covid heroes

Houston university announces first recipients of coronavirus research funding

Four COVID-19-focused research projects have been selected by Rice University to receive funding. Photo courtesy of Rice University

Rice University has named several Houston researchers as recipients of funding as a part of a new initiative to support projects that are innovating solutions and services amid the COVID-19 crisis.

The university's COVID-19 Research Fund Oversight and Review Committee — led by engineering professor and special adviser to the provost, Marcia O'Malley — selected a few projects led by Rice faculty members across industries from biomedicine to humanities that will receive the first round of funds. However, the application window is ongoing, according to a press release, and additional awards are to be expected.

Here were the first projects and researchers to be selected by the committee.

A low-cost diagnostic tool

Rice researchers Rebecca Richards-Kortum and Kathryn Kundrod of Rice University along with Kathleen Schmeler of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center have identified a way to create a COVID-19 diagnostic device that costs less than $5,000 and less than $2 per test. It would also take fewer than 30 minutes to diagnose.

The researchers are also working with USAID and industry partners on a plan to scale the test to five countries in Africa. In the future, the device would enable broader SARS-CoV-2 testing locally and in low- and middle-income countries.

Richards-Kortum is a professor of bioengineering and electrical and computer engineering and director of Rice 360˚. Kundrod is a graduate student in bioengineering. Schmeler is a professor in the department of gynecologic oncology and reproductive medicine at MD Anderson.

A protective rubber harness to be worn over a face mask 

Jacob Robinson and Caleb Kemere, associate professors at Rice, along with Sahil Kuldip of MD Anderson, have discovered a low-cost, easy-to-manufacture rubber harness to be worn over surgical or cloth masks in order seal the masks. The seal would better prevent small airborne particles from getting around the masks.

Robinson is in Rice's electrical and computer engineering and bioengineering departments, while Kemere specializes in electrical and computer engineering. Kuldip is an assistant professor of plastic surgery at MD Anderson.

Wastewater monitoring for coronavirus contamination 

Rice researchers Lauren Stadler, Katherine Ensor and Loren Hopkins are working with the Houston Health Department and Houston Water on a plan to collect wastewater samples from local treatment plants to monitor for the presence of COVID-19.

With most people asymptomatic or experience only mild symptoms of COVID-19, the researchers are looking into the virus's presence in wastewater in order to track community infection.

Stadler, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering, and Ensor, the Noah G. Harding Professor of Statistics, are working with Hopkins, who is a professor in practice of statistics and chief environmental science officer for the Houston Health Department.

The identification of safe and healthy voting procedures 

Five Rice researchers — Robert Stein, Philip Kortum, Claudia Ziegler Acemyan, Daniel Wallach and Elizabeth Vann — are looking into steps Harris County can take to ensure that in-person voting is safe and keeps participants healthy. Through surveys with citizens, the team will help election officials survey both voters and poll workers on their voting preferences and concerns.

The research team spans campus departments: Stein is the Lena Gohlman Fox Professor of Political Science, Kortum is an associate professor of psychological sciences, Acemyan is an adjunct assistant professor of psychological sciences, Wallach is a professor of computer science and of electrical and computer engineering, and Vann is the director of programs and partnerships at the Center for Civic Leadership

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Building Houston

 
 

This month, TMCi is welcoming a slew of health tech and cancer innovators who will advance solutions in medicine over the next several months. Image via TMC.edu

The Texas Medical Center has announced the latest cohorts of its two health tech accelerators.

The Texas Medical Center Innovation has named eight companies that are in the Spring 2023 Accelerator for HealthTech cohort. TMCi also announced 21 participants are set to join the 2023 Accelerator for Cancer Therapeutics cohort. Both programs connect the entrepreneurs and innovators to experts at TMC’s campuses to solve unmet clinical needs and reach the next business milestone.

“At TMC Innovation, we start with a promise of uniting cutting-edge innovators in science and medicine with the talent found at the Texas Medical Center," says Emily Reiser, associate director of TMC Innovation, in a news release. "Our 2023 cohort members are tackling some of the most critical issues we face today in healthcare.

"We are excited to welcome a new group of researchers and companies to the TMC Innovation Factory, and to work collaboratively with our new cohort members and our partners from across the Texas Medical Center," she continues.

Here's what 2023 can expect from these two program's cohorts.

TMCi HealthTech Accelerator

The six-month, twice annual HealthTech Accelerator — originally launched in 2014 with over 225 alumni companies — focuses on digital health and medical device startups. The spring cohort are addressing solutions across maternal medicine, mental health, diagnostics, patient experience, and artificial intelligence.

"Uniting talented professionals from across the globe provides a unique opportunity for innovation, creativity, and development in diverse areas of expertise," says Devin Dunn, head of the Accelerator for Healthtech at TMCi, in the release. "Our tailored program maximizes participants' experiences while determining the best match between these companies and Texas Medical Center’s network."

