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From robots to immunotherapy, TMC talks innovation at its annual address

The Texas Medical Center's CEO, Bill McKeon, ran down a list of exciting updates and innovations from the organization's member institutions at the annual State of the TMC. Photo via tmc.edu

In the Greater Houston Partnership's annual State of the Texas Medical Center address, TMC CEO Bill McKeon shared a status update of sorts for all the goings on at the largest medical center in the world.

McKeon ran down the list of member institutions to briefly touch base on each organization's innovations and growth. In the address, which took place at the Marriott Marquis on October 31, McKeon discussed exciting construction projects, new accelerator programs, and more. Here are some of the highlights from the presentation.

TMC3 and beyond

The TMC spans 1,400 acres and 50 million square feet of development — and growing. The largest medical city in the world will increase its size by 10 percent in the next two to three years, McKeon says. Here are some updates on each of the ongoing construction projects.

  • TMC3 is underway. The 37-acre research campus is expected to be completed in 2022.
  • CHI St. Luke's McNair Campus is expected to break ground on a new building before the end of the year.
  • Memorial Hermann's Sarofim Building is expected to open in 2020 with 18 stories, 26 new operating rooms, and 144 beds
  • Rice University has moved its synthetic biology program to BioScience Research Collaborative in the TMC.
  • Texas A&M University's EnMed program, which graduates students with a master's in engineering and a MD in four year, has launched. The university's med center building is underway at 1020 Holcombe, and is expected to be completed next May.
  • The University of Houston's new medical school us up and running, and the inaugural class's tuition was completely funded by an anonymous donor.
  • UTHealth's psychiatric hospital is expected to be the largest academic psychiatry hospital in country. The building is under construction and will be completed in 2021.

Building biobridges

In order to grow the TMC's global presence and bring the best innovations from around the world to Houston, McKeon says the organization has expanded its BioBridge partnerships.

The first partnership was with Australia in 2016, before the organization teamed up with the United Kingdom for the second one. Recently, the TMC has entered into its third BioBridge partnership with Denmark.

The partnerships are intended to encourage collaboration, particularly with TMCx. Now, TMCx startups break down from being a third of the companies from around the world, a third from other states in the U.S., and a third being from Texas.

"There's no greater collection of minds, patients, resources to really think about the next innovations in health care," Mckeon says.

Accelerating accelerators

TMCx is celebrating its fifth year and has worked with over 170 companies through its digital health and medical device accelerator programs.

"We're evolving to start to work more closely with our member institutions to understand their specific needs and how we can match novel technologies through them," says Lance Black, associate director of TMCx.

The TMC Innovation Institute supports 12 programs, and three have been introduced just this year.

  • TMCxi: A 40,000-square-foot space to support industry partners, investors, and other service providers that provides subject matter expertise and other resources for entrepreneurs.
  • TMCalpha: Programming for TMC doctors and staff who may have an idea for a new technology or startup.
  • TMC | ACT: An accelerator program for advancing cancer therapeutics and technologies.

Investing in robotics

Earlier this year, TMC announced plans to open a special robotics lab space with ABB Robotics. The space officially opened last month.

"Many of the things we do in our labs require pinpoint accuracy," McKeon says. "Many of the things we do now here are done by humans, but in the future, we have one of the most sophisticated robotics companies in the world thinking about how we can transform our labs."

The lab is just the beginning of ABB's connection to TMC and its member institutions.

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Building Houston

 
 

Houston-based imaware, which has an at-home COVID-19 testing process, is working with Texas A&M University on researching how the virus affects the human body. Getty Images

An ongoing medical phenomenon is determining how COVID-19 affects people differently — especially in terms of severity. A new partnership between a Houston-based digital health platform and Texas A&M University is looking into differences in individual risk factors for the virus.

Imaware, which launched its at-home coronavirus testing kit in April, is using its data and information collected from the testing process for this new study on how the virus affects patients differently.

"As patient advocates, we want to aid in the search to understand more about why some patients are more vulnerable than others to the deadly complications of COVID-19," says Jani Tuomi, co-founder of imaware, in a press release. "Our current sample collection process is an efficient way to provide longitudinal prospectively driven data for research and to our knowledge, is the only such approach that is collecting, assessing, and biobanking specimens in real time."

Imaware uses a third-party lab to conduct the tests at patients' homes following the Center for Disease Control's guidelines and protocol. During the test, the medical professional takes additional swabs for the study. The test is then conducted by Austin-based Wheel, a telemedicine group.

Should the patient receive positive COVID-19 results, they are contacted by a representative of Wheel with further instructions. They are also called by a member of a team led by Dr. Rebecca Fischer, an infectious disease expert and epidemiologist and laboratory scientist at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health, to grant permission to be a part of the study.

Once a part of the study, the patient remains in contact with Fischer's team, which tracks the spread and conditions of the virus in the patient. One thing the researchers are looking for is the patients' responses to virus complications caused by an overabundance of cytokines, according to the press release. Cytokines are proteins in the body that fight viruses and infections, and, if not working properly, they can "trigger an over-exuberant inflammatory response" that can cause potentially deadly issues with lung and organ failure or worse, per the release.

"We believe strongly in supporting this research, as findings from the field can be implemented to improve clinical processes-- helping even more patients," says Wheel's executive medical director, Dr. Rafid Fadul.

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