3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Dorit Donoviel of TRISH, Nuri Firat Ince of UH, and Vanessa Wade of Connect the Dots. Courtesy photos

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


Dorit Donoviel, director of the Translational Research Institute for Space Health

Dorit Donoviel, director of the Translational Research Institute for Space Health

The new program will work with commercial spaceflight crews to bring back crucial research to one database. Photo via Libby Neder Photography

The Translational Research Institute for Space Health, or TRISH, at Baylor College of Medicine announced a unique program that will work with commercial spaceflight providers and their passengers. The EXPAND — Enhancing eXploration Platforms and Analog Definition — Program will collect information and data from multiple space flights and organize it in one place. TRISH selected TrialX to build the centralized database.

"The space environment causes rapid body changes. This can help us understand how we humans react to and overcome stress. Ensuring that space explorers remain healthy pushes us to invent new approaches for early detection and prevention of medical conditions," says Dorit Donoviel, executive director at TRISH, in the release.

"Studying a broad range of people in space increases our knowledge of human biology. TRISH's EXPAND program will leverage opportunities with commercial spaceflight providers and their willing crew to open up new research horizons." Click here to read more.

Nuri Firat Ince, associate professor of biomedical engineering at UH

A medical device designed by a UH professor will close the loop with high frequency brain waves to prevent seizures from occurring. Photo via uh.edu

Nuri Firat Ince, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at UH, has received a federal grant aimed at helping stop epileptic seizures before they start. The BRAIN Initiative at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke awarded the $3.7 million grant to go toward Ince's work to create a seizure-halting device based on his research.

According to UH, Ince has reduced by weeks the time it takes to locate the seizure onset zone (SOZ), the part of the brain that causes seizures in patients with epilepsy. He's done this by detecting high-frequency oscillations (HFO) forming "repetitive waveform patterns" that identify their location in the SOZ.

"If the outcomes of our research in acute settings become successful, we will execute a clinical trial and run our methods with the implanted … system in a chronic ambulatory setting," Ince says. Click here to read more.

Vanessa Wade, founder and owner of Connect the Dots

It's time for large corporations to step up to support small businesses founded by people of color. Photo courtesy

In her guest column for InnovationMap, Vanessa Wade addressed some of the challenges she faced founding a company as a person of color — specifically the lack of access to funding. In the article, she calls corporations to action to help business leaders like herself.

"The journey ahead can feel discouraging, but the good news is that now I have a much better idea of what it will take to build an equitable road back and get businesses like mine on even footing," she writes. Click here to read more.

The new program will work with commercial spaceflight crews to bring back crucial research to one database. Photo via NASA/Unsplash

Houston organization launches the first commercial spaceflight medical research program

out of this world health care

With commercial space activity reaching cruising altitude, a Houston space health research organization has introduced a new program to create a centralized database.

The Translational Research Institute for Space Health, or TRISH, at Baylor College of Medicine announced a unique program that will work with commercial spaceflight providers and their passengers. The EXPAND — Enhancing eXploration Platforms and Analog Definition — Program will collect information and data from multiple space flights and organize it in one place. TRISH selected TrialX to build the centralized database.

As a partner to the NASA Human Research Program, the Houston-based organization's mission is to reduce health risks for astronauts and uncover advances for terrestrial healthcare, according to a news release.

"The space environment causes rapid body changes. This can help us understand how we humans react to and overcome stress. Ensuring that space explorers remain healthy pushes us to invent new approaches for early detection and prevention of medical conditions," says Dorit Donoviel, executive director at TRISH, in the release. "Studying a broad range of people in space increases our knowledge of human biology. TRISH's EXPAND program will leverage opportunities with commercial spaceflight providers and their willing crew to open up new research horizons."

The new collaborative program is meant to address the challenges that humans face on space missions — early detection and treatment of medical conditions, protection from radiation, mental health, team dynamics, and more. TRISH has been working on these challenges since its inception.

"This ground-breaking research model is only possible because everyone — scientists, commercial spaceflight companies, and passengers - recognizes the importance of space health research, and what we can learn by working together," says Dr. Emmanuel Urquieta, TRISH's chief medical officer, in the release.

EXPAND's first collaboration is the Inspiration4 mission, which is launching on September 15. The all-civilian crew will perform a variety of TRISH-supported human health experiments during their time in orbit.

"Shorter commercial space flights like Inspiration4 have similarities to early NASA Artemis missions," says Jimmy Wu, TRISH's senior biomedical engineer. "This allows TRISH an opportunity to test new health and performance technologies for future NASA astronauts."

