Houston researchers are commercializing their organ 3D printing technology. Jordan Miller/Rice University

There may come a time when you or someone you love is in need of a new pair of lungs. Or perhaps it's a liver. It's not a scenario anyone dreams of, but thanks to Houston company Volumetric, you may never end up on a waiting list. Instead, that organ is made to order and 3D printed using a mix of medical plastics and human cells.

And this possibility isn't necessarily in the distant future. On the cover of the May 3 issue of the journal Science, is a contraption that looks a bit like a futuristic beehive. It's a working air sac complete with blood vessels, the beginnings of a technology that is perhaps only a decade from being implanted in humans. And it was crafted on a 3D printer in Jordan Miller's lab at Rice University.

Yes, there are shades of another Houston story — Denton Cooley's implantation of the first artificial heart — but Cooley only inserted the organ. Miller and his bioengineering graduate student Bagrat Grigoryan are primed to profit from their inventions.

In 2018, they started Volumetric Inc., a company that sells both the hydrogel solutions used for printing organs like theirs and the printers themselves. Touring Miller's lab in the Houston Medical Center is a visual timeline of his team's progress designing printers. The version being manufactured is a slick little number, small enough to fit under chemical exhaust hoods, but fitted with everything necessary to print living tissues. It's made and sold in cooperation with CellInk, a larger bioprinting company.

"Our technology is based on projection," Miller explains. Specifically, it's stereolithography, a type of 3D printing that produces the finished product layer-by-layer. Shining colored light of the right intensity turns the polymers into a solid gel.

But why start a company when Miller and Grigoryan are already busy with research?

"If we want to do translational research, commercialization is important," reasons Miller. "We need to build the market to get that technology into the world."

Miller explains that usually the inventor of a technology is the best one to bring it to market.

"When we were building this technology in the lab we saw the potential for commercialization," he recalls. "We do see that this technology is highly scalable. We do think it can have a positive impact on tissue models in a lab."

Those tissue models could one day make not just scientists, but also animal rights activists, very happy. With the technology that Volumetric is developing, scientists could eventually print human cells so well that animal models would be far less accurate in predicting the success that the product being tested would have on humans.

As academics, though, Miller and Grigoryan weren't sure how to start a company. Fortunately, there is the National Science Foundation (NSF) and its I-Corps program. The pair spent a couple of weeks doing a regional program that taught scientists how to commercialize their technology.

"They want to see funded research get out of the lab," Miller says, explaining that they moved on to the national I-Corps program while Miller was on sabbatical from teaching at Rice, allowing them to interview potential customers.

This gave them the confidence to launch last year. Grigoryan now works full-time at the Med Center incubator and accelerator, Johnson & Johnson's JLabs. He has a team of two other scientists on staff.

"It would have been a lot harder to get started if we didn't have a space like JLabs available," Miller says. It also helps, he adds, that JLabs takes no equity, only helping the fledgling brand to finalize its market and get hooked in with potential investors.

Volumetric has its demo units ready to go and expects to start shipping printers in late June, pending final certifications.

"We believe we have technology to make organ replacements for people," Miller says.

And someday soon, long waits for a new set of lungs and a life of antirejection drugs could be a thing of the past.


Rice University bioengineers (from left) Bagrat Grigoryan, Jordan Miller and Daniel Sazer and collaborators created a breakthrough bioprinting technique that could speed development of technology for 3D printing replacement organs and tissues. Photo by Jeff Fitlow/Rice University

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Houston-founded startup launches new COVID-19-focused sanitizing services

keeping clean

A startup that provides concierge services — like cleaning and dog walking — to apartment renters has expanded its services to outside the apartment units to help multifamily properties with sanitization and disinfection services to protect their communities from COVID-19.

Austin-based Spruce, which was founded in Houston in 2016 and still has an office locally, has a new suite of services for disinfecting common areas — like leasing offices, hallways, mail rooms, etc. — using EPA-compliant chemicals.

"Now, more than ever, it is critical for apartment communities to make sure their common areas are regularly decontaminated and disinfected to help slow the spread of the coronavirus and to prevent as many infections as possible," says Ben Johnson, founder and CEO of Spruce, in a statement.

The services include a weekly disinfectant of high-touch spots — like door handles and elevator buttons — as well as a weekly comprehensive cleaning that involves mopping, surface cleaning, and vacuuming. The startup also offers a bimonthly fogging service that can completely cover both indoor and outdoor areas with disinfectant. This solution can protect surfaces for months, according to the news release.

"This is an unprecedented public health crisis, and we worked closely with our clients to determine the biggest need and hope these services will give apartment communities one more weapon to use in the fight against COVID-19 and will help give both operators and their residents peace of mind," Johnson continues in the release.

Spruce still offers it's usual suite of services for individual apartment units such as daily chores and housekeeping and pet care, but extra precautions have been added since the coronavirus outbreak. The service providers are required to go through temperature checks before entering the properties. They also wear gloves, changing them out between units, and are incorporating paper products when able.

Since its founding, Spruce, which used to be called Apartment Butler, has expanded throughout the state and into South Florida, Denver, and Salt Lake City. Spruce has raised over $6 million in venture capital, per Crunchbase data, and that includes funds from Houston institutions like Mercury Fund, the Houston Angel Network, and Fitz Gate Ventures, as well as Austin-based Capital Factory.

