Yaxin Wang leads the IDEA Lab at the Texas Heart Institute. Photo via texasheart.org

In 1969, Dr. Denton A. Cooley implanted the first total artificial heart in a living patient. Most Houstonians know Cooley’s name, but fewer can name his colleague, Dr. Domingo Liotta, who created the device. Liotta died last year at the age of 97, but his work continues at the Texas Heart Institute.

Meet Yaxin Wang, PhD. The research engineer leads the IDEA Lab at THI. IDEA stands for Innovative Device & Engineering Applications, an apt description of what Wang and her colleagues do. She’s currently focused intensely on projects that could radically change transplantation for patients in need of an artificial heart or new, healthy lungs.

Specifically, Wang is helping to develop a pediatric left ventricular assist device (NeoVAD) to mechanically pump that part of the heart in infants and small children born with heart defects.

“There aren’t a lot of options for very small kids,” explains Wang. “That’s why we’re working on an implantable LVAD for very young kids.”

In fact, as many as 14,000 children with congenital heart disease are hospitalized each year waiting for a new heart, but only around 500 pediatric transplants actually take place.

Essentially, once patients reach their teens, their chest cavities are large enough for an adult donor heart. But smaller children means smaller rib cages and fewer available hearts. For children born with heart disease, Wang’s LVAD could be a lifesaver. Because she has crafted minimally invasive devices that were developed for long-term use, patients could live far longer than before.

The project, funded by a $2.8 million NIH grant, has a big name attached. Dr. O.H. Frazier is a THI legend who claims to have performed 900 LVAD implantations, not to mention some 1,200 heart transplants. In April, the team published their initial findings regarding the success of and improvements in making rotary LVADs over the last half-century.

A different team, also led by Frazier and Wang, received a pair of grants this summer. That includes $2.8 million from the NIH and a total of $7.8 million from a DoD focused program and a THI sub-award. Their work will center on a novel centrifugal left-ventricular assist device intended for end-stage heart failure patients, a potentially safer alternative to a heart transplant.

But Wang isn’t solely focused on the heart. Working with Dr. Gabriel Loor, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Baylor College of Medicine, Wang is also responsible for a method of preserving the lungs for a longer stretch of time, which would allow for further transport, and in the more distant future, potential genetic modification before transplantation. Using animal models for the moment, “they can survive for several hours without any issues,” says Wang.

The pioneering researcher is well on her way to making a name for herself at the Texas Heart Institute and beyond. And soon, she’ll be saving countless lives.

The Texas Heart Institute recently received its largest charitable donation in its history. Photo courtesy of THI

Massive $32M gift from former patient, new UH deal pump big changes into Houston organization

all heart

Leadership at The Texas Heart Institute has two major things to celebrate. First, it just received a $32 million donation from a patient — the largest charitable donation in its history.

Shortly after that news came out, the institute announced a new partnership with the University of Houston Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine that allows those UH medical students to join a clinical rotation at The Texas Heart Institute. The alliance means valuable insights and experience with both inpatient and outpatient cardiology for UH's future doctors.

"Students will have the chance to develop their skills in the diagnosis and management of cardiovascular conditions and will be taught by outstanding clinical educators,” said Dr. Joseph G. Rogers, president and CEO of The Texas Heart Institute and heart failure specialist at The Texas Heart Institute Center for Cardiovascular Care, in a press release announcing the news.

A game-changing gift that's all heart

As for that mammoth gift, the $32 million donation comes from Dr. Frederick M. Weissman, a neurologist from New York who was a patient at the Institute 40 years ago. Fittingly, huis gift will be used to support cardiovascular research.

This isn't Weissman's first gift to the institution. That came following his experience there in the mid-1980s, when he was treated by world-renowned cardiac surgeon Dr. Denton A. Cooley.

In November of 1986, Weissman wrote a check for $5,000; another followed the next month, with a note that read, in part, “my conscience compels me to make another contribution to The Texas Heart Institute. I don’t think I could ever repay you for what you and your staff have done for me.” Weissman and Cooley would go on to be friends throughout their lives.

When Dr. Weissman died in 2005, he left The Texas Heart Institute $500,000. The organization recently received the residual of his estate — valued at more than $32 million.

“Those of us who were fortunate enough to work with and be trained by Dr. Cooley know he was much more than just an incredibly gifted surgeon," renowned transplant surgeon and Co-director of THI’s Center for Preclinical Surgical & Interventional Research, Dr. O.H. “Bud” Frazier, said in press materials announcing the donation. "He established lifelong relationships with his patients and encouraged all of us to do the same. Dr. Weissman’s extraordinary generosity reflects the impact Dr. Cooley still has on the Institute he founded.”

A big leap for THI and the Coogs

Looking ahead, this game-changing gift and new affiliation with UH promises big things for students, doctors, researchers, and patients.

Medical students in rotation at The Texas Heart Institute will be exposed to progressive clinical care, allowing them to gain a deep understanding of the etiology, pathophysiology and management of cardiovascular disease from prevention to the most contemporary treatments available today. This level of hands-on experience is invaluable for future physicians, and will certainly contribute to the advancement of cardiovascular medicine.

"We are honored to launch this new affiliation with Fertitta Family College of Medicine,” said Dr. Jorge Escobar, director of undergraduate medical education at The Texas Heart Institute. "With new advances in diagnostic imaging, bedside testing, and clinical trials coupled with the complex care we provide to our patients, the rotation will be an impactful experience for the students."

