The international prize winners include University of Texas alum and associate professor Bess Frost, Ph.D. UT Health San Antonio/Facebook

It’s a bittersweet moment, commending competitive research achievements in Alzheimer’s disease. On June 8, the University of Texas at San Antonio acknowledged some of the top contributions internationally to our collective understanding of how the degenerative disease starts. The Oskar Fischer Prize awards a total of $4 million, divided into gold, silver, and bronze categories.

“Over the past two years, UTSA has worked closely with a broad group of advisers from the scientific, business and public policy realms to evaluate a large number of visionary ideas,” said UTSA College of Sciences Dean David Silva in a press release. “This partnership demonstrates our leadership to further society’s understanding of the causes of Alzheimer’s disease.”

The gold prize ($500,000) goes to four finalists, two of which are in the United States, including one in San Antonio. Italy’s Carlo Abbate, Ph.D., theorizes that Alzheimer’s starts in neural stem cells while new neurons are formed, and Spain’s Estela Area-Gomez, Ph.D., theorizes that it’s a lipid disorder relating to the regulation of cholesterol metabolism. Ralph A. Nixon, Ph.D., M.D., represents Nathan S. Kline Institute for Psychiatric Research, and posits that an error in cleaning out waste in the brain leads to a toxic accumulation. Finally, and closest to home representing UTSA, Bess Frost, Ph.D. believes the issue is with DNA restructuring, which causes issues in cell identity and eventually cell death.

Frost’s personal statement through UTSA Health anchors her work to new research in tau, a protein and “a key pathological player in Alzheimer’s disease and other tauopathies.” Her laboratory makes discoveries in fruit flies, and compares those findings to post-mortem human specimens. Now an associate professor, she initially received her bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of Texas at Austin.

The silver prize ($400,000) goes to Germany’s Bernd Moosmann, Ph.D. and Canada’s Donald Weaver, M.D. Bronze prize recipients ($300,000) are Sweden’s Gunnar K. Gouras, M.D. and three working in America: Annelise E. Barron, Ph.D. at Stanford University, Varghese John, Ph.D. at University of California, Los Angeles, and Russell Swerdlow, M.D. at the University of Kansas Medical Center.

“Despite a century and tens of billions of dollars spent on Alzheimer’s Disease research, no definitive explanation for a cause has been found,” said Texas businessman James Truchard, whose philanthropic contribution established this prize, in the release. “The Prize’s goal is to bring forth ideas which can create a foundation for future research. While no single entry covered all the major aspects of Alzheimer’s, I believe a combination of these ideas creates a launchpad for future research.”

June is Alzheimer's & Brain Awareness Month through the Alzheimer's Association, which is organizing a worldwide fundraising day on June 21, “The Longest Day.” It estimates that Alzheimer’s or another dementia is the cause of death in one in three seniors, and more than 11 million people in America are providing care for patients with dementia.

------

This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.