Houston-based TRISH's research will be done aboard the Polaris Dawn by its crew, which includes, from left to right, Mission Specialist and Medical Officer Anna Menon, Mission Pilot Scott “Kidd” Poteet, Mission Commander Jared “Rook” Isaacman, Mission Specialist Sarah Gillis. Photo courtesy Polaris Program/John Kraus

The Translational Research Institute for Space Health at Baylor College of Medicine, or TRISH, announced this month that it will perform research experiments aboard SpaceX's upcoming Polaris Dawn mission that will look into everything from human vision to motion sickness to radiation levels while in space.

The research aboard Polaris Dawn will complement research supported by TRISH on the Inspiration4 all-civilian mission to orbit, which was also operated by SpaceX in 2021.

“The Institute’s mission is to help humans thrive in deep space,” Dr. Dorit Donoviel, TRISH executive director and associate professor for the Center for Space Medicine at Baylor, said in a statement. “We are grateful to our commercial space exploration partners, and in particular, the Polaris Program, who recognize how important it is to carry out and support health research in their missions, as a route to improving health for all humans in space and on Earth.”

Polaris Dawn is slated to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida no earlier than March 2023. It is part of SpaceX's Polaris Program, which proposes three space missions. The first mission aims to reach the highest Earth orbit ever flown.

Four crew members will be onboard SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket for the Polaris Dawn mission. TRISH's experiments are part of 38 experiments from institutions that will be conducted on board at high-altitude Earth orbit.

The experiments are supported by federal funding from TRISH's cooperative agreement with NASA, as well as a donation from the Polaris Program.

According to a statement from TRISH, the experiments will include the following:

  • Collecting data related to the vision condition Spaceflight Associated Neuro-Ocular Syndrome (SANS), which is a top risk to human health in long-duration spaceflight
  • Quantifying alterations in body composition and fluid distribution during exposure to weightlessness
  • Directly measuring intracranial pressure changes to quantify the effects of weightlessness on the brain
  • Measuring cognitive performance, which reflects fitness for duty
  • Collecting biometric data to track physiologic changes, which could inform on changes in overall health
  • Using miniaturized, intelligent ultrasound to train the astronauts to scan themselves and deliver medical quality images
  • Testing ways to predict space motion sickness to improve crew safety and in-mission performance
  • Collecting data on the radiation environment to observe how space radiation may affect human systems
  • Providing biological samples for multi-omics analyses and storage in a long-term biobank to be available to researchers in the future

TRISH launched the first-ever commercial spaceflight medical research program in 2021, known as the Expand—Enhancing Exploration Platforms and Analog Definition—Program. Future findings from the Polaris Dawn mission will be added to the database, which compiles in-flight health data from multiple spaceflights.

TRISH was founded in 2016 with the mission of addressing the most pressing health risks and challenges associated with human deep space exploration.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Sarah Essama of Teach for America Houston, Scott Schneider of HTX Labs, and Drs. Maria Elena Bottazzi and Peter Hotez. Photos courtesy

4 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to four local innovators across industries — from health tech to software — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Sarah Essama, director of social innovation at Teach For America Houston

Sarah Essama of Teach For America Houston shares how she innovated a new way for students themselves to learn how to innovate. Photo courtesy of Sarah Essama

As director of social innovation at Teach For America Houston, it's Sarah Essama's job to come up with new ways for the organization to support both students and teachers. But, as she explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast this week, Essama realized a huge lesson modern students needed was to learn this innovation process themselves.

This line of thinking turned into Essama founding The Dream Lab, powered by Teach for America Houston.

"The Dream Lab is a set of immersive design spaces where young people leverage their imagination and creativity to innovate and solve problems within their community," she explains.

Last month, the new concept rolled out to high school students in partnership with DivInc Houston, a nonprofit focused on social and economic equity in entrepreneurship, and 21 ninth graders spent the day at the Ion for a mini-innovation accelerator and design showcase. Click here to read more.

Scott Schneider, CEO and founder of HTX Labs

Scott Schneider of HTX Labs has something to celebrate. Photo via htxlabs.com

A Houston-based virtual reality training provider has closed its first round of funding. HTX Labs announced last month that it has received a $3.2 million investment from Cypress Growth Capital.

“We have been looking to secure outside capital to accelerate the growth of our EMPACT platform and customer base but we hadn’t found the right partner who provided an investment vehicle that matched our needs,“ says HTX Labs CEO Scott Schneider in the release. “We found everything we were looking for in Cypress Growth Capital. They have a non-dilutive funding model that aligns with our capital expectations and have the level of experience that really makes this smart money.

The fresh funding will go toward growing and scaling the company's operations — both within the current Department of Defense and expansion opportunities into key commercial markets, like heavy industry, manufacturing, and higher education. Additionally, the funding will support increased customer adoption. Click here to read more.

​Drs. Maria Elena Bottazzi and Peter Hotez 

Two Houston health care innovators got the green light to distribute their low-cost COVID-19 vaccine in Indonesia. Photo courtesy of TMC

After months of development and testing, the Houston-born COVID-19 vaccine has gotten the go-ahead to be produced and distributed in Indonesia.

IndoVac was created by the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and Baylor College of Medicine. Drs. Peter Hotez and Maria Elena Bottazzi lead the vaccine project. Bio Farma is licensing IndoVac from BCM Ventures, the commercial group at the Baylor College of Medicine.

“Access to vaccines in the developing world is critical to the eradication of this virus,” Hotez, co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, says in a news release. Click here to read more.

Drs. Maria Elena Bottazzi and Peter Hotez got the green light to distribute their low-cost COVID-19 vaccine in Indonesia. Photo courtesy

Houston doctors get approval for low-cost COVID vaccine abroad

green light

A Houston-born COVID-19 vaccine has gotten the go-ahead to be produced and distributed in Indonesia.

PT Bio Farma, which oversees government-owned pharmaceutical manufacturers in Indonesia, says it’s prepared to make 20 million doses of the IndoVac COVID-19 vaccine this year and 100 million doses a year by 2024. This comes after the vaccine received authorization from the Indonesian Food and Drug Authority for emergency use in adults.

With more than 275 million residents, Indonesia is the world’s fourth most populous country.

IndoVac was created by the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and Baylor College of Medicine. Drs. Peter Hotez and Maria Elena Bottazzi lead the vaccine project. Bio Farma is licensing IndoVac from BCM Ventures, the commercial group at the Baylor College of Medicine.

“Access to vaccines in the developing world is critical to the eradication of this virus,” Hotez, co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, says in a news release.

Aside from distributing the vaccine in Indonesia, Bio Farma plans to introduce it to various international markets.

“The need for a safe, effective, low-cost vaccine for middle- to low-income countries is central to the world’s fight against the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Bottazzi, co-director of the Texas Children’s Hospital Center for Vaccine Development and associate dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor.

“Without widespread inoculation of populations in the developing world, which must include safe, effective booster doses, additional [COVID-19] variants will develop, hindering the progress achieved by currently available vaccines in the United States and other Western countries.”

Bio Farma says it has completed Phase 1 and Phase 2 clinical trials for IndoVac and is wrapping up a Phase 3 trial.

IndoVac is a version of the patent-free, low-cost Corbevax vaccine, developed in Houston and dubbed “The World’s COVID-19 Vaccine.” The vaccine formula can be licensed by a vaccine producer in any low- or middle-income country, which then can take ownership of it, produce it, name it, and work with government officials to distribute it, Hotez told The Texas Tribune in February.

Among donors that have pitched in money for development of the vaccine are the Houston-based MD Anderson and John S. Dunn foundations, the San Antonio-based Kleberg Foundation, and Austin-based Tito’s Vodka.

