Here's some advice for going green in the lab. Graphic byMiguel Tovar/University of Houston

Trying to make your lab greener? Here are some practical examples of how to reduce your lab's carbon footprint and increase sustainability. Since China stopped accepting certain types of plastic waste from the United States and Europe in 2017, the need to dispose of hundreds of single-use plastic vials and other materials (per researcher, each year!) has created an avalanche of waste.

The "single use" problem

COVID-19 has led to even more single-use plastics in labs – and in our everyday lives. The sheer number of gloves, testing kits and even masks we throw away is incredible. "The majority of masks are manufactured from long-lasting plastic materials, and if discarded can persist in the environment for decades to hundreds of years," wrote authors from the University of Portsmouth at the Conversation.com.

Reduce, reuse, recycle

Labs are full of other single-use plastics such as pipette tips, weighing boats, tubes, flasks, reagent bottles, cuvettes, and more. 'Reduce, reuse and recycle' is a fine mantra, but how do researchers cut down on plastics when the sterility of equipment is a concern?

According to the UK's Chemical and Engineering News magazine, "Different users have optimized washing protocols to get pipette tips clean enough for different lab techniques, including mass spectrometry or toxicology and immunology assays.

Earlier this year, for example, researchers at the National Institutes of Health's National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences found their washed pipettes gave the same results as new tips for preparing small-interfering-RNA screening libraries." Customers of Grenova, a lab equipment firm, have reported that some tips can reused 25-40 times.

Baby it's cold

In Nature, Jyoti Madhusoodanan wrote: "Scientists are increasingly aware of the disproportionate environmental footprint of their research. Academic research facilities consume three to six times as much energy as commercial buildings, much of that due to refrigeration and ventilation systems." The has led some third-party "green companies" employed by labs to hold entire conferences around ultra-low temperature freezers. In a feature advertisement in Nature Portfolio, a statistic read: "An average Ultra-Low Temperature freezer consumes as much energy as a single-family home (~20 kWh/day)."

Help for scientists

There are non-profits that will help you mitigate the amount of waste produced by your lab. One of these, My Green Lab, said on its website: "Run 'for scientists, by scientists,' we leverage our credibility and track record to develop standards, oversee their implementation, and inspire the many behavioral changes that are needed throughout the scientific community."

And it offers a free training course for "ambassadors" – those who would like to guide their lab toward sustainable practices.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea. Sarah Hill, the author of this piece, is the communications manager for the UH Division of Research.

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Houston startup with unique vascular innovation enrolls subjects in new trial

medical device momentum

A Houston-based company has enrolled the initial subjects in a first-of-its-kind trial.

VenoStent was created to improve vascular surgery outcomes for patients undergoing arteriovenous fistula (AVF) creation surgery.

“When a vein is connected to an artery, as in AVF creation, the vein experiences a 10x increase in pressure and flow that is traumatizing to veins. Many fail to become usable for dialysis,” Geoffrey Lucks, VenoStent COO and co-founder, says in a news release.

Enter VenoStent’s SelfWrap Bioabsorbable Perivascular Wrap, better known as simply SelfWrap. In May 2023, SelfWrap gained FDA approval to begin its US IDE Study, SAVE-FistulaS: The SelfWrap-Assisted ArterioVEnous Fistula Study.

Roughly half a million Americans need hemodialysis just to survive another day. Nearly all of those patients require a vascular access creation surgery, but the procedure has a 50-percent failure rate in its first year. VenoStent and SelfWrap are aimed at improving those odds. It works by using the body’s own healing mechanism.

SelfWrap is a flexible, bioabsorbable vascular wrap that helps to recreate the arterial environment in veins. Over time, the body replaces the SelfWrap with venous tissue.

The company has begun to enroll patients for what will eventually be a 200-subject study. Some of those people have radiocephalic fistulas, others have brachiocephalic ones. This is important, because it will likely prove that the technology works for most types of AVFs. The sites for this clinical trial are at the Surgical Specialists of Charlotte, P.A. in Charlotte, NC, and the Cardiothoracic and Vascular Surgeons in Austin.

“While it’s ambitious and sets a high bar for FDA Approval, we owe it to the chronic kidney disease (CKD) patient community to provide the highest level of clinical evidence,” Timothy Boire, CEO and cofounder, says in the release. “We’re confident based on years of preclinical and clinical data that we’ll demonstrate superiority to standard of care with this breakthrough technology.”

VenoStent recently completed a $16 million Series A, financed by Good Growth Capital and IAG Capital. This is the first-ever randomized controlled trial of a medical device designed to improve outcomes from arteriovenous fistula (AVF) creation surgery in the United States.

Explore the eco-friendly commuting app that's driving change at Houston area employers

Going My Way?

The Texas Department of Transportation’s Houston-based mobile app called ConnectSmart is on a mission to make the region more connected and less congested. With its ability to generate personalized travel recommendations and provide exclusive access to unique transportation tools, information and services, the app has been instrumental in helping many Houstonians experience a less stressful ride throughout the city.

While the app has already helped tens of thousands of Houstonians improve their daily travel, the program’s latest addition — the ConnectSmart Employer Commute Suite — is aimed at helping Houston-area employers increase their staff’s access to affordable and sustainable mobility options to and from work.

“As more residents throughout the Houston-Galveston region become familiar with the Houston ConnectSmart app, we encourage area employers to embrace and consider incorporating it into their commuter programs,” says Jamila Owens, travel demand manager for the Houston Galveston Area Council. “Whether a commuter is looking for the perfect transit route or coworkers for a carpool, this is one way the business community can play a significant role in improving the regional commute and greatly increase their staff’s commute options.”

The Employer Commute Suite supports businesses seeking to manage, measure, and report on the impact of commuting programs on their Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) and decarbonization initiatives. The best part is that it is entirely adaptable to any company's unique culture and structure. Whether it be carpooling, utilizing public transit, or working from home, the Employer Commute Suite offers an array of commuting options from which to choose.

As an employer, you can engage your employees in your ESG initiatives and help transform their daily commutes into a more eco-friendly and cost-effective experience by becoming a Houston ConnectSmart Partner.

The app’s state-of-the-art employer carpooling feature is designed to match employees with colleagues traveling in the same direction, reducing vehicle expenses, toll costs, and fuel consumption. The carpool trips are then recorded for reporting purposes.

Employer Partners have access to the Commute Suite dashboard that is designed specifically to help companies monitor their commuting programs, including carpool matches and trips, and calculate total reduction of CO2 emissions from carpooling, biking, riding transit , and telework, for their entire team.

But that’s not all — being an Employer Partner means contributing to the reduction of traffic congestion in the Houston area.

“We specifically developed the app to help individuals from across the Greater Houston region improve their daily travel,” says ConnectSmart’s Program Manager Brenda Bustillos. “We’ve worked closely with H-GAC and local employers alike to design a program and one-stop mobility app that increases employees’ travel options to work while reducing the cost and stress of daily commuting. By helping employers achieve their corporate goals, we can simultaneously reach our objectives of improving the Greater Houston region’s air quality, decrease congestion, and ultimately improve safety on these same roadways.”

The ConnectSmart Employer Commute Suite is a valuable resource in helping businesses transition toward a more sustainable future.

Become an Employer Partner today and see how the ConnectSmart Employer Commute Suite can help your organization and support your ESG goals.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every Monday, I'm introducing you to three Houston innovators to know — three individuals behind recent innovation and startup news stories in Houston as reported by InnovationMap. