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Houston space health research organization names 3 fellows for bioastronautics program

TRISH, or the Translational Institute of Space Health, has named three fellows to its new program. Photo via bcm.edu

Three Texas scientists have been selected for a Houston organization's prestigious program focused on space health.

TRISH, or the Translational Research Institute for Space Health, which is based out of Houston-based Baylor College of Medicine, has announced its selections for the TRISH 2023 fellowship. The program, announced last fall, is in partnership with California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

“Supporting the next generation of space health researchers ensures that we will have the best possible data to make evidence-based decisions about managing human systems risk for exploration class missions,” says Dr. Jennifer Fogarty, TRISH’s chief scientific officer, in a news release. “By investing in TRISH postdoctoral fellows, we’re investing in future experts who will strive to solve the complex problems and risks associated with human space exploration. We are thrilled to welcome these accomplished early-career scientists to the TRISH community.”

The three selected postdoctoral fellows are focused on researching within space health — specifically reducing the health risks associated with spaceflight. They will receive a two-year salary stipend and participate in TRISH’s Academy of Bioastronautics, a mentorship community for space health professionals.

“Pursuing my postdoctoral training at TRISH has accelerated my career and expanded my research portfolio, enabling me to make new connections and become a more well-rounded scientist,” says Dr. Evan Buettmann, a TRISH third-year postdoctoral fellow at Virginia Commonwealth University, in the release. “Having completed my Ph.D. in bone regeneration, I didn’t initially anticipate that my studies would lead me to an academic career in space health. TRISH stood out to me as an excellent place to complete my postdoctoral training, as it’s at the cutting edge of both space science and medicine and offers extensive mentorship and leadership opportunities.”

This 2023 cohort of fellows include:

  • Stephanie Dudzinski, M.D., Ph.D. Her research focuses on extending healthy life in space by characterizing radiation-induced pro-inflammatory response and enhancing wound repair and recovery with radiation- mitigating thrombin peptide. Her mentor is Steven Frank, M.D., of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center.
  • Adrien Robin, Ph.D., who is looking at the effect of deconditioning on-gravitational dose-response curves for cardiovascular and ocular variables in men and women and is being mentored by Ana Diaz Artiles, Ph.D., Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station.
  • Katherine Wozniak, Ph.D., who is defining gut microbial changes to space-like radiation to develop a radiation-resistant microbiome. Her mentor is Robert Britton, Ph.D., of Baylor College of Medicine.
In addition to supporting scientists through its fellowship program, TRISH is actively conducting research aboard commercial space flights — most recently with Axiom Space's Ax-2 mission..

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A research team housed out of the newly launched Rice Biotech Launch Pad received funding to scale tech that could slash cancer deaths in half. Photo via Rice University

A research funding agency has deployed capital into a team at Rice University that's working to develop a technology that could cut cancer-related deaths in half.

Rice researchers received $45 million from the National Institutes of Health's Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, to scale up development of a sense-and-respond implant technology. Rice bioengineer Omid Veiseh leads the team developing the technology as principal investigator.

“Instead of tethering patients to hospital beds, IV bags and external monitors, we’ll use a minimally invasive procedure to implant a small device that continuously monitors their cancer and adjusts their immunotherapy dose in real time,” he says in a news release. “This kind of ‘closed-loop therapy’ has been used for managing diabetes, where you have a glucose monitor that continuously talks to an insulin pump. But for cancer immunotherapy, it’s revolutionary.”

Joining Veiseh on the 19-person research project named THOR, which stands for “targeted hybrid oncotherapeutic regulation,” is Amir Jazaeri, co-PI and professor of gynecologic oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The device they are developing is called HAMMR, or hybrid advanced molecular manufacturing regulator.

“Cancer cells are continually evolving and adapting to therapy. However, currently available diagnostic tools, including radiologic tests, blood assays and biopsies, provide very infrequent and limited snapshots of this dynamic process," Jazaeri adds. "As a result, today’s therapies treat cancer as if it were a static disease. We believe THOR could transform the status quo by providing real-time data from the tumor environment that can in turn guide more effective and tumor-informed novel therapies.”

With a national team of engineers, physicians, and experts across synthetic biology, materials science, immunology, oncology, and more, the team will receive its funding through the Rice Biotech Launch Pad, a newly launched initiative led by Veiseh that exists to help life-saving medical innovation scale quickly.

"Rice is proud to be the recipient of the second major funding award from the ARPA-H, a new funding agency established last year to support research that catalyzes health breakthroughs," Rice President Reginald DesRoches says. "The research Rice bioengineer Omid Veiseh is doing in leading this team is truly groundbreaking and could potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives each year. This is the type of research that makes a significant impact on the world.”

The initial focus of the technology will be on ovarian cancer, and this funding agreement includes a first-phase clinical trial of HAMMR for the treatment of recurrent ovarian cancer that's expected to take place in the fourth year of THOR’s multi-year project.

“The technology is broadly applicable for peritoneal cancers that affect the pancreas, liver, lungs and other organs,” Veiseh says. “The first clinical trial will focus on refractory recurrent ovarian cancer, and the benefit of that is that we have an ongoing trial for ovarian cancer with our encapsulated cytokine ‘drug factory’ technology. We'll be able to build on that experience. We have already demonstrated a unique model to go from concept to clinical trial within five years, and HAMMR is the next iteration of that approach.”

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