3d-printed organs

Houston researchers are commercializing their human tissue-printing technology

Houston researchers are commercializing their organ 3D printing technology. Jordan Miller/Rice University

There may come a time when you or someone you love is in need of a new pair of lungs. Or perhaps it's a liver. It's not a scenario anyone dreams of, but thanks to Houston company Volumetric, you may never end up on a waiting list. Instead, that organ is made to order and 3D printed using a mix of medical plastics and human cells.

And this possibility isn't necessarily in the distant future. On the cover of the May 3 issue of the journal Science, is a contraption that looks a bit like a futuristic beehive. It's a working air sac complete with blood vessels, the beginnings of a technology that is perhaps only a decade from being implanted in humans. And it was crafted on a 3D printer in Jordan Miller's lab at Rice University.

Yes, there are shades of another Houston story — Denton Cooley's implantation of the first artificial heart — but Cooley only inserted the organ. Miller and his bioengineering graduate student Bagrat Grigoryan are primed to profit from their inventions.

In 2018, they started Volumetric Inc., a company that sells both the hydrogel solutions used for printing organs like theirs and the printers themselves. Touring Miller's lab in the Houston Medical Center is a visual timeline of his team's progress designing printers. The version being manufactured is a slick little number, small enough to fit under chemical exhaust hoods, but fitted with everything necessary to print living tissues. It's made and sold in cooperation with CellInk, a larger bioprinting company.

"Our technology is based on projection," Miller explains. Specifically, it's stereolithography, a type of 3D printing that produces the finished product layer-by-layer. Shining colored light of the right intensity turns the polymers into a solid gel.

But why start a company when Miller and Grigoryan are already busy with research?

"If we want to do translational research, commercialization is important," reasons Miller. "We need to build the market to get that technology into the world."

Miller explains that usually the inventor of a technology is the best one to bring it to market.

"When we were building this technology in the lab we saw the potential for commercialization," he recalls. "We do see that this technology is highly scalable. We do think it can have a positive impact on tissue models in a lab."

Those tissue models could one day make not just scientists, but also animal rights activists, very happy. With the technology that Volumetric is developing, scientists could eventually print human cells so well that animal models would be far less accurate in predicting the success that the product being tested would have on humans.

As academics, though, Miller and Grigoryan weren't sure how to start a company. Fortunately, there is the National Science Foundation (NSF) and its I-Corps program. The pair spent a couple of weeks doing a regional program that taught scientists how to commercialize their technology.

"They want to see funded research get out of the lab," Miller says, explaining that they moved on to the national I-Corps program while Miller was on sabbatical from teaching at Rice, allowing them to interview potential customers.

This gave them the confidence to launch last year. Grigoryan now works full-time at the Med Center incubator and accelerator, Johnson & Johnson's JLabs. He has a team of two other scientists on staff.

"It would have been a lot harder to get started if we didn't have a space like JLabs available," Miller says. It also helps, he adds, that JLabs takes no equity, only helping the fledgling brand to finalize its market and get hooked in with potential investors.

Volumetric has its demo units ready to go and expects to start shipping printers in late June, pending final certifications.

"We believe we have technology to make organ replacements for people," Miller says.

And someday soon, long waits for a new set of lungs and a life of antirejection drugs could be a thing of the past.


Rice University bioengineers (from left) Bagrat Grigoryan, Jordan Miller and Daniel Sazer and collaborators created a breakthrough bioprinting technique that could speed development of technology for 3D printing replacement organs and tissues. Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

Life Time Work opening its first Houston location is among this roundup of Houston innovation news. Courtesy of Life Time Work

In the Houston innovation news cycle, it's hard to keep up. Three higher education institutions are celebrating big wins within innovation and entrepreneurialism, a new coworking space joins the scene, and a health tech competition launches out of the Texas Medical Center.

Here are all the short stories within Houston innovation that you may have missed.

Texas AI company makes international partnership

Photo via hypergiant.com

Hypergiant Industries, a Texas industrial AI company with a presence in Houston, announced that it has received funding from and has entered into a partnership with Japan-based Sumitomo Corporation of Americas. The relationship will allow the company to enable and accelerate Hypergiant's AI-driven innovation initiatives across over 900 Sumitomo subsidiaries and associated companies.