Pumping with growth

Meanwhile, THI recently established The Texas Heart Institute Research Innovation Fund to propel the next generation of cardiovascular research by sparking discovery, supporting innovation, and recognizing excellence in high-risk, high-reward scientific exploration.

To that end, $5 million of the Weissman bequest has been designated to match philanthropic commitments of $10,000 or greater made to THI’s Research Innovation Fund and its priority initiatives in 2023, allowing donors the opportunity to double the impact of their research investment.

Founded in 1962, THI performed the first successful heart transplant and total artificial heart implant in the United States. It has gone on to become one of the world's leading institutions for cardiovascular treatment and research.


This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

TMC Innovation announces second cohort of promising Danish health tech companies

welcome to houston

A new cohort of scientists from the Texas-Denmark BioBridge has been selected to join a Texas Medical Center Accelerator, joining forces with some of Houston’s best advisers and mentors.

This is the second year that four Danish companies have been chosen to join a special TMC Innovation Accelerator program with plans to bring their technologies to the American market. In a joint press release, the Texas Medical Center (TMC) and the BioInnovation Institute (BII), announced that the participants are scheduled to arrive in Houston on May 13 for their first session, in which they’ll work on US customer validation. After that, they’ll take part in the full program, which will allow the founders to make their plans for strategic development over the course of six months.

Just as the TMC Innovation Factory offers help for founders who have set their sights on success in the US market, the Danish BioInnovation Institute provides life science startups with the connections, infrastructure and financial support necessary to bring their ideas to the public.

The companies selected include:

  • Alba Health is pioneering a gut microbiome test for young children that’s informed by AI.
  • AMPA Medical has created InterPoc, a more discrete alternative to types of stoma bags currently available for ileostomy patients.
  • Droplet IV is a medical device that automatically flushes IV lines, reducing waste and making nurses’ jobs easier.
  • Metsystem is a cancer metastasis platform aimed at predicting what the most effective cancer drug is for each patient.

“We are excited to welcome these startups to TMC as Danish companies are making significant strides in drug discovery and health tech developments” says Devin Dunn, head of the accelerator for Health Tech, in the release. “As they look to expand into the US market, the collaborative environment fostered by our dedicated team, programs, and clinical community will help them advance their innovations, foster research collaborations, and further develop their technologies here in Houston.”

The program for the accelerator is based on the successes of the TMC Innovation (TMCi) Health Tech Accelerator program. The TMC Denmark BioBridge was established in 2019 as a collaboration between TMC and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark.

Houston hospital flies in drone delivery service for medical supplies, prescriptions


A Houston hospital system has announced that it has plans to launch a drone delivery service for specialty prescriptions and medical supplies in 2026.

Memorial Hermann Health System announced that it intends to be the first health care provider in Houston to roll out drone delivery services from San Francisco-based Zipline, a venture capital-backed tech company founded in 2014 that's completed 1 million drone deliveries.

"As a system, we are continuously seeking ways to improve the patient experience and bring greater health and value to the communities we serve. Zipline provides an innovative solution to helping our patients access the medications they need, quickly and conveniently, at no added cost to them," Alec King, executive vice president and CFO for Memorial Hermann, says in a news release.

Zipline boasts of achieving delivery times seven times faster than traditional car deliveries and can usually drop off packages at a rate of a mile a minute. The drones, called Zips, can navigate any weather conditions and complete their missions with zero emissions.

Per the release, the service will be used to deliver items to patients or supplies or samples between its locations.

"Completing more than one million commercial deliveries has shown us that when you improve health care logistics, you improve every level of the patient experience. It means people get better, faster, more convenient care, even from the comfort of their own home," adds Keller Rinaudo Cliffton, co-founder and CEO of Zipline. "Innovators like Memorial Hermann are leading the way to bring better care to the U.S., and it's going to happen much faster than you might expect."

Houston tech founder shines spotlight on small businesses with new awards initiative

houston innovators podcast episode 234

For decades, small businesses have operated in essentially the same manner — handwritten notes to request time off, manual punch cards to clock in, and verbal agreements to swap shifts. And 10 years ago, Houstonian Rushi Patel thought it was time to upgrade these local shops, eateries, and other businesses.

Homebase, which was founded in San Francisco in 2014 and has its largest office in Houston, provides a suite of software tools for employee scheduling, time tracking, communication, and task management for its users, most of which are small businesses.

After a decade of growing its technology and clientbase, Patel, co-founder and COO of the company, explains the unique challenges these small businesses face on the Houston Innovators Podcast — as well as how Homebase helps.

"It's a bit of an orchestra in terms of what entrepreneurs have to do. Your job is to compose a little, but conduct as well," Patel says on the show. "You've built the song of what you want to have happen, but you're conducting lots of different things to make it a reality as a small business owner."

Patel explains how optimizing these personnel aspects of the business frees up founders and managers and improves the employee experience too. Currently, the job market is competitive for these types of businesses, and retention and hiring are major focus points for entrepreneurs.

With 10 years of data and experience of working with small businesses, Homebase introduced a new awards program this week in honor of National Small Business Week. The inaugural Top Local Workplace Awards honored over 50,000 businesses across the country for a range of positive workplace factors — like pay transparency and employee engagement.

"There are over 2 million employee-centric, main street type of businesses in the United States," Patel says, "these are the restaurants, the retailers, and the service providers. They employ north of 70 million people, so there's a lot of impact that these businesses can have. But what we found was they deserve recognition, and there wasn't recognition for the good practices that these employers were doing."

Using its data, which includes over 2.5 million hourly worker data points, Homebase's team implemented the awards to highlight the companies providing their employees — who are in most cases considered a work family, as Patel says — with a great experience.