HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 86

Houston innovator focuses on advancing health care innovation from the bench to the bedside

Emily Reiser joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the latest at TMC Innovation. Photo courtesy of TMC Innovation

When it comes to the Texas Medical Center's innovation community, Emily Reiser is a professional dot connector. As senior manager for innovation community and engagement for TMC Innovation, she's tasked with connecting everyone within the accelerator, the biobridges, the coworking companies, and more with the resources they need.

"When we think about how a startup is going to be successful, we think about how they are going to build new partnerships. But we also think about all the people they're going to need to activate and bring them to the next level," Reiser says on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "What we do is curate a community of high-value resources that can help these companies elevate to that next level."

Reiser explains this includes mentors, subject matter experts, consultants for regulatory needs, and more. On one hand, its providing curated support, but on the other hand, especially in non-COVID times, it's creating an atmosphere where people can run into each other at an event or onsite.

"My role is to help make sure that we bring all these people together and activate them so that everyone can get to that next level faster," Reiser says. "My favorite analogy is a switchboard operator. You take what someone needs on one end and connect it to what someone needs on the other end."

Health care in general has been greatly affected by the pandemic, Reiser says, and investment and innovation within health care hasn't been immune to challenges over the past year or so either. One of the greatest effect has been on telemedicine, she says.

"The fact is that this technology existed previously but had faced adoption hurdles — both by patients and providers themselves — prior to the pandemic, but when COVID hit and the policy changed how those visits were getting covered for reimbursement, that's opened up an entire wave of adoption," Reiser explains. "There's nothing like what happened this past year in terms of accelerating one component of health care innovation like this."

Telemedicine, as well as other emerging technologies that came out of the pandemic, are top of mind for Reiser and her team — as is advancing medical innovation across the TMC.

"When you think about the Texas Medical Center as just one example of where we sit in this entire environment, we have fantastic delivery of care," Reiser says. "We also have this incredible amount of research done on campus, a lot of federal funding for grants, and different innovations coming out at that early stage."

There was a unique opportunity in Houston to build upon another aspect of of the greater health care industry that existed between the research stage and the point of care,

"But up until about six years when TMC Innovation first opened, we didn't have a lot of in-between — how to go from the bench to the bedside," she explains. "We at TMC Innovation have been really focusing starting to fill in more of that in between."

Reiser shares more about the state of innovation in health care on the episode, as well as her advice for health tech startups and investors looking to connect. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Building Houston

 
 

For over a year now, scientists have been testing wastewater for COVID-19. Now, the public can access that information. Photo via Getty Images

In 2020, a group of researchers began testing Houston's wastewater to collect data to help identify trends at the community level. Now, the team's work has been rounded up to use as an online resource.

The Houston Health Department and Rice University launched the dashboard on September 22. The information comes from samples collected from the city's 39 wastewater treatment plants and many HISD schools.

"This new dashboard is another tool Houstonians can use to gauge the situation and make informed decisions to protect their families," says Dr. Loren Hopkins, chief environmental science officer for the health department and professor in the practice of statistics at Rice University, in a news release. "A high level of virus in your neighborhood's wastewater means virus is spreading locally and you should be even more stringent about masking up when visiting public places."

The health department, Houston Water, Rice University, and Baylor College of Medicine originally collaborated on the wastewater testing. Baylor microbiologist Dr. Anthony Maresso, director of BCM TAILOR Labs, led a part of the research.

"This is not Houston's first infectious disease crisis," Maresso says in an earlier news release. "Wastewater sampling was pioneered by Joseph Melnick, the first chair of Baylor's Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology, to get ahead of polio outbreaks in Houston in the 1960s. This work essentially ushered in the field of environmental virology, and it began here at Baylor. TAILOR Labs is just continuing that tradition by providing advanced science measures to support local public health intervention."

It's an affordable way to track the virus, says experts. People with COVID-19 shed viral particles in their feces, according to the release, and by testing the wastewater, the health department can measure important infection rate changes.

The dashboard, which is accessible online now, is color-coded by the level of viral load in wastewater samples, as well as labeled with any recent trend changes. Houstonians can find the interactive COVID-19 wastewater monitoring dashboard, vaccination sites, testing sites, and more information at houstonemergency.org/covid19.

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