (1301 Fannin Street, #2440). Learn more.

September 19 — The Cannon Grand Opening

The Cannon, an entrepreneurial hub in West Houston, is celebrating its new digs. Join the party to learn about coworking at The Cannon, to network with Houston's innovation ecosystem, and more.

Details: The event is from 4 to 9 pm on Thursday, September 19, at The Cannon (1336 Brittmoore Road). Invite only.

September 19 — JLABS x UH: Startup Pains: From Academia to Startup

JLABS and the University of Houston Technology Bridge present a special installment of the university's monthly Startup Pains. This month the focus is on licensing and technology transfer.

Details: The event is from 5:30 to 7 pm on Thursday, September 19, at the JLABS @ TMC (2450 Holcombe Blvd). Learn more.

September 24 — The Future of Payments: How Fintech, Crypto, and Blockchain are Transforming E-Commerce

The global economy is powered by 125 million business and payments between those businesses transacted over a variety of technologies. In the US, $2 trillion of the $58 trillion in payments generated by small business are "other" — new digital payment technologies including cryptocurrency and blockchain created by fintechs, banks and large players like Facebook and JP Morgan. Over time, the remaining $56 trillion will shift from paper checks to more digital forms. A change in the payments landscape is imminent, and in many ways, the US is behind in digital acceptance. What will this change look like? Join Vinay Pai, senior vice president of engineering at Bill.com, as he discusses.

Details: The event is from 4 to 5 pm on Tuesday, September 24, at Duncan Hall (Rice University). Learn more.

September 24 — The Eco-System of the Language Industry: Panel and Networking Event

Introducing the first Women in Localization Texas Chapter Houston Event. Winnie Heh, associate chapter manger - mentoring for the Silicon Valley Chapter, and Middlebury Institute of International Studies Career Advisor, Translation, Interpretation & Localization Management, will be presenting on importance of localization and various localization job functions available in our rapidly globalized world.

Details: The event is from 6 to 8 pm on Tuesday, September 24, at Station Houston (1301 Fannin Street, #2440). Learn more.

September 24 & 25 — Innovation Engineering Quick Start Class

Bruce G. Hall, CEO and president of eureka! inventing is teaching an abridged version of his innovation engineering course that's offered at the University of Houston. InnovationMap readers can get half off by registering through this link.

Details: The course is on either Tuesday, September 24, or Wednesday, September 25, at Energy Corridor Marriott (16011 Katy Fwy).Learn more.

September 25 — Third Coast Innovators Mixer

Calling all innovators and entrepreneurs in the Third Coast. JLABS @ TMC is hosting a networking event with fellow innovators and entrepreneurs in the ecosystem as well as current JLABS residents and the JLABS @ TMC team.

Details: The event is from 5 to 7 pm on Wednesday, September 25, at the JLABS @ TMC (2450 Holcombe Blvd). Learn more.

September 25 — Energy Tech Night

Energy Tech Night offers insights from energy digitalization/innovation/emerging tech experts and rapid-fire pitches from the cutting edge in startups offering solutions for the energy challenges of today & tomorrow.

Details: The event is from 6:30 to 8:30 pm on Wednesday, September 25, at Saint Arnold Brewery (2000 Lyons Ave) Learn More