The cohort was selected following a November bootcamp that introduced potential startup members to the TMC and the Houston health care community.

The following companies will join the TMC this month:

  • Based in Roseville, Minneapolis, Bloom Standard is deploying the first self-driving pediatric ultrasound to earlier diagnose heart and lung conditions in primary care, remote and under-resourced settings.
  • San Francisco-based Ejenta automates remote monitoring and care using AI technology exclusively licensed from NASA. “Intelligent agents” learn from connected devices, claims and EMR data to monitor patients, predict health and to provide automated support for patients and automated workflow for clinicians.
  • Kintsugi, based in Berkley, California, is on a mission to see mental health more clearly by developing novel voice biomarker infrastructure to detect signs of depression and anxiety from short clips of free-form speech.
  • San Francisco-based Lana Health is modernizing patient experiences, across the care continuum with an end-to-end, scalable platform, enabling frictionless care transitions, high patient satisfaction, and better clinical outcomes.
  • Liberate Medical, from Crestwood, Kentucky, improves outcomes for mechanically ventilated patients using its breakthrough, non-invasive, respiratory muscle-protective, neurostimulation device, VentFree.
  • Limbix, headquartered in Palo Alto, has a mission to improve mental health with accessible technology.
  • Nua Surgical, from Galway, Ireland, Nua Surgical is an award-winning Irish start-up dedicated to innovating in women’s health.
  • Houston-based Prana Thoracic is developing solutions for the detection and intervention of early-stage lung cancer.

Accelerator for Cancer Therapeutics

The TMC has announced the 21 researchers and companies tapped to join the 2023 Accelerator for Cancer Therapeutics.

The nine-month program, funded by the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas in partnership with the Gulf Coast Consortia and the University of Texas Medical Branch, supports investigators and early-stage biotechnology companies with innovative solutions in cancer therapeutics. Participants will be mentored by a group of scientific, business, and innovation leaders to ultimately be positioned to apply for grants and pitch to investors and corporate partners to further the development of their innovative cancer solutions.

“For this third cohort, we focused on a strategic and extensive recruitment process, including the evaluation of 1,679 cancer research projects. From 56 applications, we selected 21 participants that will gain access to valuable resources, integrated training and mentorship to prepare for clinical trials,” says Ahmed AlRawi, program manager of Accelerator for Cancer Therapeutics, in the release. “Our 2023 cohort represents our most diverse cohort to date, including eight companies led by women entrepreneurs. We are excited to continue the momentum and build off the successes of our previous years.”

Forty-five participants have gone through the accelerator program since its launch in 2021, and collectively, the entrepreneurs have raised more than $90 million in funding and three projects are in the clinic.

The 2023 cohort participants are focused on a wide range of therapeutic assets, including small molecule, antibody, peptide/protein, cell therapy, and other. The 2023 cohort kicks off their nine-month program in January.

The participants include:

  1. Dr. Amit K. Tripathi – UNT-Health Science Center
  2. Dr. Darshan Gandhi (ImproveBio, LLC)
  3. Dr. Frank McKeon (Tract Pharmaceutical) – University of Houston
  4. Dr. Hemanta Baruah (Aakha Biologics)
  5. Dr. Joshua Gruber – UT-Southwestern
  6. Dr. Kyoji Tsuchikama – UT Health Science Center-Houston
  7. Dr. Maralice Conacci Sorrell – UT-Southwestern
  8. Dr. Michael Buszczak – UT-Southwestern
  9. Dr. Nadezhda (Nadia) German -Texas Tech-Lubbock
  10. Dr. Parsa Modareszadeh (HemePro Therapeutics) – UT-Dallas
  11. Dr. Robert Kruse (HydroGene Therapeutics)
  12. Dr. Xiang Zhang – Baylor College of Medicine
  13. Dr. Youngwook Won (Singular Immune, Inc.)
  14. Dr. Zhi-Ping Liu (Raphael Pharmaceutical LLC) – UT-Southwestern
  15. Dr. Jonathan Arambula (InnovoTEX Inc.)
  16. Dr. Isaac Chan – UT-Southwestern
  17. Dr. Olga Granaturova (Ruptakine Inc.) – UT Health Science Center-Houston
  18. Dr. Jim Song (Tranquility Biodesign) – Texas A&M-College Station
  19. Dr. Rosa Selenia Guerra-Resendez (Quetzal Bio, LLC) – Rice University
  20. Dr. Cassian Yee (Mongoose Bio, LLC) – UT-MD Anderson Cancer Center
  21. Dr. Manjeet Rao (Niragen, Inc.) – UT Health Science Center-San Antonio


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