The potential impact of innovation with this new centralized database and biobank is profound, says James Hury, TRISH's deputy director and chief innovation officer.

"The EXPAND database has the flexibility to seamlessly take in multiple types of data from different flight providers in order to create a repository that can integrate information," says Hury in the release. "A centralized, standardized research database and biobank will increase access to knowledge about human health for the global research community."

The Butterfly iQ, a device developed with Baylor College of Medicine's Translational Research Institute for Space Health, is headed to the ISS. Photo courtesy of TRISH

Health tech device supported by Houston-based organization hitches ride on SpaceX flight

space tech

An innovative ultrasonography device that has been developed with the future of space health in mind has hitched a ride on SpaceX's Dragon cargo resupply mission. The Translational Research Institute for Space Health, or TRISH, at Baylor College of Medicine is supporting the product's first user demo in space.

The Butterfly iQ device was developed by Connecticut-based Butterfly Network Inc. (NYSE: BFLY) and is "the world's first handheld, single-probe whole-body ultrasound system using semiconductor technology," according to a press release.

TRISH has been supporting the device's development since the organization realized the impact it can have on astronauts' ability to administer their own health care.

"NASA is returning to the moon and our astronauts will need to be more self-reliant when it comes to medical care. TRISH is investing in innovations that enable healthcare to be provided in new ways," says Dr. Dorit Donoviel, director of TRISH, in the release. "On deep space missions, tools such as the Butterfly iQ will help the astronauts monitor themselves for concerns such as kidney stones, fluid in the lungs, blood clots and swelling of the optic nerve."

When the device reaches the International Space Station, the astronauts will provide feedback on how they used the device, the quality of the produced ultrasound images, and the efficiency of image acquisition.

"We're thrilled that TRISH has identified the potential of Butterfly iQ to advance care delivery in remote – and extremely remote – care settings. We are confident that the iQ's combination of diagnostic power, portability, reliability and ease of use will prove a useful addition to the medical toolkit of the International Space Station," said Dr. Todd Fruchterman, president and CEO of Butterfly Network, in the release. "It is an honor to know that a Butterfly device will help NASA safeguard the health of its incredible astronauts by providing actionable diagnostic insights."

The device was recently introduced into CHI St. Luke's Health point of cair practice — specifically for COVID-19 treatment. Dr. Jose Diaz-Gomez, an anesthesiologist and ultrasonography expert at the hospital, says the Butterfly iQ's portable ultrasonography technology has been a key diagnostic tool in his team's point of care for COVID-19 patients.

Moving beyond the pandemic, Diaz-Gomez explained the pertinent use of lower cost, portable ultrasound tools like Butterfly iQ to increase access to health care — even here on earth.

"In conditions that are dynamic, you want to have a diagnostic tool that, over time as you're treating a patient, you can see meaningful changes — good or bad," Diaz-Gomez previously told InnovationMap. "The pandemic has enabled us to use — from the initial care to when they are on the ventilator — ultrasonography to see the changes in the patient's' lungs."

TRISH is focused on identifying and supporting technologies like Butterfly iQ through its network of space health experts, BCM, and NASA, which recently granted renewal for its TRISH partnership granted renewal for its TRISH partnership earlier this year. NASA will continue to work with TRISH to conduct biomedical research geared at protecting astronauts in deep space through 2028.

In the latest round up of Houston innovation news you may have missed, applications open for Houston accelerators, Greentown Labs has a grand opening date, and more. Photo via Getty Images

Greentown Houston announces grand opening, clean energy accelerators open apps, and more innovation news

short stories

It's been a crazy start to 2021 with the innovation ecosystem being especially busy. For this reason, Houston innovation news may have fallen through some of the cracks.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, Greentown Labs makes a big announcement, new accelerator programs open applications, a UH-born technology wins big, and more.

Greentown Labs announces grand opening for Houston location

Greentown Houston is opening next month. Photo via GreentownLabs.com

Last Earth Day, the City of Houston launched its first Climate Action Plan. This Earth Day, the Greentown Houston is opening its doors. On Thursday, April 22, from 2 to 3:30 pm, Greentown Labs is hosting a virtual event to mark the grand opening.

At the event, attendees will be able to meet startups that are a part of the program, hear from energy and civic leaders, catch the latest Greentown partners, and watch the building's ribbon cutting. The event is free and registration is open.

