HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 92

This Houston innovator is using data to power industrial reliability and sustainability

Ryan Sitton joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss his career in data and reliability. Photo courtesy of Ryan Sitton

Ryan Sitton has had a varied career so far. Formerly working in oil and gas, he started his own company in 2006 to help companies to better utilize their data. Now, still leading Houston-based Pinnacle as CEO, Sitton works with the world's largest companies to solve their problems with data. He also served as Texas Railroad Commissioner and has written two books about decision-making and leadership.

Sitton joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how, despite the multiple hats he wears, at the core of his passion is using data to drive better decision making to drive more sustainable and reliable operations.

"I was basically doing data analytics in the mid 2000s before it was sexy. I was pulling together data in chemical plants and refineries and trying to predict how these plants would behave with the data I had," Sitton says. "I realized early on how there was so much opportunity here — but we don't have the technologies or the methodology to do it."

But over the years, the technology has caught up and now Sitton is able to provide clients with even more data-driven solutions.

"We go into the biggest companies of the world that are trying to have more reliability at the same time as lowering cost," Sitton explains. "We build models that pull together literally millions of pieces of data and we do a combination of engineering analysis and data analysis and data science to give them better predictions — better ways to run their facilities so that they are more sustainable and more profitable."

Sitton's two books — Crucial Decisions, which is out now, and the Myth of Status, which is coming later this year — also center around decision making and leadership.

He shares more about his time at the Texas Railroad Commision and shares how COVID-19 affected business — as well as shares his advice for startups tapping into data-driven solutions — on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


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Building Houston

 
 

This UH engineer is hoping to make his mark on cancer detection. Photo via UH.edu

Early stage cancer is hard to detect, mostly because traditional diagnostic imaging cannot detect tumors smaller than a certain size. One Houston innovator is looking to change that.

Wei-Chuan Shih, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering, recently published his findings in IEEE Sensors journal. According to a news release from UH, the cells around cancer tumors are small — ~30-150nm in diameter — and complex, and the precise detection of these exosome-carried biomarkers with molecular specificity has been elusive, until now.

"This work demonstrates, for the first time, that the strong synergy of arrayed radiative coupling and substrate undercut can enable high-performance biosensing in the visible light spectrum where high-quality, low-cost silicon detectors are readily available for point-of-care application," says Shih in the release. "The result is a remarkable sensitivity improvement, with a refractive index sensitivity increase from 207 nm/RIU to 578 nm/RIU."

Wei-Chuan Shih is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering. Photo via UH.edu

What Shih has done is essentially restored the electric field around nanodisks, providing accessibility to an otherwise buried enhanced electric field. Nanodisks are antibody-functionalized artificial nanostructures which help capture exosomes with molecular specificity.

"We report radiatively coupled arrayed gold nanodisks on invisible substrate (AGNIS) as a label-free (no need for fluorescent labels), cost-effective, and high-performance platform for molecularly specific exosome biosensing. The AGNIS substrate has been fabricated by wafer-scale nanosphere lithography without the need for costly lithography," says Shih in the release.

This process speeds up screening of the surface proteins of exosomes for diagnostics and biomarker discovery. Current exosome profiling — which relies primarily on DNA sequencing technology, fluorescent techniques such as flow cytometry, or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) — is labor-intensive and costly. Shih's goal is to amplify the signal by developing the label-free technique, lowering the cost and making diagnosis easier and equitable.

"By decorating the gold nanodisks surface with different antibodies (e.g., CD9, CD63, and CD81), label-free exosome profiling has shown increased expression of all three surface proteins in cancer-derived exosomes," said Shih. "The sensitivity for detecting exosomes is within 112-600 (exosomes/μL), which would be sufficient in many clinical applications."

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