TRISH is sending six research projects onboard Axiom Space's next mission, which is expected to launch in January. Photo via bcm.com

A Houston organization announced that it plans to launch six more experiments into space next year that look to learn more about everything from motion sickness to genome alterations during space travel.

The Translational Research Institute for Space Health, or TRISH, which is part of BCM’s Center for Space Medicine, will team up once more with Houston-based Axiom Space on its third private astronaut mission to the International Space Station, Ax-3, which is expected to launch in January. TRISH also sent experiments on Axiom's Ax-2 mission that launched in May.

The experiments are part of TRISH's Enhancing eXploration Platforms and Analog Definition (EXPAND) program, which aims "to help humans thrive on future space missions," according to a release.

“Our commercial spaceflight partners such as Axiom Space are instrumental to cutting-edge research, including these projects designed to reveal how the human body and mind function in the extreme environment of space,” Dr. Emmanuel Urquieta, TRISH chief medical officer, EXPAND program lead and assistant professor in the Center for Space Medicine at Baylor. “This work represents an important step in our journey to understand the body's response to challenging conditions, which is critical for improving human health both here on Earth and on future long-duration missions, including to the Moon and Mars.”

The six project onboard Ax-3 include:

  • Cognitive and Physiologic Responses in Commercial Space Crew on Short-Duration Missions, Mathias Basner, M.D., Ph.D., M.S., University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine: Basner’s team will track spaceflight participants’ memory, abstraction, spatial orientation, emotion recognition, risk decision-making and sustained attention before and after space travel
  • Otolith and Posture Evaluation II, Mark Shelhamer, Sc.D., Johns Hopkins University: Shelhamer's team will study how inner ears and eyes sense and respond to motion before and immediately after spaceflight to predict who is likely to develop space motion sickness.
  • Space Omics + BioBank, Richard Gibbs, Ph.D., Baylor College of Medicine: Gibbs’ team will gather biological specimens from astronauts before and after their mission to assess the effects of spaceflight on the human body at the genomic level.
  • SANS Surveillance, TRISH: The institute will study Spaceflight Associated Neuro-Ocular Syndrome by collecting vision function data during the ground phases of the mission.
  • Standardized research questionnaires, TRISH: The institute will gather contextual and qualitative data points for its EXPAND research database related to sleep, personality, health history, team dynamics and immune-related symptoms.
  • Sensorimotor adaptation, TRISH: The institute will collect data on how spaceflight participants' ability to stand, balance and have full body control.

Ax-3 is Axiom's third commercial astronaut mission to the ISS, which the company announced in March. The crew, which includes Commander Michael López-Alegría, Pilot Walter Villadei, and Mission Specialists Alper Gezeravcı and Marcus Wandt, will spend 14 days on the ISS. The mission will launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida aboard a SpaceX Dragon spacecraft.

Axiom also has plans for its fourth private mission, Ax-4, which it announced in August.

In addition to the partnership with Axiom, TRISH also announced late last month that it has made a new agreement with the Australian Antarctic Division's Polar Medicine Unit. The collaboration will nominate pilot projects that focus on challenges associated with extreme isolation, which have applications in long-duration space travel to the Moon and Mars.

“Our international collaboration with the AAD will extract insights to benefit all future astronauts, as well as other explorers of extreme environments,” said Dr. Dorit Donoviel, associate professor in the Center for Space Medicine at Baylor and TRISH executive director. “This agreement marks the beginning of yet another exciting venture into space health research for TRISH, and we look forward to collaborating with the AAD to advance our shared goal of promoting safe human exploration.”

In March, TRISH also announced an international agreement with the Korea National Institute of Health. The two organizations plan to collaborate on research related to mental health issues due to space travel, the challenges of food supply in deep space, the negative effects of space radiation and en-suite medical care for long-duration space travel.

TRISH is also slated to launch nine experiments on board SpaceX's Polaris Dawn mission, which is now expected to launch no earlier than 2024. The research aboard Polaris Dawn is intended to complement research supported by TRISH on the Inspiration4 all-civilian mission to orbit.
Emmanuel Urquieta, chief medical officer of TRISH, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston innovator on the importance of commercial missions for the future of space health research

HOUSTON INNOVATORS PODCAST EPISODE 189

With the rise of commercial space flight, researchers have increased access to space health data that's key to the future of the industry as a whole. The organization that's conducting this valuable research is based right in Houston's Texas Medical Center.

TRISH, or the Translational Research Institute for Space Health, is an organization based out of Baylor College of Medicine and partnered with NASA's Human Spaceflight group. As commercial space companies have emerged, TRISH has strategically aligned with these businesses to bring back health data from the civilian trips.

“Most of the research that’s done at NASA and other government agencies usually takes decades to get something that could be implemented in space or terrestrially," Dr. Emmanuel Urquieta, chief medical officer for TRISH, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "What we do at TRISH is something different.

"On the one hand, we look at really new technologies that are just an idea, but could be really game changing," he continues. "Then on the other hand, we look at technologies already in the market that could be tweaked to work in spaceflight.”

Since 2021, TRISH has conducted its research on four missions — Inspiration4, the first all-civilian mission to space; Axiom Mission 1, the first all civilian mission to the International Space Station; MS20, which flew two Japanese civilians to ISS; and, most recently, Axiom Mission 2, which included the first all-private crew commanded by a woman and two members of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia's national astronaut program.

“We really saw the value of implementing research in civilians because they are different from your traditional government astronaut,” Urquieta says. “In civilians, you see a more diverse population.”

Urquieta says TRISH's experiments on these missions all fall within a few pillars of space health, including space's effects on sensory motor skills, like balance and motion sickness, as well as mental health, environmental data from the vehicles, vital monitoring, and more.

“We’ve developed a capability to collect high-priority, high-value data from these space flight participants without having to train them for long periods of time — which is a challenge, because they don’t train for years like traditional astronauts,” he explains.

The plan, Urquieta says, is to be able to share TRISH's space health data in order to more safely send humans into space. He shares more about TRISH's program and the challenges the organization faces on the show. Listen to the interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.

Ad Placement 300x100
Ad Placement 300x600

CultureMap Emails are Awesome

Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

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 the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.