Your money resources during COVID-19 and beyond: explained.

Now may be a time of uncertainty, but you shouldn't have to also worry about the availability and security of your money. Texas Citizens Bank is always available to answer questions — COVID-19-related and otherwise — and has laid out some options for those wondering what sort of financial resources are available.

SBA loan
Cash flow is a business' life blood. The Small Business Administration is working with local banks to offer helpful business resources during this challenging time.

The Paycheck Protection Program provides small businesses — including independent contractors and the self-employed — with the funds to pay up to eight weeks of payroll costs, including benefits. Funds can also be used to pay interest on mortgages, rent, and utilities.

Those interested in applying for a Paycheck Protection Program loan through the SBA are encouraged to apply through their current financial institution as that will likely be the quickest route to receiving funding.

Loan payments will also be deferred for six months. No collateral or personal guarantees are required, and neither the government nor lenders will charge small businesses any fees. For more information about PPP, head here.

The SBA also offers low-interest disaster recovery loans to help businesses and homeowners recover from declared disasters. They can be used for both physical damage repairs and economic injury, the latter up to $2 million in assistance for businesses and nonprofits to help overcome their temporary loss of revenue.

Accounts receivable purchase solution
Accounts receivable purchase solution provides cash upfront for your invoices. TCB will check your customer's creditworthiness and, once approved, the bank will purchase one or more accounts receivable from that customer. You get the majority (usually 80 percent) of your AR amount upfront and accrue daily fee (for example, if you get paid the next day, you're only charged for one day). Once your customer pays the AR, TCB pays you the remaining balance, minus a small fee.

TCB's AR purchase solution ranges from $10,000-$1 million and doesn't have a long-term contract, allowing you the flexibility to pick and choose which invoices you'd like to sell to the bank. Find out more about how Accounts Receivable Purchase Solution works here.

How to bank from home
Most banks offer online banking and mobile apps with the following features:

  • Mobile check deposit — deposit checks simply by taking a photo of them using your mobile banking app
  • Online bill pay — pay your internet, electricity, gas, and other recurring bills online or through the app
  • Account summary — check your account balance and view your recent transactions
  • Some apps, like the Texas Citizens Bank app, offer additional services like budgeting, spending alerts, and peer-to-peer payment services, so you can quickly and securely monitor your spending and pay a friend or family member

Lastly, be on the lookout for financial scams. Fraudsters and scam artists tend to take advantage of uncertain times like these. Email, text, and phone scams are rampant, so please be careful to check that all communication you receive is truly from your bank. If you are unsure of a communication's validity, don't respond or giveaway any personal information. Always contact your bank directly to check.

Bayou City comes close to topping Census Bureau's list for greatest population boom in the country

so popular

The Lone Star State is proving quite popular, at least according to the U.S. Census Bureau. As reported by numbers released on March 26, Texas is home to cities with the fastest-growing large metro area in the nation and the biggest numeric gain of residents.

Those would be Austin and Dallas-Fort Worth, respectively. And we'll delve into their numbers in a minute, because first it's time to talk about Houston.

H-Town actually nipped at DFW's heels in terms of the numeric population gain from 2010 to 2019. In that time, the Houston area picked up 1,145,654 residents, the second highest total among U.S. metros. That's around the number of people who live in the Buffalo, New York, metro area.

Houston stills holds the No. 5 position on the list of the largest U.S. metro areas. The bureau put its 2019 population at 7,066,141, up 19.4 percent from 2010.

Austin, meanwhile, saw its population shoot up 29.8 percent between 2010 and 2019, landing at 2,227,083 as of July 1, 2019. Put another way, the Austin area added 510,760 residents during the one-decade span.

From 2018 to 2019 alone, the Austin area's population rose 2.8 percent, the Census Bureau says. Numerically, the one-year increase was 61,586 (taking into account births, deaths, new arrivals to the area, and people moving away). That works out to 169 people per day.

Helping drive the Austin area's population spike from 2010 to 2019 were two of the country's fastest-growing counties. Hays County ranked as the second-fastest growing county in the U.S. (46.5 percent) in the past decade, the Census Bureau says, with Williamson County at No. 9 (39.8 percent).

In terms of numeric growth, Travis County ranked 10th in the country from 2010 to 2019 with the addition of 249,510 residents, according to the Census Bureau.

While Austin was the fastest-growing major metro area from 2010 to 2019, Dallas-Fort Worth topped the Census Bureau list for the biggest numeric gain. During that period, DFW welcomed 1,206,599 residents. To put that into perspective, that's about the same number of people who live in the entire Salt Lake City metro area.

On July 1, 2019, DFW's population stood at 7,573,136, up 19 percent from 2010. It remains the country's fourth largest metro, behind New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Although the San Antonio metro area didn't make the top 10 for percentage or numeric growth from 2010 to 2019, two of the region's counties appeared among the 10 fastest-growing counties:

  • Ranked at No. 4, Comal County's population jumped 43.9 percent.
  • Ranked at No. 5, Kendall County's population rose 42.1 percent.

In the previous decade, the San Antonio area's population climbed 19.1 percent, winding up at 2,550,960 in 2019, the Census Bureau says. Over the 10-year period, the region added 408,440 residents.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.