"We're proud to be backed by a global leader like SCOA," says Ben Lamm, CEO and co-founder of Hypergiant, in a release. "SCOA is a company that has advanced so many industries with critical technological breakthroughs decade after decade. This relationship will ensure that both SCOA and Hypergiant remain ahead of the competition in AI for years to come."

The funding amount wasn't disclosed.

Bauer College of Business gets top marks

Photo via bauerticker.uh.edu

The Deshpande Foundation has selected The University of Houston for its 2019 Entrepreneurial University Award, recognizing the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship at the C.T. Bauer College of Business.

"Over the past decade, the Wolff Center's reputation as one of the nation's leading entrepreneurship programs has grown tremendously, and this award from the Deshpande Foundation reinforces that Bauer College is empowering students to innovate through a world-class program that emphasizes experiential learning and personalized attention by dedicated mentors," says Paul A. Pavlou, incoming dean of the Bauer College, in a release.

The award was announced by the Massachusetts-based organization at the Deshpande Symposium for Innovation and Entrepreneurship in Higher Education at the University of Massachusetts Lowell on June 11.

Life Time Work opens its doors

Courtesy of Life Time Work

Life Time Work's first Houston-area location has opened its doors in City Centre Five at 825 Town & Country Lane. The next location has already been announced to open in downtown Houston next year.

"Life Time Work is a natural extension of the lifestyle brand we have built in our athletic resorts over the past 27 years," says Life Time Work president, James O'Reilly, in a release. "With Houston's continued growth and diversified business and entrepreneurial community, City Centre is the perfect location for us to unveil this concept. We look forward to helping our members in their pursuit of a fulfilling and healthy work life."

The 25,000-square-foot space features 79 desks, 48 offices, lounge spaces, eight phone booths, two phone rooms, five conference rooms, and more features.

JLABS @ TMC opens contest for health care startups

Photo via jlabs.jnjinnovation.com

Johnson & Johnson Innovation, the Texas Medical Center, and AngelMD have teamed up to launch the Breakthrough Medical Technologies QuickFire Challenge, which is looking for game-changing medical device ideas from all over the world for a chance to win prizes.

The winner — or winners — will "receive up to $250,000 in convertible notes funding from TMC, entry to the TMCx accelerator program, one year of residency at JLABS @ TMC in Houston, Texas, and access to the Johnson & Johnson, Innovation - JLABS global ecosystem," according to the website. Also on the line — an additional convertible note investment up to $100,000 from AngelMD's Catalyst Fund.

The competition is looking for innovations within a wide range of health technologies, from oncology to 3D printing.

Houston hospital ranks No. 1 in the state for being one of America's Best Employers

Courtesy of Methodist Hospital/Facebook

Forbes partnered with market research company Statista to identify the best employers in each state. In Texas, Houston was represented at the top. Houston Methodist ranked as the number one company on the Texas list.

Royal Dutch Shell, which ranks at No. 11, is the next Houston-headquartered company on the list, followed by The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (No. 19), Katy Independent School District (No. 22), and Texas Children's Hospital (No. 23.)

HCC recognized for innovation of the year

Photo courtesy of HCC

Houston Community College received the Innovation of the Year Award from the League for Innovation in the Community College. HCC won for its Zero Textbook Degree initiative, which launched in 2017 and has grown from 28 to 98 sections across five HCC campuses.

"The Z-Degree program is managed by an entire group of hardworking and forward-thinking HCC faculty who are all deserving of the accolades currently bestowed on them," says Chancellor Cesar Maldonado in a news release.

Textbook prices have increased 88 percent since 2006, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and, according to the release, textbooks could end up costing some HCC students more than their tuition.

Rice University hosts inaugural program for future entrepreneurs

Photo courtesy of Lilie



Rice's Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship got a jump on molding its young minds. Lilie hosted 44 incoming freshmen as a part of its inaugural Lilie Change Maker Summit. For four days, the to-be students had the opportunity to get get a taste of the program and entrepreneurialism through workshops, guest speakers, and more.

The summit was led by Jamie Jones, executive director of Lilie, and Hesam Panahi, lecturer in entrepreneurship at Rice's Jones Graduate School of Business and a faculty member at Lilie.

"We truly believe this will be a game changer in the Rice entrepreneurial ecosystem," says Caitlin Bolanos, associate director at Lilie, in an email to InnovationMap. "We were able to connect with these students and build loyalty before they even officially started in the fall, and the students are so pumped to have found each other and to continue working on their ideas while at Rice."