"Greentown Houston is our first out-of-state expansion, and we have already welcomed more than 20 startup members and more than 20 Founding and Grand Opening partners," reads a recent announcement from Greentown. "Located in the city's Innovation District, Greentown Houston will provide more than 40,000 sq. ft. of prototyping lab, office, and community space for about 50 climatetech startups, totaling 200-300 employees."

Rice Alliance opens applications for its clean energy accelerator program

The Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator's inaugural cohort will be held virtually — but will eventually be housed in The Ion. Courtesy of Rice University

The Rice Alliance for Technology and Entrepreneurship has opened applications for its inaugural cohort for the recently announced Clean Energy Accelerator. The program will be held virtually this summer from June to September — but will eventually be hosted out of The Ion.

At the conclusion of the program, the cohort will present in a Demo Day in conjunction with the 19th annual Rice Alliance Energy Venture Forum.

Applications are due by April 14 and interested parties can apply online.

University of Houston-born innovation wins big at SXSW

A UH-born device won a $25,000 investment at a SXSW event. Photo via UH.edu

A University of Houston professor took home an innovation prize and $25,000 investment from the Southwest National Pediatric Device Innovation Consortium's Pediatric Device Prize at this year's SXSW. The UH-born device is the Pediatric Lower-Extremity Gait System – known as P-LEGS – which is a mobility assistant, rehabilitation platform and diagnostic tool designed to help children with motor disabilities. It won one of two prizes out of 18 devices.

The principal investigator for the project, Jose Luis Contreras-Vidal, is a Hugh Roy and Lillie Cullen Distinguished Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the director of UH's BRAIN Center. Other team members include graduate student lead, David Eguren, as well as Alexander Steele, Yang Hu, Krishna Sarvani Desabhotla, Swagat Bhandari, Lujayna Taha, Nivriti Sabhnani, and Allen Shen.

"We were excited and honored to have been selected by the SWPDC for this award," Eguren says in a news release. "The award will be valuable in helping us continue device development and testing."

Halliburton Labs opens next round of applications

Halliburton Labs is looking for its next cohort. Photo courtesy of Halliburton

A new corporate accelerator has announced that its latest round of startup applications is open. Halliburton Labs looking for startups for its next cohort, and applications are due on April 23.

"We're excited to identify technology entrepreneurs with ready-to-scale solutions in energy generation, storage, distribution, conservation, and the circular economy," says Dale Winger, managing director of Halliburton Labs, in a news release. "Our program provides critical resources, including technical and operational expertise across numerous hardware disciplines and a global business network, to help participants advance their products, prepare for further scale and position for additional financing."

Halliburton Labs will make their selections by the ongoing program's pitch day, which is slated for May 21. The Halliburton Labs Finalist Pitch Day will be a part of the Houston Tech Rodeo.

To apply to participate, click here.

Innovative organization names new board members

Baylor College of Medicine-supported, and NASA-backed TRISH has new board members. Photo via NASA/JPL-Caltech

The Translational Research Institute for Space Health — known as TRISH — recently announced seven new members to its Scientific Advisory Board. The Houston-based, NASA-funded organization is focused on cultivating space health innovations.

"We are at the cusp of space becoming more accessible to regular people. We are working toward safeguarding the health of all humans -- astronauts exploring deep space and people with preexisting conditions that want to experience space for short periods," says TRISH Director Dorit Donoviel. "TRISH's diverse advisory board members will help us focus our resources on the most impactful health technology and science innovations."

According to a press release, the newly appointed members are:

They join existing members:

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Dorit Donoviel of TRISH, Anu Pansare of gBETA, and Christine Galib and Courtney Cogdill of The Ion. Courtesy photos

4 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In the week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to four innovators across industries recently making headlines — from space tech to startup development organizations.

Dorit Donoviel, director of the Translational Research Institute for Space Health

NASA has renewed its support for Baylor College of Medicine's Translational Research Institute for Space Health. Libby Neder Photography

Baylor College of Medicine's Translational Research Institute for Space Health, known as TRISH, got the green light on a grant renewal from NASA, which will allow the organization to continue to conduct biomedical research geared at protecting astronauts in deep space through 2028. NASA opted to continue the partnership and now TRISH will receive additional funding of up to $134.6 million from 2022 to 2028.

"NASA has received outstanding value from our bold approach to sourcing and advancing space health research and technologies," institute director Dorit Donoviel, says in a statement. "We are proud to be NASA's partner in its human space exploration mission and to be supporting the research necessary to create new frontiers in healthcare that will benefit all humans." Click here to read more.

