These four medical research projects are ones to watch in Houston. Getty Images

Houston — home to one of the largest medical centers in the world — isn't a stranger when it comes to medical innovations and breakthrough research discoveries.

In the latest roundup of research innovations, four Houston institutions are working on innovative and — in some cases — life-saving research projects.

Houston Methodist study observes that strep throat germ is becoming resistant to antibiotics 

If the germ, group A streptococcus, continues to grow resistant to antibiotics, it can have a profoundly negative affect on the millions who get the illness annually. Photo via houstonmethodist.org

Researchers at Houston Methodist have discovered some troubling information about the strains of group A streptococcus that cause strep throat and a flesh-eating disease are becoming more resistant to beta-lactams antibiotics like penicillin.

James M. Musser is the lead author of the study and chair of Methodist's Department of Pathology and Genomic Medicine. The study — which received funding from grants from the Fondren Foundation, Houston Methodist Hospital and Houston Methodist Research Institute, and the National Institutes of Health — appeared in the Jan. 29 issue of the Journal of Clinical Microbiology, according to a news release.

"If this germ becomes truly resistant to these antibiotics, it would have a very serious impact on millions of children around the world," Musser says in the release. "That is a very concerning but plausible notion based on our findings. Development of resistance to beta-lactam antibiotics would have a major public health impact globally."

Musser and his team found 7,025 group A streptococcus strains that have been recorded around the world over the past several decades. Of those strains, 2 percent had gene mutations that raised the alarm for the researchers and, upon investigation, Musser's team came to the conclusion that antibiotic treatments can eventually be less effective — or even completely ineffective. This, Musser says, calls for an urgent need to develop a vaccine.

"We could be looking at a worldwide public health infectious disease problem," says Musser in the release. "When strep throat doesn't respond to frontline antibiotics such as penicillin, physicians must start prescribing second-line therapies, which may not be as effective against this organism."

University of Houston professor is searching for a way to stop persistent cells that cause chronic infections

University of Houston Professor Mehmet Orman is looking into cells that are able to persist and cause chronic illnesses. Photo via uh.edu

Mehmet Orman, assistant professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the University of Houston, is looking into a specific type of persister cells that have been found to be stubborn and drug-resistant.

The research, which is backed by a $1.9 million grant from the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, could answer questions about chronic health issues like airway infections in cystic fibrosis patients, urinary tract infections, and tuberculosis, according to a news release.

"If we know how persister cells are formed, we can target their formation mechanisms to eliminate these dangerous cell types," says Orman in a news release.

Orman is looking into cells' self-digestion, or autophagy, process that is found to stimulate persister formation. Per the release, cells can survive periods of starvation by eating their own elements. Specifically, Orman will analyze self-digestion in E. coli.

"By integrating our expertise in bacterial cell biology with advanced current technologies, we aim to decipher the key components of this pathway to provide a clear and much-needed picture of bacterial self-digestion mechanisms," says Orman in the release.

Baylor College of Medicine is working to understand and prevent post-op kidney failure

operation

Some patients are predisposed to kidney injury following surgery, this study found. Photo via bcm.edu

Scientists at Baylor College of Medicine are looking into the lead cause of kidney failure in patients who undergo surgery. Individuals who have heightened levels of suPAR protein — soluble urokinase-type plasminogen activator receptor — have a greater risk of this post-op complication, according to a news release.

"suPAR is a circulating protein that is released by inflammatory cells in the bone marrow and produced by a number of cell/organs in the body," says Dr. David Sheikh-Hamad, professor of medicine – nephrology at Baylor College of Medicine and collaborating author of the study, in the release.

The study, which was published in The New England Journal of Medicine, conducted research on mice that were engineered to hive high suPAR levels in their blood. Compared to the control mice, the suPAR mice had more risk of kidney industry. These mice were given suPAR-blocking antibodies, which then helped reduce kidney injury.

