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

A professor at the University of Houston 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 Nuri Firat Ince, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at UH. The grant will 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.

Ince plans to use those HFOs to help control seizures. But he first must determine whether the HFOs can be detected with an implantable closed-loop device, enabling delivery of electrical stimulation that can control seizures. The device is called a brain interchange system. A closed-loop system supplies stimulation only when it detects the onset of a seizure.

Ince's neurotechnology partner, Cortec GMBH of Freiburg, Germany, is supplying the brain interchange system. Houston's Baylor College of Medicine eventually will be the site where medical professionals implant the device in pediatric and adult epilepsy patients.

"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 in a UH news release.

Research published recently in the journal AJOB Neuroscience found that a closed-loop brain implant being used to treat refractory epilepsy does not alter patients' personalities or self-perception.

Nuri Firat Ince associate professor of biomedical engineering. Photo via uh.edu

"Next-generation brain stimulation devices can modulate brain activity without human intervention, which raises new ethical and policy questions," lead author Tobias Haeusermann of the University of California, San Francisco, says in a news release. "But while there is a great deal of speculation about the potential consequences of these innovative treatments, very little is currently known about patients' experiences of any device approved for clinical use."

The study, however, found no evidence that the device Haeusermann and his colleagues studied had changed patients' personalities or self-perception.

Haeusermann and his fellow researchers based their study on a closed-loop device that's currently available. In 2013, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved this brain stimulation system for treatment of refractory epilepsy. It's the first clinically approved and commercially available closed-loop brain stimulation device for epilepsy patients. Refractory epilepsy occurs when medication no longer controls seizures.

According to a research article published in 2018, epilepsy ranks among the most common neurological disorders, affecting about 1% of the global population. For patients who suffer seizures that cannot be treated with drugs, a frequent treatment is surgical removal of the SOZ.

In this country, about 3 million adults and 470,000 children have epilepsy, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including nearly 293,000 Texans. In the U.S., epilepsy is the fourth most common neurological disorder, preceded by migraine, stroke and Alzheimer's disease, the Epilepsy Foundation of Michigan says.

About 150,000 Americans are diagnosed each year with epilepsy.

Epilepsy is prevalent among people with autism, cerebral palsy, Down syndrome, and intellectual disabilities.

About 30 types of seizure occur among the more than 60 types of epilepsy, the Michigan foundation says. A seizure briefly disturbs electrical activity in the braining, causing temporary changes in movement, awareness, feelings, behavior, and other bodily functions.

Daily medication is the standard treatment for epilepsy, according to the Michigan foundation. Still, 30 percent to 40 percent of people with epilepsy continue to experience seizures.

Each year, U.S. health care costs associated with epilepsy add up to roughly $28 billion, according to the American Journal of Managed Care.

"Most people with epilepsy are able to lead productive and fulfilling lives, but for many, epilepsy can be a devastating condition," the foundation says.

The grant program will fund and support diverse business owners. Pexels

Houston-based digital business resource launches minority-focused, celebrity-backed grant program

in the minority

A Houston-based startup that provides digital resources for entrepreneurs has introduced a new initiative to support minority-owned businesses — and the program has attracted some celebrity support.

Hello Alice has launched Business for All, which will provide funding and mentorship to small business owners. According to a news release, half of new businesses have a minority founder and these startups have only received 2 percent of annual venture capital.

"As entrepreneurs ourselves, my co-founder Elizabeth Gore and I know how valuable it is to have a network of people and resources in your corner when trying to turn a small business dream into reality," says founder and CEO of Hello Alice, Carolyn Rodz, in the release. "All businesses start small, and through Business for All, we will provide 100,000 owners with the opportunity to receive grants and mentorship through Hello Alice."

Business For All will distribute up to $200,000 in grants sized between $10,000 and $50,000. The startups will be selected through a nomination process and will focus on founders who are women, people of color, LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs, military affiliated business owners, and entrepreneurs with disabilities, according to the release.

Support for the program has come in the way of volunteer mentorship from celebs by the likes of Kristen Bell, Jean Case, Rebecca Minkoff, Phyllis Newhouse, Gwyneth Paltrow, Lisa Price, Zaw Thet, and more.

"I believe we should give every small business owner the tools they need to succeed. Business for All provides a combined voice, grants and mentorship to ensure success for every entrepreneur no matter their background," says Kristen Bell, entrepreneur, actress, and advocate, in the release.