“During 2022, we hope to partner with the World Health Organization and other United Nations agencies to vaccinate the world. We believe that global vaccine equity is finally at hand and that it is the only thing that can bring the COVID pandemic to an end,” Hotez and Bottazzi wrote in a December 2021 article for Scientific American.

TRISH is seeking space health scientists to support with new initiative. Photo via BCM.edu

Houston organization launches new fellowship to support the future of space health

we have liftoff

A space health-focused organization has announced a new fellowship opportunity for scientists.

The Translational Research Institute for Space Health, or TRISH, housed out of Baylor College of Medicine has announced — along with partners California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology — a new fellowship opportunity for postdoctoral scientists tackling the health challenges of deep space exploration and innovating solutions.

“TRISH is a launch pad for exceptional postdoctoral fellows investigating new ways to protect human health,” says Rachael Dempsey, education officer for TRISH, in a news release. “Space health science leads to innovations that help humans thrive, wherever they explore. Our institute is committed to building a diverse and engaged workforce prepared for humanity’s future in space.”

TRISH’s postdoctoral fellowship program will select fellows who will then participate in TRISH’s Academy of Bioastronautics — a mentorship community for space health professionals. The professionals will receive a two-year salary stipend as they conduct their work.

“America’s future is in space exploration, and it’s time to invest in the scientists that will bring forward ground-breaking advances to enable that exciting future,” says Dr. Dorit Donoviel, TRISH executive director, in the release.

Those interested can submit their proposals together with an identified mentor and institution online up until January 26, 2023. Independent investigators with existing research grant support may request to be listed as possible mentors for this program by contacting Jean De La Croix Ndong at jndong@nasaprs.com, per the news release.

Supported in part by NASA, Houston-based TRISH is focused on supporting scientists committed to creating space health treatments and solution for the future of space travel.

Dr. Peter Hotez and Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi have been recognized by Fast Company for their leadership in developing low-cost COVID vaccine. Photo courtesy of Texas Children's

Houston doctors recognized among top creative leaders in business

winners

This week, Fast Company announced its 14th annual list of Most Creative People in Business — and two notable Houstonians made the cut.

Dr. Peter Hotez and his fellow dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, Dr. Maria Elena Bottazzi, were named among the list for “open sourcing a COVID-19 Vaccine for the rest of the world.” The list, which recognizes individuals making a cultural impact via bold achievements in their field, is made up of influential leaders in business.

Hotez and Bottazzi are also co-directors for the Texas Children's Hospital's Center for Vaccine Development -one of the most cutting-edge vaccine development centers in the world. For the past two decades it has acquired an international reputation as a non-profit Product Development Partnership (PDP), advancing vaccines for poverty-related neglected tropical diseases (NTDs) and emerging infectious diseases of pandemic importance. One of their most notable achievements is the development of a vaccine technology leading to CORBEVAX, a traditional, recombinant protein-based COVID-19 vaccine.

"It's an honor to be recognized not only for our team's scientific efforts to develop and test low cost-effective vaccines for global health, but also for innovation in sustainable financing that goes beyond the traditional pharma business model," says Hotez in a statement.

The technology was created and engineered by Texas Children's Center for Vaccine Development specifically to combat the worldwide problem of vaccine access and availability. Biological E Limited (BE) developed, produced and tested CORBEVAX in India where over 60 million children have been vaccinated so far.

Earlier this year, the doctors were nominated for the 2022 Nobel Peace Prize for their research and vaccine development of the vaccine. Its low cost, ease of production and distribution, safety, and acceptance make it well suited for addressing global vaccine inequity.

"We appreciate the recognition of our efforts to begin the long road to 'decolonize' the vaccine development ecosystem and make it more equitable. We hope that CORBEVAX becomes one of a pipeline of new vaccines developed against many neglected and emerging infections that adversely affect global public health," says Bottazzi in the news release from Texas Children's.