"This protective strategy may be used in humans expressing high suPAR levels prior to contrast exposure, or surgery to decrease the likelihood of developing kidney failure," Sheikh-Hamad says in the release.

Rice University research finds expressing emotions during mourning is healthier

Christopher Fagundes of Rice University analyzed the emotions of 99 widows and widowers. Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

A new study done by researchers at Rice University finds that spouses that lose their husband or wife and try to suppress their grief are not doing themselves any favors. The study monitored 99 people who had recently lost a spouse, according to a news release.

"There has been work focused on the link between emotion regulation and health after romantic breakups, which shows that distracting oneself from thoughts of the loss may be helpful," says Christopher Fagundes, an associate professor of psychology and the principal investigator, in a news release. "However, the death of a spouse is a very different experience because neither person initiated the separation or can attempt to repair the relationship."

The study included asking participants to respond to how they felt about certain coping strategies, as well as blood tests to measure cytokines levels‚ an inflammatory marker.

"Bodily inflammation is linked to a host of negative health conditions, including serious cardiovascular issues like stroke and heart attack," Fagundes says in the release.

The research, which was funded by a grant from the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, found that the participants who avoided their emotions suffered more of this bodily inflammation.

"The research also suggests that not all coping strategies are created equal, and that some strategies can backfire and have harmful effects, especially in populations experiencing particularly intense emotions in the face of significant life stressors, such as losing a loved one," adss Richard Lopez, an assistant professor of psychology at Bard College and lead author of the study, in the release.

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Houston universities rack up rankings in reports on top schools for entrepreneurship

5 years running

Rice University and the University of Houston have once again scooped up accolades for their entrepreneurship programs.

For the fifth consecutive year, Rice’s Jones Graduate School of Business has been ranked the No. 1 graduate entrepreneurship program by The Princeton Review, a provider of education services, and Entrepreneur magazine.

“Our close ties to Houston as well as national startup ecosystems give our students unique opportunities to pitch to and connect with angel investors, venture capitalists and corporations,” Brad Burke, managing director of the Rice Alliance, says in a news release. “These connections allow for mentorship, as well as launch points for new ideas, not only for our students but also for the city and surrounding communities.”

The list identifies 50 undergraduate and 50 graduate programs that boast the best entrepreneurship offerings based on factors such as coursework, experiential learning opportunities, and career outcomes. The ranking measures more than 40 data points about the schools’ entrepreneurship programs, faculties, students, and alumni.

Also for the fifth consecutive year, the University of Houston’s Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship in the C.T. Bauer College of Business has been named the No. 1 undergraduate entrepreneurship program by The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur magazine.

“We believe in entrepreneurship, we believe in free enterprise, and we’re in the number one city for entrepreneurship,” Dave Cook, executive director of the Wolff Center, says in a news release.

“When we put students into this entrepreneurial mix,” he adds, “and we introduce and reinforce free enterprise values, our intent is to change students’ lives and to create the next generation of business leaders with the highest integrity who are going to go out and create their own cultures, their own companies and their own futures.”

The University of Texas at Austin is the only other school in the state to make the top 10 of either the graduate ranking or undergraduate ranking. UT captures the No. 6 spot on the graduate list and No. 2 spot on the undergraduate list.

Aside from The Princeton Review and Entrepreneur honor, Rice climbed four spots in Poets&Quants’ annual ranking of the world’s best MBA programs for entrepreneurship.

Last year, Rice’s graduate school for business landed at No. 7 on the list. This year, it rose to No. 3, behind the first-ranked Olin School of Business at Washington University in St. Louis and second-ranked ESTM Berlin.

This is the fifth annual ranking of MBA programs for entrepreneurship from Poets&Quants, a website that focuses on graduate-level business education.

“MBA programs are increasingly sought after in today’s environment, and our focus on entrepreneurship sets us apart,” Peter Rodriguez, business dean at Rice, says in a news release. “The entrepreneurship classes emphasize a combination of mindset and skill set and focus on multiple stages of the entrepreneurial process, preparing our students for any industry and climate.”