Anu Pansare, director of gBETA Houston

Anu Pansare has joined the local gBETA team. Photo via gbetastartups.com

Anu Pansare has a new gig. The Sugar Land-based consultant has over 20 years of experience working with the likes of Chevron, Schlumberger, and Accenture, as well as smaller startups. Pansare, who's also been involved with the Houston Angel Network, recently started as director of gBETA's Houston office.

As the main liaison between Houston and gener8tor's national network, Pansare will lead gBETA's third cohort — for which applications are open online — through its free 7-week program, which is designed to help participating companies gain early customer traction and develop key metrics that will make them more marketable for future investment. Click here to read more.

Christine Galib and Courtney Cogdill of The Ion

Christine Galib and Courtney Cogdill of The Ion join the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the four accelerator programs that are striving to advance Houston. Photos courtesy of The Ion

Courtney Cogdill, program director of the Accelerator Hub, and Christine Galib, senior director, at The Ion joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss what all they are focused on across the business accelerator programs at the hub. Now more than ever, innovators are dedicating their careers to resilient technologies that can enhance the city's future. And this effort comes naturally to Houstonians, Galib says on the podcast.

"There is an ethos here that is one of roll up your sleeves, collaborate, and get to work. Get the work done, and have fun while you're doing it," she says on the show. "We all come together in a time of challenge, and we really show each other that we're not just individually resilient, we are collectively resilient." Click here to read more and stream the episode.

NASA has renewed its support for Baylor College of Medicine's Translational Research Institute for Space Health. Photo courtesy of NASA

Houston research organization receives renewal from NASA and millions in funding for space health projects

new funding

Baylor College of Medicine's Translational Research Institute for Space Health, or TRISH, was granted renewal from NASA this week, which will allow the organization to continue to conduct biomedical research geared at protecting astronauts in deep space through 2028.

According to a statement, NASA reviewed TRISH in December 2020 ahead of the five year mark of its cooperative agreement with BCM's Center for Space Medicine. NASA opted to continue the partnership and now TRISH will receive additional funding of up to $134.6 million from 2022 to 2028.

"NASA has received outstanding value from our bold approach to sourcing and advancing space health research and technologies," institute director Dorit Donoviel, said in a statement. "We are proud to be NASA's partner in its human space exploration mission and to be supporting the research necessary to create new frontiers in healthcare that will benefit all humans."

The institute will focus its efforts on Mars exploration missions in the next six years and has been given three main objectives, according to the release:

  • To build strategic partnerships that will increase the volume of available biometric data on the impact of space travel on health and astronaut performance
  • To build a digital platform that simulates the spaceflight environment and will allow researchers to model and test new health technologies on Earth
  • To develop tissue chip technology that will allow astronauts to place a variety of human cells in lunar orbit during the NASA Artemis research missions to track the effects of space radiation and microgravity on humans

Since TRISH was founded in 2016 it has led the charge in space health research and has partnered with and provided grants to an array of innovative startups to do so.

In 2020 is granted Houston-based Z3VR $50,000 to explore the ways virtual reality can boost physical and mental health among astronauts and it has funded several projects surrounding space radiation levels.

At the time of 2020 review, TRISH had developed and transitioned 34 completed astronaut health and protection projects to NASA and had connected 415 first-time NASA researchers with opportunities to develop space health solutions.

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3 businesses join Houston initiative for carbon capture and storage

seeing green

Three big businesses — Air Liquide, BASF, and Shell — have added their firepower to the effort to promote large-scale carbon capture and storage for the Houston area’s industrial ecosystem.

These companies join 11 others that in 2021 threw their support behind the initiative. Participants are evaluating how to use safe carbon capture and storage (CCS) technology at Houston-area facilities that provide energy, power generation, and advanced manufacturing for plastics, motor fuels, and packaging.

Other companies backing the CCS project are Calpine, Chevron, Dow, ExxonMobil, INEOS, Linde, LyondellBasell, Marathon Petroleum, NRG Energy, Phillips 66, and Valero.

Business and government leaders in the Houston area hope the region can become a hub for CCS activity.

“Large-scale carbon capture and storage in the Houston region will be a cornerstone for the world’s energy transition, and these companies’ efforts are crucial toward advancing CCS development to achieve broad scale commercial impact,” Charles McConnell, director of University of Houston’s Center for Carbon Management in Energy, says in a news release.