Those entrepreneurs selected to receive grants will be invited to the inaugural Business for All Summit in fall 2020 for networking, mentorship, and business-focused programing.

Urban Harvest is introducing a new location and a new program that accepts government assistance. Erik Scheel/Pexels

Houston nonprofit grows to provide more resources to underserved communities in Houston

Innovating food deserts

For some Houstonians, fresh foods are far away and too expensive to incorporate into their diets regularly. A Houston organization is looking to change that.

Urban Harvest, a 25-year-old nonprofit focused on bringing fresh produce and education to underserved communities, received a $347,000 grant from the Rebuild Texas Fund earlier this year to expand their services across town. The expansion also means a new community farmers market in northeast Houston that opens on Saturday, August 17, at Kashmere Gardens Elementary School (4901 Lockwood Drive).

The farmers market was created to serve a food desert continuing to recover from Hurricane Harvey, according to a news release. Urban Harvest is partnering with Northeast Houston Redevelopment Council and Common Market to create and run the market.

The new market will accept Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, benefits, which offer nutrition assistance to over 637,000 low-income individuals in Harris County. With the addition of the Double Up Houston program, which launched in April 2019, SNAP shoppers receive a dollar-for-dollar match, up to $20 per day, that they will be able to use to purchase fresh produce. In total, there are 13 farm stands across Houston that can access the Double Up SNAP incentive.

"Double Up is new to Houston, this is the first time we have had a Double Up kind of program here in the metroplex, ever," says Janna Roberson, executive director of Urban Harvest. "It is something that is very common in a lot of states."

Fair Food Network, based in Michigan, assists in working the Double Up program in 22 states across the country, including their partnership with Urban Harvest in Texas. "It gives people the opportunity to be able to purchase fruits and vegetables, which are very expensive," said Roberson.

"Last fall we received a grant with a large group of partners for Double Up Houston," Roberson tells InnovationMap. The grant was gifted by Rebuild Texas, a fund created by the Austin-based Michael & Susan Dell Foundation after Harvey.

"Initially, they did not do a lot of funding in Houston because we have a lot of resources here in our city, so their primary task was to fund in other places that had been hit by Hurricane Harvey that didn't have that foundation," adds Roberson. "They were really interested in areas of Houston that had been hit by Harvey and impacted, and how those places related to food and food access."

Urban Harvest, founded in 1994, is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization providing community garden programming, farmers markets, gardening classes, and youth education. The farmers markets, launched in 2014, bring in farmers and producers from within 180 miles of Houston, offering the freshest, local produce and meats available. The organization has a staff of 11 and is located in east downtown Houston.

"There is programming also going at these markets where we are working with the University of Houston and the Houston Food Bank's nutrition office to have people come out to the markets and actually prep fresh produce to be able to show people, with very simple recipes, what you can do with the extra vegetables that you are purchasing," says Roberson.

In the past year, Urban Harvest has been working to strategically grow in the greater Houston area. In September of last year, the organization's main farmers market moved to its current location at 2752 Buffalo Speedway, tripling in size.

"We moved the market and expanded it, presenting some 72 vendors at the market location," Roberson tells InnovationMap. The Buffalo Speedway market operates 52 weeks a year every Saturday from 8 a.m. to noon.

Urban Harvest has over a dozen spots where it has weekly farmers markets around town. Courtesy of Urban Harvest

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Houston SaaS startup raises $10M to keep up with customer growth

money moves

A Houston software company has announced its latest funding.

Liongard, an IT software provider, has raised an additional $10 million led by Updata Partners with contribution from TDF Ventures — both existing investors in the company. The funding, according to a news release, will go toward providing the best customer service for Liongard's growing customer base.

The technology is providing managed service providers, or MSPs, improved visibility across the IT stack and an optimized user experience.

“Since working with our first MSP partners, we’ve seen time and again the power of visibility into IT data, reducing the time they spend researching customer issues and allowing them to respond faster than their peers,” says Joe Alapat, CEO and co-founder of Liongard, in the release. “This investment enables us to continue to achieve our vision of delivering visibility into each element of the IT stack.”

The company has about 2,000 partners in support of more than 60,000 end customers. And has been recognized as a top employer by Forbes and Inc. magazine earlier this year.

“We are excited to deepen our commitment with Liongard,“ says Carter Griffin, general partner at Updata, in the release. “With its leading data platform for MSPs we expect continued fast-paced growth.”