Poets&Quants relies on 16 data points collected through an annual survey to come up with its ranking. Among those data points are:

  • Average percentage of MBA students launching businesses during their program or within three months of graduation between 2018 and 2022.
  • Percentage of MBA elective courses with all of the curriculum focused on entrepreneurship or innovation during the 2022-23 academic year.
  • Percentage of MBA students active in the business school’s main student-run entrepreneurship club during the 2022-23 academic year.
  • Square footage of incubator or accelerator space available to MBA students during the 2022-23 academic year.

America's labor shortage crisis: Local Houston company’s solution for a thriving future

A Brighter Future

The labor shortage crisis gripping America is not isolated to a particular region; it's a challenge that reverberates from coast to coast.

CNN Business projects that this issue could cost the nation a staggering $1 trillion, while the Manufacturing Institute predicts that 2.1 million jobs will go unfilled. To address this pressing concern, a local Houston company called Innovapptive and its connected workforce platform stands as a beacon of hope to improve productivity and capacity, while also upskilling the digital native worker.

Innovapptive is a provider of a “mobile first '' AI-connected workforce SaaS solution to help companies manage labor shortage by empowering front-line workers with digital tools to boost productivity.

The platform’s integrated suite of apps for both the front-line workers and back-office staff closes the loop between people and assets to eliminate inefficiencies. By connecting the front-line workers and back-office with critical information in real time, and harnessing the potential of generative AI and cutting-edge AI/ML technology trends, Innovapptive is enhancing productivity and upskilling workers for some of the world’s largest brands.

Solving the labor shortage by focusing on productivity

The labor shortage crisis has left industries scrambling for solutions. Rather than simply trying to fill the void with more labor, the focus should be on optimizing the existing workforce.

By enhancing the productivity of front-line workers, companies can not only meet the demands of the market but also reduce the need for additional labor. A connected workforce platform can improve the productivity of the front-line workers by 10% to 20% to help companies do more with less.

Empowering front-line workers with real-time connectivity

Innovapptive's connected workforce platform brings front-line workers, back-office, and assets together by providing them with the right information at the right time.

Operators can simply execute their inspections, rounds, and raise issues. These issues automatically convert into an ERP notification and get pushed to a maintenance technician to close out the open compliance issue, while keeping the operator in the loop in real-time. At the same time, the warehouse is alerted in real-time on the work order priorities and criticality to ensure spare part kits are ready for the technician’s pick up.

This effective communication and collaboration between operators, maintenance, and warehouses is a game-changer for asset intensive companies nationwide. Workers can access essential data and insights instantly, leading to smarter decision-making, quicker problem-solving, and improved operational efficiency.

Recently, Sabert, a sustainable packaging company, launched Innovapptive’s solution and is seeing dramatic improvement in productivity. Click here to watch the video.

Harnessing generative AI and cutting-edge AI/ML technology trends to upskill workers

To achieve dramatic productivity improvements upwards of 20%, companies need to leverage the power of generative AI and AI/ML technology trends.

Innovapptive's platform has launched a beta version of its generative AI capabilities, automating the creation of paper-based inspections, SOPs, and work instructions. Furthermore, the company recently launched a computer vision-based AI/ML inspection solution in partnership with Deloitte.

The solution allows an operator or an inspector to simply take an inspection image and the image is instantly analyzed to predict the condition of the equipment, criticality, and use generative AI to describe the problem to their maintenance teams. By converging technology trends such as cloud, mobile, generative AI, and AI/ML, Innovapptive is streamlining processes and eliminating bottlenecks, resulting in substantial productivity gains.

Furthermore, Innovapptive is expected to launch a video AI/ML technology in FY-24 to rapidly upskill workers. This trend allows employees to access on-demand training materials and instructional videos, reducing the learning curve and increasing proficiency. By facilitating continuous learning and development, companies can adapt to changing demands more effectively.

