there's an app for that

Tech company launches COVID-19 vaccine finder in Houston

ClassPass, which recently opened a Houston location, has launched a new tool for users to find their closest vaccine location. Photo courtesy of ClassPass

A global tech company that recently opened a local office in Houston has announced a major upgrade to its app — and it's now available in Houston.

ClassPass, a network of fitness and wellness partners, now has Houston vaccine centers searchable within the app and website. Members can find their closest vaccine center and get important information — like hours and address — as well as how to contact the locations; however, users aren't able to book directly through ClassPass.

"We are in a global health crisis and every company should be helping to support relief and vaccination efforts however they can. Using the ClassPass platform to connect members with vaccine centers is a natural extension of our technology and a way that we can contribute to curbing the spread of COVID-19," says Jeff Bladt, vice president of pricing and inventory, in a news release.

"We have deep knowledge of how to help people find accurate and up-to-date information on local businesses after routing millions of users to fitness and wellness locations across 30 countries," he adds.

Users can search for COVID vaccine locations online or through the app. Photo courtesy of ClassPass

The new search option has been rolled out already in in Austin and Dallas, as well as Boston, Chicago, Denver, Miami, New York City and Washington, D.C.

"The process of finding a vaccination appointment can be challenging and many people don't know where to start," says Dr. Vin Gupta, a critical care pulmonologist, health policy expert, and NBC News Medical Analyst, in the release.

"I was thrilled to hear that ClassPass, a high touch app that has already trained people how to search for vital health information, is leveraging their platform to make it easier to identify vaccine sites and secure appointments," he continues. "Anything that can address this information gap is critical in getting more people vaccinated."

ClassPass quickly pivoted when the pandemic hit last year, and now all 41,500 fitness, wellness, and beauty partners on the app have been asked to provide updated details on their COVID policies. ClassPass also worked with 5,000 top studios around the world to add digital classes as an option.

In March, Houston-based ClassPass exec, Rachel Moctron, joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss this pivot and the new Houston office. Listen to it below.


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Building Houston

 
 

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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