Liongard's last funding round was in May of 2020 and was a $17 million series B round. Both Updata Partners and TDF ventures were involved in that round. The company's total funding now sits at over $30 million.

Rice University rises to No. 1 spot in new ranking of best college investments

money moves

By one measure, earning a degree at Rice University is the smartest move in the Lone Star State.

In its eighth annual ranking of colleges and university that give students the best return on their educational investment, personal finance website SmartAsset places Rice at No. 1 in Texas and No. 10 in the U.S. It’s the only Texas school to break into the national top 10.

To determine the best-value colleges and universities in each state, SmartAsset crunched data in these categories: scholarships and grants, starting salary for new graduates, tuition, living costs, and retention rate.

While the tuition ($47,350) and student living costs ($17,800) at Rice are the highest among the top 10 Texas schools on the list, the average amount of scholarships and grants ($43,615), average starting salary ($77,900), and retention rate (97 percent) also are among the highest.

According to Rice, tuition, fees, on-campus room and board, books, and personal expenses for the 2022-23 academic year add up to $74,110. That figure, which excludes financial aid, applies to a full-time, degree-seeking student living on campus.

“Rice University is consistently ranked as a best value in higher education and is one of America’s leading teaching and research universities,” the school’s Office of Financial Aid says. “By attending Rice, you will not only receive a superior education at a reasonable cost, you also will benefit from having a Rice degree long after graduation.”

Three other schools in or near the Houston metro area appear on SmartAsset’s list of the biggest-bang-for-your-buck schools in Texas:

  • Prairie View A&M University, No. 4. The university posted the lowest retention rate (74 percent) among the 10 schools. The remaining figures sit roughly in the middle of the pack.
  • University of Houston, No. 5. The university’s tuition ($8,913) was the lowest in the top 10, as was the average amount of scholarships and grants ($6,544).
  • Texas A&M University-College Station, No. 6. The university’s living costs are the second highest among the top 10 ($17,636), while its average starting salary for new grads lands at No. 3 ($64,400).

Other schools in the state’s top 10 are:

  • University of Texas at Austin, No. 2.
  • University of Texas at Dallas (Richardson), No. 3.
  • Texas Tech University in Lubbock, No. 7.
  • LeTourneau University in Longview, No. 8.
  • University of North Texas in Denton, No. 9.
  • Texas State University in San Marcos, No. 10.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston expert addresses the growing labor shortage within health care

guest column

Long before COVID-19 became a part of our new normal, the concerns around shortages in health care staffing were present.

To put this in real terms, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the latest projection of employment through the end of this decade is an increase of nearly 12 million jobs. A fourth of those — 3.3 million to be exact — are expected to go towards health care and social assistance roles.

Before the pandemic, the concerns centered around managing a growing retired population and a slowing in higher education nurse enrollment. Then amid the growing shortage concerns surrounding the support for aging baby boomers, we were all thrusted into a pandemic.

The stressors on health care professional staffing have doubled down and what the increased shortage has shown us is the need to intervene and change the traditional hiring practices. Speed to place a nurse on assignment doesn’t just ensure productivity — it is a matter of life or death.

Over the past several years, the evolution of technology has drastically changed how health care facilities operate and interact with their employees as well as patients. There was a point in time where the structure in health care staffing was rigid without flexibility or varieties of employment type. Conversations around travel positions, per diem, and permanent are all now commonplace as the recent shortages caused us to normalize the discussion around role type and use of technology to influence speed to hire.

This whole evolution was put to test when April 2020 came, and the initial brunt of the pandemic was in full swing. The entire world was in panic mode. During these quarantine times, we were in a state of a health care emergency with thousands of patients seeking health care. Unfortunately, hospitals could not keep up with this demand with their existing nurse professionals, and became severely overloaded and dangerous. Due to this the United States saw unprecedented labor shortages, impacting a large number of nurses and health care workers as it pertains to both their physical and mental health.

What we are seeing now is a period classified as the “The Great Rethinking,” where nurses and health care workers alike are speaking up for what they believe in and deserve. Salary transparency and flexibility are just the tip of the iceberg for this movement.

SkillGigs is unique in that we are giving the power back to registered nurses and health care professionals, while meeting the demand created by the pandemic. Our team has been fortunate to be a catalyst to direct the change in the future of work, and we look forward to continuing to innovate.

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Bryan Groom is the division president of health care at Houston-based SkillGigs.