A brighter future for asset-intensive industries

The labor shortage is a nationwide concern that requires a unified approach. Rather than relying solely on more labor, companies can take advantage of Innovapptive's connected workforce platform to empower front-line workers, connect them in real time, capture critical information efficiently, and harness the power of generative AI and cutting-edge AI/ML technology trends.

This holistic approach not only dramatically improves productivity by 10% to 20% but also reduces the need for additional labor. By embracing video AI/ML technology, businesses can rapidly upskill their workers, ensuring they remain agile and adaptable in the face of evolving challenges. Together, we can build a brighter future for American industries and address the labor shortage crisis more effectively.

Some of the world's largest brands rely on Innovapptive's technology, platforms and software, including:

  • Shell Oil
  • Hess
  • Chevron Phillips Chemical
  • Dominion Energy
  • Jemena
  • Loudoun Water
  • Newmont Mining
  • AkzoNobel
  • Pluspetrol
  • EDF Renewables
  • Sabert
  • LiftOne
  • Par Pacific

Innovapptive is headquartered in Houston with offices across the globe in India, Europe, and Asia-Pacific. To learn more and see what Innovapptive can do for your company, visit here.

Houston park opens new facility amid major transformation project

next step

The latest project from a Houston park that's got an ongoing transformation project underway has revealed its latest new feature.

Memorial Park, Houston’s most popular destination for runners and one of the best trails in Texas, has unveiled its new, state-of-art running complex on November 4. The new facility was first announced in 2019 as a part of the park's master plan redevelopment project, which includes the innovative Land Bridge that opened earlier this year.

Encompassing years in planning and constructing, this new complex features the 400-meter Roy H. Cullen Timing Track, a viewing decks, an event plaza, several gathering spaces, trails, and more. More than a simple running track, the complex is designed to be a central gathering spot for all Memorial Park visitors, notes Memorial Park Conservancy executive director Shellye Arnold. The complex will also serve as new gateway to the park’s Bayou Wilds trails.

This new complex is meant to bring more park visitors to multiple areas of the park, Arnold notes, as well as improve track conditions for the thousands who use it, including Houston Astros and Texans players and Olympians. (Olympic legend Carl Lewis is a frequent user.)

“The old timing track in the park is just worn down and not really that accurate, and it has strange turns and corners,” Arnold tells CultureMap. “The running complex is very fitting for the park and for Houston.”

Credit goes to the game-changing Ten-Year Plan, which turned the Memorial Park Master Plan marathon into a sprint with an accelerated set of projects via catalyst gift from the Kinder Foundation and various donors. Partners include the Houston Parks and Recreation Department, Uptown Development Authority, and Kinder Foundation, and the City of Houston Mayor’s Office.

That mean a new experience not just for runners, joggers, and walkers, but all visitors.

“It’s a microcosm of the park, a place where a lot of people go and train at four or five in the morning,” adds Arnold. “But it’s a gathering place in the woods. If you think about Memorial Park, part of the whole experience is being immersed in nature. And so this particular timing track is really much more nature immersive than the old timing track.”

Community access is also a priority, for adults and kids.

“There are a lot of schools in Houston that don’t have access to a high quality track — or a track at all,” Arnold says. “And so now, their runners can come out and use the track. It won’t be used for meets, because we won’t close it off to the public very often at all. But it’s all about accessibility. Any school in Houston that wants to use it will be able to bring their students out and enjoy it.”

So while running may be the draw, really, it’s the complex is yet another chance to enjoy Memorial Park’s 1,500 acres and 25 miles worth of trails.

“There are places to hang out,” says Arnold. “There will be a cafe that will open up nearby in the first half of 2024 and an event plaza that’s also opening that will be a place to gather or just hang out with a group. Those are some of the many of the reasons that we did this. All the things that we do is to build community and foster a sense of connectedness — and this track will do that.”

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.