Money moves

Foundation donates $15 million to Houston hospital for inflammation program to enhance research and treatment

The Fondren Foundation has given $15 million to Houston Methodist Hospital to create the Fondren Inflammation Collaborative. Courtesy of Methodist Hospital/Facebook

A $15 million gift from the Fondren Foundation is allowing the Houston Methodist Hospital system to create a new entity for wellness.

This donation will enable Houston Methodist to use resources from two existing programs — the Immunology Center and the Food and Health Alliance — to create the Fondren Inflammation Collaborative. The Fondren Foundation expects this program will become a local, regional, and international nexus for the diagnosis and treatment of gastrointestinal and immunological disorders and severe food allergies.

"Patients with these complex conditions often travel from doctor to doctor for years in search of a proper diagnosis and treatment," says Rob Fondren, former chair of The Fondren Foundation, in a release. "Recognizing the challenges faced by these patients and their families, The Fondren Foundation's vision is to close the gap in patient care by building an international destination of hope and relief for people with these complex, often intertwined conditions and their underlying inflammatory triggers. A central hub focused on these debilitating disorders would fill a significant gap in the Texas Medical Center."

Houston Methodist turns 100 this year. The Fondren family has served the hospital throughout its history. Fondren family members have served on the Houston Methodist board as well as councils and task forces.

"Houston Methodist would not be where it is today had it not been for the leadership of the Fondren family," says Marc Boom, Houston Methodist president and CEO, in a release. "There is really no family more unparalleled in the history of Houston Methodist. They have contributed to this institution for essentially 100 consecutive years. It's astonishing and humbling the contributions this family has made generation after generation."

The Fondren Foundation donation to form the Fondren Inflammation Collaborative will pay dividends now and for years to come, according to the release. The donation provides for four endowed chairs, research, education, counseling, and training, which will help the Collaborative achieve its initial goals of finding the link between inflammation and gastrointestinal and immunological health and then running clinical trials with groundbreaking treatments. In the future, the Collaborative will expand its scope to understanding the connection between inflammation and other disease-prone areas of the body.

"We're an organization built on the pillars of success, and we constantly evolve," says Roberta Schwarz, executive vice president, chief innovation officer, in a recent InnovationMap interview. "I can't even tell you where we'll be in a hundred years."

Breakthrough research on metastatic breast cancer, a new way to turn toxic pollutants into valuable chemicals, and an evolved brain tumor chip are three cancer-fighting treatments coming out of Houston. Getty Inages

Cancer remains to be one of the medical research community's huge focuses and challenges, and scientists in Houston are continuing to innovate new treatments and technologies to make an impact on cancer and its ripple effect.

Three research projects coming out of Houston institutions are providing solutions in the fight against cancer — from ways to monitor treatment to eliminating cancer-causing chemicals in the first place.

Baylor College of Medicine's breakthrough in breast cancer

Photo via bcm.edu

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine and Harvard Medical School have unveiled a mechanism explains how "endocrine-resistant breast cancer acquires metastatic behavior," according to a news release from BCM. This research can be game changing for introducing new therapeutic strategies.

The study was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and shows that hyperactive FOXA1 signaling — previously reported in endocrine-resistant metastatic breast cancer — can trigger genome-wide reprogramming that enhances resistance to treatment.

"Working with breast cancer cell lines in the laboratory, we discovered that FOXA1 reprograms endocrine therapy-resistant breast cancer cells by turning on certain genes that were turned off before and turning off other genes," says Dr. Xiaoyong Fu, assistant professor of molecular and cellular biology and part of the Lester and Sue Smith Breast Center at Baylor, in the release.

"The new gene expression program mimics an early embryonic developmental program that endow cancer cells with new capabilities, such as being able to migrate to other tissues and invade them aggressively, hallmarks of metastatic behavior."

Patients whose cancer is considered metastatic — even ones that initially responded to treatment — tend to relapse and die due to the cancer's resistance to treatment. This research will allow for new conversations around therapeutic treatment that could work to eliminate metastatic cancer.

University of Houston's evolved brain cancer chip

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A biomedical research team at the University of Houston has made improvements on its microfluidic brain cancer chip. The Akay Lab's new chip "allows multiple-simultaneous drug administration, and a massive parallel testing of drug response for patients with glioblastoma," according to a UH news release. GBM is the most common malignant brain tumor and makes up half of all cases. Patients with GBM have a five-year survival rate of only 5.6 percent.

"The new chip generates tumor spheroids, or clusters, and provides large-scale assessments on the response of these GBM tumor cells to various concentrations and combinations of drugs. This platform could optimize the use of rare tumor samples derived from GBM patients to provide valuable insight on the tumor growth and responses to drug therapies," says Metin Akay, John S. Dunn Endowed Chair Professor of Biomedical Engineering and department chair, in the release.

Akay's team published a paper in the inaugural issue of the IEEE Engineering in Medicine & Biology Society's Open Journal of Engineering in Medicine and Biology. The report explains how the technology is able to quickly assess how well a cancer drug is improving its patients' health.

"When we can tell the doctor that the patient needs a combination of drugs and the exact proportion of each, this is precision medicine," Akay explains in the release.

Rice University's pollution transformation technology

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Rice University engineers have developed a way to get rid of cancer-causing pollutants in water and transform them into valuable chemicals. A team lead by Michael Wong and Thomas Senftle has created this new catalyst that turns nitrate into ammonia. The study was published in the journal ACS Catalysis.

"Agricultural fertilizer runoff is contaminating ground and surface water, which causes ecological effects such as algae blooms as well as significant adverse effects for humans, including cancer, hypertension and developmental issues in babies," says Wong, professor and chair of the Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering in Rice's Brown School of Engineering, in a news release. "I've been very curious about nitrogen chemistry, especially if I can design materials that clean water of nitrogen compounds like nitrites and nitrates."

The ability to transform these chemicals into ammonia is crucial because ammonia-based fertilizers are used for global food supplies and the traditional method of creating ammonia is energy intensive. Not only does this process eliminate that energy usage, but it's ridding the contaminated water of toxic chemicals.

"I'm excited about removing nitrite, forming ammonia and hydrazine, as well as the chemistry that we figured out about how all this happens," Wong says in the release. "The most important takeaway is that we learned how to clean water in a simpler way and created chemicals that are more valuable than the waste stream."