McConnell and others say CCS could help Houston and the rest of the U.S. net-zero goals while generating new jobs and protecting current jobs.

CCS involves capturing carbon dioxide from industrial activities that would otherwise be released into the atmosphere and then injecting it into deep underground geologic formations for secure and permanent storage. Carbon dioxide from industrial users in the Houston area could be stored in nearby onshore and offshore storage sites.

An analysis of U.S Department of Energy estimates shows the storage capacity along the Gulf Coast is large enough to store about 500 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide, which is equivalent to more than 130 years’ worth of industrial and power generation emissions in the United States, based on 2018 data.

“Carbon capture and storage is not a single technology, but rather a series of technologies and scientific breakthroughs that work in concert to achieve a profound outcome, one that will play a significant role in the future of energy and our planet,” says Gretchen Watkins, U.S. president of Shell. “In that spirit, it’s fitting this consortium combines CCS blueprints and ambitions to crystalize Houston’s reputation as the energy capital of the world while contributing to local and U.S. plans to help achieve net-zero emissions.”

Texas doctor dives into Shark Tank with invention that stops hiccups

shark bait

Humans are weird. Take, as a perfect example, the phenomenon of hiccups — the sudden and involuntary spasm of the diaphragm muscle between regular breaths. All humans experience them, and so do other mammals and even amphibians. But we’re guessing other animals don’t approach treating hiccups in the wacky ways humans do.

For instance, some less-than-successful hiccup remedies of lore include sipping water upside down (and subsequently trying to not drown), holding one’s breath for a long time (and often hiccupping throughout the hold anyway), sucking on a peppermint, gagging oneself or pulling on the tongue, and even gobbling up a spoonful of peanut butter to help change the breathing and swallowing pattern.

The truth is those ideas are mostly a waste of breath. Luckily, one San Antonio doctor has invented a device that supposedly instantly relieves hiccups — and his invention is getting so much attention that he’s even hooked a chance to pitch the product on a new episode of ABC’s entrepreneurial-focused reality show, Shark Tank.

Dr. Ali Seifi, a neurointensivist at UT Health San Antonio and the inventor of the aptly named HiccAway, will appear on an episode of Shark Tank that airs tonight, January 21 at 7 pm.

HiccAway, a straw-like device that a hiccup sufferer uses to sip water through, is likely to wow the sharks — maybe even take their breath away? — as it is the world’s first scientifically proven medical product that safely relieves hiccups.

In fact, HiccAway was recently the subject of an article in JAMA Network Open, a publication of the Journal of the American Medical Association Network. The article addresses a four-month cross-sectional study of 249 participants from multiple countries that found that HiccAway stopped hiccups in almost 92 percent of cases and was rated a heck of a lot more favorably than home remedies.

“I believe that the science behind our product is what makes our product trustworthy and reliable. There are many hiccup remedies that are all hit and miss with no exact science to them,” Seifi says. “Some healthcare products claim they can cure a medical condition, but they don’t have scientific backup to support the product. I can confidently state that HiccAway is one of the few products on Shark Tank so far with a strong published research study as a backup.”

While hiccups are simply an annoyance for most of us, they can also be chronic for patients with cancer, meningitis, multiple sclerosis, stroke, traumatic brain or thoracic injury, and even for patients who have had surgery that requires anesthesia.

“After I witnessed my own neurology patients suffering from hiccups without an effective treatment, I was inspired to develop a safe and effective device that would be simple to use and easily available to all people,” Seifi says. “When you forcefully sip water through the device, it keeps the phrenic and vagus nerves occupied, so they don’t have enough time to cause unwanted spasms in the diaphragm. This interruption stops the hiccups.”

While the HiccAway device is already available to purchase through hiccaway.com and on Amazon, as well as at walmart.com and even in H-E-B stores throughout South Texas and at heb.com, Shark Tank (which boasts a viewing audience of about 7 million) could propel HiccAway and Seifi into a new realm of entrepreneurial success.

“For me, the experience was surreal,” says Victor Fehlberg, president and CEO of Higher Innovations Inc., which manufactures and distributes HiccAway from the Denver area. “It took so long to prepare, so much time was spent waiting, that when the pitch and appearance were finally recorded, it went too fast. It was like I was dreaming because it had been so long in the making.”

The Shark Tank appearance is likely a dream come true for Seifi and the HiccAway team — and a total breath of fresh air for the hiccup-suffering public.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.