Fast Company editors and writers research candidates for the list throughout the year, scouting every business sector, including technology, medicine, engineering, marketing, entertainment, design, and social good. You can see the complete list here

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TRISH’s Diversity Partnership Solicitation Program selected two research teams to receive funding and support. Photo via BCM.edu

Houston space health organization announces new diversity-focused grant recipients

diversifying space

A local organization announced two newly funded partnerships to advance research and innovation within space health.

The Translational Research Institute for Space Health, or TRISH, at Baylor College of Medicine has announced — along with partner organizations Caltech and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology — $300,000 in funding for teams at Texas State University and the University of Florida.

The two schools have been named awardees of TRISH’s Diversity Partnership Solicitation Program that was founded to support TRISH’s ongoing commitment to increasing engagement from underrepresented groups in the field of space health research.

“We go to space to improve life everywhere, and we must do so representing everyone,” says Dr. Asha S. Collins, chair of TRISH’s Diversity Advisory Board, in a news release. “The members of TRISH’s Diversity Advisory Board helped select two strong partners through our Diversity Partnership Program, and their work will move us closer to achieving that reality for the future of space exploration for all.”

The two projects that were selected for the program include:

  • B-SURE: Boosting Spaceflight Underrepresented Researcher Equity:
    • Principal Investigator: Dr. Rachael Seidler, University of Florida
    • Co-Investigators: Drs. Josephine Allen and Christine Wegner, University of Florida; Dr. Ana Diaz Artiles, Texas A&M University.
    • Dr. Rachael Seidler and her University of Florida team is partnered with Texas A&M University to survey the field and build a database of underrepresented researchers interested in pursuing space health research and a second database of leaders in this field open to new collaborators and mentorship.
  • Lyndon B. Johnson Institute for STEM Education and Research Space Health Inclusion Partnership
    • Principal Investigator: Dr. Kristina Collins, Texas State University
    • Co-Investigators and Collaborators: Drs. Leslie Huling, Barbie Buckner and Sara Torres, Deepika Sangam, Texas State University.
    • Dr. Collins and her team will use Texas State's existing virtual education tools to launch a set of novel space health content with digital badges and certifications.

Each of the projects were selected for "their innovative means of facilitating underrepresented researcher engagement," per the news release. Both teams will establish a cohort of underrepresented researchers dedicated to innovating future applications for space health research funding.

TRISH is funded by NASA’s Human Research Program and seeks both early stage and translation-ready research and technology to protect and improve the health and performance of space explorers. Last month, TRISH released a free-to-watch documentary on space health.

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston startups raise funding, secure partnerships across space, health, and sports tech

short stories

It's been a new month and a few Houston startup wrapped up November with news you may have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston startups and tech, three Houston startups across health care, space, and sports tech have some news they announced recently.

Houston digital health company launches new collaboration

Koda Health has a new partner. Image via kodahealthcare.com

Houston-based Koda Health announced a new partnership with data analytics company, CareJourney.

"This collaboration will aim to develop benchmarking data for advance care planning and end-of-life metrics," the company wrote on LinkedIn. "Koda will provide clinical and practice-based expertise to guide the construction of toolkits, dashboards, and benchmarks that improve ACP programs and end-of-life outcomes."

Koda Health announced the partnership in November..

“Beyond the checkbox of a billing code or completed advance directive, it’s important to build and measure a process that promotes thoughtful planning among patients, their care team, and their loved ones,” says Desh Mohan, MD, Koda's chief medical officer, in the post.

CareJourney was founded in 2014 in Arlington, Virginia.

"I'm hopeful next-generation quality measures will honor the patient’s voice in defining what it means to deliver high quality care, and our commitment is to measure progress on that important endeavor," noted Aneesh Chopra, CareJourney's co-founder and president.

Sports tech startup raises $500,000 pre-seed investment

BeONE Sports has created a technology to enhance athletic training. Photo via beonesports.com

Houston-founded BeONE Sports, an athlete training technology company, announced last month that it closed an oversubscribed round of pre-seed funding. The company announced the raise on its social media pages that the round included $500,000 invested.

