Innovative brain injury rehabilitation center breaks ground in Southeast Houston

The Moody Neurorehabilitation Institute is expected to be finished in 2023. Image courtesy of Moody Neurorehabilitation Institute

The Moody Neurorehabilitation Institute broke ground July 14 on a 64,000-square-foot research and rehabilitation center at Nassau Bay's Space Park, near NASA's Johnson Space Center.

The Nassau Bay City Council granted a permit last year for the project, which will provide room for up to 40 residential patients and space for outpatient services. About 150 people will work at the facility, which is scheduled to open in early 2023.

Aside from private inpatient rooms, the new center will feature a therapy gym, an outdoor therapy courtyard, and family apartments. The facility's "urban house" design will highlight natural colors and textures in an effort to stimulate patients' senses during the recovery process.

The new facility will 40 resident patients, as well as provide outpatient care. Image courtesy of Moody Neurorehabilitation Institute

Among the 40 or so people who attended the groundbreaking ceremony were representatives of Moody Neuro, Houston-based architecture firm Kirksey Architecture, Galveston-based general contractor JW Kelso Construction, and Dallas-based project manager Pritchard Associates.

The Moody Neurorehabilitation Institute treats people who've suffered brain injuries. The nonprofit operates a rehabilitation center in Galveston and another Lubbock, as well as a long-term care facility in each of the two cities. In fiscal 2019, the organization reported nearly $27.8 million in revenue and more than $15.1 million in expenses.

The facility broke ground this week. Photo courtesy of Moody Neurorehabilitation Institute

Philanthropist Robert Moody Sr., chairman emeritus of Galveston-based Moody National Bank, founded what now is Moody Neuro in 1982 after his son Russell sustained serious injuries in a car crash that caused a traumatic brain injury.

"By helping our patients minimize their disability while facilitating their recovery, we provide each individual with the ability to re-enter the community feeling healthier, more confident, and with tools to enjoy an improved quality of life," says Dr. Ana Durand, medical director of Moody Neuro Galveston.

The Brain Injury Association of America says more than 144,000 Texans sustain a traumatic brain injury each year, with more than 5,700 of them become permanently disabled. Roughly 381,000 Texans are living with a disability connected to traumatic brain injury.

The 64,000-square-foot campus is unlike any other. Photo courtesy of Moody Neurorehabilitation Institute

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From a low-cost vaccine to an app that can help reduce exposure, here are the latest COVID-focused and Houston-based research projects. Photo via Getty Images

While it might seem like the COVID-19 pandemic has settled down for the time being, there's plenty of innovative research ongoing to create solutions for affordable vaccines and tech-enabled protection against the spread of the virus.

Some of that research is happening right here in Houston. Here are two innovative projects in the works at local institutions.

UH researcher designs app to monitor best times to shop

A UH professor is putting safe shopping at your fingertips. Photo via UH.edu

When is the best time to run an errand in the pandemic era we currently reside? There might be an app for that. Albert Cheng, professor of computer science and electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston, is working on a real-time COVID-19 infection risk assessment and mitigation system. He presented his plans at the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers conference HPC for Urgent Decision Making and will publish the work in IEEE Xplore.

Cheng's work analyzes up-to-date data from multiple open sources to see when is the best time to avoid crowds and accomplish activities outside the home.

"Preliminary work has been performed to determine the usability of a number of COVID-19 data websites and other websites such as grocery stores and restaurants' popular times and traffic," Cheng says in a UH release. "Other data, such as vaccination rates and cultural factors (for example, the percentage of people willing to wear facial coverings or masks in an area), are also used to determine the best grocery store to shop in within a time frame."

To use the app, a user would input their intended destinations and the farthest distance willing to go, as well as the time frame of the trip. The risk assessment and mitigation system, or RT-CIRAM, then "provides as output the target location and the time interval to reach there that would reduce the chance of infections," said Cheng.

There's a lot to it, says Cheng, and the process is highly reliant on technology.

"We are leveraging urgent high-performance cloud computing, coupled with time-critical scheduling and routing techniques, along with our expertise in real-time embedded systems and cyber-physical systems, machine learning, medical devices, real-time knowledge/rule-based decision systems, formal verification, functional reactive systems, virtualization and intrusion detection," says Cheng.

2 Houston hospitals team up with immunotherapy company for new vaccine for Africa

The new vaccine will hopefully help mitigate spread of the disease in Sub-Saharan Africa. Photo via bcm.edu

Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children's Hospital have teamed up with ImmunityBio Inc. — a clinical-stage immunotherapy company — under a licensing agreement to develop a safe, effective and affordable COVID-19 vaccine.

BCM has licensed out a recombinant protein COVID-19 vaccine candidate that was developed at the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development to ImmunityBio. According to the release, the company engaged in license negotiations with the BCM Ventures team, about the vaccine that could address the current pandemic needs in South Africa.

"We hope that our COVID-19 vaccine for global health might become an important step towards advancing vaccine development capacity in South Africa, and ultimately for all of Sub-Saharan Africa," says Dr. Peter Hotez, professor and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor and co-director of the Texas Children's Hospital Center for Vaccine Development.

ImmunityBio, which was founded in 2014 by Dr. Patrick Soon-Shiong, is working on innovative immunotherapies that address serious unmet needs in infectious diseases, according to a news release from BCM.

"There is a great need for second-generation vaccines, which are accessible, durable and offer broad protection against the emerging variants," says Soon-Shiong. "ImmunityBio has executed on a heterologous ("mix-and-match") strategy to develop a universal COVID-19 vaccine. To accomplish this, we have embarked upon large-scale good manufacturing practices and development of DNA (adenovirus), RNA (self-amplifying mRNA) and subunit protein (yeast) vaccine platforms. This comprehensive approach will leverage our expertise in these platforms for both infectious disease and cancer therapies."

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