Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine’s Human Genome Sequencing Center have trained an AI assistant to explain genetic test results to patients. Photo via Getty Images

Artificial intelligence in the health care setting has a lot of potential, and one Houston institution is looking into one particular use.

Researchers at Baylor College of Medicine’s Human Genome Sequencing Center have trained an AI assistant to explain genetic test results to patients. According to findings published in the Journal of the American Medical Informatics Association (JAMIA), the team has developed generative AI to understand and interpret genetic tests. They have also tested its accuracy against Open AI’s ChatGPT 3.5.

“We created a chatbot that can provide guidance on general pharmacogenomic testing, dosage implications, and the side effects of therapeutics, and address patient concerns,” explains first author Mullai Murugan in a press release. Murugan is director of software engineering and programming at the Human Genome Sequencing Center. “We see this tool as a superpowered assistant that can increase accessibility and help both physicians and patients answer questions about genetic test results.”

The initial chatbot training specifically targeted pharmacogenomic testing for statins, meaning a patient’s potential response to cholesterol-lowering drugs, as dictated by genetics.

Murugan explains why they decided to create their own chatbot in the key publication on statin pharmacogenomics was published in May 2022, four months after the training cutoff date for ChatGPT 3.5 in January 2022. Alternatively, her team’s technology uses Retrieval Augmented Generation (RAG) and was trained on the most recent guidelines.

How did the two AI assistants compare? Four experts on cardiology and pharmacogenomics rated both chatbots based on accuracy, relevancy, risk management, and language clarity, among other factors. Though the AI scored similarly on language clarity, Baylor’s chatbot scored 85 percent in accuracy and 81 percent in relevancy compared to ChatGPT’s 58 percent in accuracy and 62 percent in relevancy when asked questions from healthcare providers.

“We are working to fine-tune the chatbot to better respond to certain questions, and we want to get feedback from real patients,” Murugan says. “Based on this study, it is very clear that there is a lot of potential here.” Nonetheless, Murugan emphasized that there is much work still to be done before the program is ready for clinical applications. That includes training the chatbot to explain results in the language used by genetic counselors. Funds from the NIH’s All of Us Research Program helped to make the research possible.

Houston-based alive5 has over 800 customers using their chatbox services — and has found a special niche in sports team's websites. Photo via alive5.com

Houston startup hopes to revolutionize the chatbot business

chatterboxes

It seems like every other webpage nowadays has a virtual assistant that pops up via a chat box. A Houston startups is hoping to ride the wave of this digital marketing initiative.

Houston-based alive5 has created a platform that allows small-to-medium-sized businesses to engage customers using Chatbot Technology, from their websites, apps, SMS text-message, and social media pages.

"What we do at alive5 is really simple," says Glenn Gutierrez, COO and co-founder of alive5. "We help your business make more conversations."

Gutierrez and his co-founder Dustin Yu started out in 2017 as Alive Chat System and they were one of the first chat systems in Texas.

"Our chat system was kind of a common system that you might see on a website that says, 'Hey, how can I help you today?" says Gutierrez. "And when you press that button, somebody on the other end sends a message and says, 'Hey, how are you doing today? How can I help you?"

After exploring how to take the company, which was initially a lifestyle product, to scale, they added new products and found new ways for their clients to have more conversations with their customers.

"We had to create as many channels as possible outside of web chat," says Gutierrez. "We talked about the live chat system, moving into SMS text message, moving into social media and interestingly enough, we started moving into business cards with QR codes where people can actually scan a QR code or text a phone number and we can automatically build a relationship with a customer at an event, in person or from a billboard.

"And that activates pretty much all the rest of the system for businesses to be able to engage a customer. So we think about ourselves as the best way to help you create more conversations, not just on your website, but pretty much anywhere you would engage a customer."

The platform enjoyed a meteoric rise in the chat space due to its participation in Capital Factory's accelerator program. From there, they were placed in another accelerator program in Philadelphia, the Comcast NBCUniversal LIFT Labs Accelerator, powered by Techstars.

"Because of the boost from the accelerator programs, we developed relationships with a lot of great organizations," says Gutierrez. "Today, we service over 800 customers, including 200 of the top college sports teams and pro teams like the NBA, NFL and NHL."

The platform's collaboration helps teams sell more tickets, especially premium seat tickets, by facilitating conversations with VIP clients and allowing fans the opportunity to go to the team's website to use the automated chat solution.