Earlier in November, BeONE Sports completed its participation in CodeLaunch DFW 2022. The company was one of six finalists in the program, which concluded with a pitch event on November 16.

Space tech company snags government contracts

Graphic via cognitive space.com

The U.S. Air Force has extended Houston-based Cognitive Space’s contract under a new TACFI, Tactical Funding Increase, award. According to the release, the contract "builds on Cognitive Space’s work to develop a tailored version of CNTIENT for AFRL to achieve ultimate responsiveness and optimized dynamic satellite scheduling via a cloud-based API.

The $1.2 million award follows a $1.5 million U.S. Air Force Small Business Innovation Research award that the company won in 2020 to integrate CNTIENT with commercial ground station providers in support of AFRL’s Hybrid Architecture Demonstration program.

“The TACFI award allows Cognitive Space to continue supporting AFRL’s vitally important HAD program to help deliver commercial space data to the warfighter,” says Guy de Carufel, the company’s founder and CEO, in the releasee. “CNTIENT’s tailored analytics platform will enable HAD and the GLUE platform to integrate modern statistical approaches to optimize mission planning, data collection, and latency estimation.”

Houston airport powers up new gaming lounge for bored and weary travelers

game on and wheels down

Local gamers now have a new option to while away those flight delays and passenger pickup waits at Hobby Airport.

Houston's William P. Hobby Airport is now one the first airports in the country to offer what's dubbed as the "ultimate gaming experience for travelers." The airport has launched a premium video game lounge inside the international terminal called Gameway.

That means weary, bored, or early travelers can chill in the lounge and plug into15 top-of-the-line, luxury gaming stations: six Xbox stations, five Playstation stations, four PC stations, all with the newest games on each platform. Aficionados will surely appreciate the Razer's Iskur Gaming Chairs and Kraken Headsets, along with dedicated high speed internet at each PC station.

The Gameway lounge pays homage to gaming characters, with wall accents that hark to motherboard circuits Crucial for any real gamer: plenty of sweet and savory snacks are available for purchase to fuel up on those fantasy, battle, or sporting endeavors. As for the gaming console stations, players can expect high definition screens, comfortable seating, and plenty of space for belongings.

Make video games a part of your pre-flight ritual. Photo courtesy of Gameway

This gaming addition comes just in time for the holiday rush, when travelers can expect long lines, delays, and are already planning for extended time for trips. As CultureMap previously reported, Hobby will see a big boost in travelers this season — the largest since 2019. Now, those on a long journey can plug in, decompress, and venture on virtual journeys of their own.

Texan travelers may be familiar with Gameway; the company opened its first two locations at Dallas Fort-Worth Airport. The buzzy lounge an industry wave of acclaim: Gameway was awarded Best Traveler Amenity in 2019 at the ACI-NA Awards and in 2020, voted “Most Innovative Customer Experience” at the Airport Experience Traveler Awards, per press materials.

Two new locations followed in 2021: LAX Terminal 6 and Charlotte Douglas International Airport. The first of Gameway's Ultra lounge brand opened in September at Delta's Terminal 3 in LAX.

Gaming culture is a way of life in the Bayou City , which hosts Comicpalooza, the largest pop culture festival in Texas, and is home to several e-sports teams, including the pro esports squad, the Houston Outlaws.

A delayed flight never seemed so ideal for gamers flying out of Hobby. Photo courtesy of Gameway

“Gameway is the real reason to get to the airport early,” said Co-Founder Jordan Walbridge in a statement. “Our mission is to upgrade the typical wait-at-the-gate experience with a new stimulating, entertaining option for travelers of all ages.”

Here's guessing Hobby might just see an increase in missed or late flight arrivals — as travelers simply must beat those big bosses, solve puzzles, or win sports matches in the lounge.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.