"A good example of one of those is the Jacksonville Jaguars website," says Gutierrez. "You can go there and see one of our chat boxes available to assist with inquiries or questions that you may have before, during or after a game. And our solution is built for organizations with a high volume of customer interactions to automate some of those tier one questions."

Alive5 also services customers like Royal Caribbean Cruise Line, major hotel brands and other companies in the hospitality space. They are also now collaborating with Spectra Venue Management, which manages hundreds of venues throughout North America, to pilot alive5's messaging and concierge services.

Outside of their inroads in the chat space, the platform is creating AI-powered strategies to help companies maximize their communication opportunities at personal touchpoint events such as conferences and trade shows.

"With our A.I. powered business cards, we're able to take an engagement that happens at a conference, an event or at a networking session and turn that into a prospect that's now part of a company's digital lead funnel," says Gutierrez. "What we're proposing is to give them a laser-etched metal business card with the QR code. That is better than just giving them a paper business card that they will take and may or may not call you and that's it, that's the end of the interaction.

"With the QR code, a potential contact can scan it and it will send them a demo of our product to their phone and it will give them all of a client's contact details so they can reach out to that client anytime they're ready to buy. The best part about that is that now you have something that no other system can do and you have that customer's phone number available to you at any point in time."

Moving forward, the Houston-based platform wants to do everything within its power to be one of the most successful chat companies nationwide.

"I like to think about our product like a Lego set," says Gutierrez. "It's up to you to choose what package you want. I've been in the startup space for a long time and to finally see that ecosystem starting to mature to the point that businesses are more open to digitally transforming their organizations, where they're understanding the need to take risks, to try new things, that's great for us.

"When you think about a company that can help you with your communication, I want alive5 to be the first company on their minds."

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Houston university teams up with angel group to reach, upskill future investors

Through a new partnership with the Houston Angel Network and Houston Exponential, the University of Houston will help cultivate startup investors among UH alumni.

The partnership will bolster accredited early-stage investors and accelerate opportunities for aspiring startup investors, the university says in a news release.

“Investors play a vital role in the startup ecosystem and this initiative gives our alumni a rapid path to becoming angels. Our vision is to activate more investors with deep connections to UH who support world-class innovation in our community and beyond,” says Ramanan Krishnamoorti, the university’s vice president for energy and innovation.

The partnership is based at UH’s Technology Bridge. Tech Bridge promotes tech commercialization, industrial partnerships, and startup development.

“Our founders are launching many exciting new companies, but they need better access to capital,” says Tanu Chatterji, associate director of startup development at UH. “This partnership will help us mobilize angel investors who want to support these innovators with knowledge and financial resources.”

UH alumni interested in participating in the new partnership should contact Chatterji at tchatte@uh.edu.

The angel network will lend its investing expertise to early-stage businesses in tech, energy, life sciences, consumer, and aerospace sectors. Meanwhile, tech startup incubator Houston Exponential will provide support for entrepreneurs and the startup ecosystem.

“This relationship is a testament to the collaborative spirit of Greater Houston’s business and academic communities,” says Mitra Miller, vice president of the Houston Angel Network, an organization for early-stage investors. “By leveraging the combined expertise and resources of our three organizations, we can increase the flow of early-stage capital in our region in support of great innovators and high-growth enterprises.”

Natara Branch, CEO of Houston Exponential, says the new initiative “promises to be a roadmap for investment education, and support for aspiring investors and entrepreneurs alike.”

“An active and educated investor base is an essential component of a thriving startup ecosystem,” says Branch.

Houston lab sees progress with breakthrough light-harvesting processes

Hi, tech

A groundbreaking Rice University lab has made further strides in its work to make harvesting light energy more efficient and stable.

Presented on the cover of a June issue of Science, a study from Rice engineer Aditya Mohite's lab uncovered a method to synthesize a high-efficiency perovskite solar cell, known as formamidinium lead iodide (FAPbI3), converting them into ultrastable high-quality photovoltaic films, according to a statement from Rice. Photovoltaic films convert sunlight into electricity.

The new process makes solar cells that are about 10 times more durable than traditional methods.

“Right now, we think that this is state of the art in terms of stability,” Mohite said in a statement. “Perovskite solar cells have the potential to revolutionize energy production, but achieving long-duration stability has been a significant challenge.”

The change come from "seasoning" the FAPbI3 with 2D halide perovskites crystals, which the Mohite lab also developed a breakthrough synthesis process for last year

The 2D perovskites helped make the FAPbI3 films more stable. The study showed that films with 2D perovskites deteriorated after two days of generating electricity, while those with 2D perovskites had not started to degrade after 20 days.

“FAPbI3 films templated with 2D crystals were higher quality, showing less internal disorder and exhibiting a stronger response to illumination, which translated as higher efficiency," Isaac Metcalf, a Rice materials science and nanoengineering graduate student and a lead author on the study, said in the statement.

Additionally, researchers say their findings could make developing light-harvesting technologies cheaper, and can also allow light-harvesting panels to be lighter weight and more flexible.

"Perovskites are soluble in solution, so you can take an ink of a perovskite precursor and spread it across a piece of glass, then heat it up and you have the absorber layer for a solar cell,” Metcalf said. “Since you don’t need very high temperatures ⎯ perovskite films can be processed at temperatures below 150 Celsius (302 Fahrenheit) ⎯ in theory that also means perovskite solar panels can be made on plastic or even flexible substrates, which could further reduce costs.”

Mohite adds this has major implications for the energy transition at large.

“If solar electricity doesn’t happen, none of the other processes that rely on green electrons from the grid, such as thermochemical or electrochemical processes for chemical manufacturing, will happen,” Mohite said. “Photovoltaics are absolutely critical.”

The Mohite lab's process for creating 2D perovskites of the ideal thickness and purity was published in Nature Synthesis last fall. At the time, Mohite said the crystals "hold the key to achieving commercially relevant stability for solar cells."

About a year ago, the lab also published its work on developing a scalable photoelectrochemical cell. The research broke records for its solar-to-hydrogen conversion efficiency rate.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

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 a health tech data scientist, a CEO celebrating an international expansion, and a founder who won a big DOE prize.

Angela Wilkins, chief data scientist at Starling Medical

Angela Wilkins joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the intersection of data and health care. Photo courtesy

When most people hear about Houston startup Starling Medical, they might think about how much potential the medical device company has in the field of urinalysis diagnostics. But that's not quite where Angela Wilkins's head went.

Wilkins explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that when she met the company's co-founders, Hannah McKenney and Drew Hendricks, she recognized them as very promising startup leaders taking action on a real health care problem. Starling's device can collect urine and run diagnostics right from a patient's toilet.

"It was one of those things where I just thought, 'They're going to get a bunch of data soon,'" Wilkins says. "The opportunity is just there, and I was really excited to come on and build their AI platform and the way they are going to look at data."

For about a year, Wilkins supported the startup as an adviser. Now, she's working more hands on as chief data officer as the company grows. Read more.

Sean Kelly, CEO and co-founder of Amperon

Amperon officially expanded in Europe. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston-based, AI-powered electricity forecasting and analytics services company Amperon Holdings is live in Europe. The expansion, which Co-Founder and CEO Sean Kelly previously told InnovationMap about, is official, the company announced this month. In addition to the expansion, Amperon announced Jon Ecker as general manager, Europe, and Kelsey Hultberg as executive vice president, communications, and chief of staff.

Now, European companies that buy and sell energy in the renewable energy producers, financial institutions, and utilities markets can leverage Amperon's platform of AI and machine learning technologies to access short- and long-term forecasts for their individual meters and generation assets.

“As a warmer-than-expected June ushers in a hot summer, and increasing uncertainty looms for the calmer fall months due to the influx of wind and solar generation, we are eager to assist our European customers in navigating the power market volatility caused by heat waves, extreme weather events, and shifts in power usage across the region,” Kelly says in a news release. Read more.

Laureen Meroueh, founder of Hertha Metals

Hertha Metals, based in Conroe, won first place at the 2024 Summer Energy Program for Innovation Clusters (EPIC) Startup Pitch Competition. Photo via LinkedIn

Four startups from across the country won over $160,000 in cash prizes from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Technology Transitions earlier this month, and a Houston-area company claimed the top prize.

Hertha Metals, based in Conroe, won first place at the 2024 Summer Energy Program for Innovation Clusters (EPIC) Startup Pitch Competition. The program honors and supports clean energy innovators nominated by clean technology business incubators.

Hertha Metals was founded by Laureen Meroueh, a mechanical engineer and materials scientist, in 2022. Read more.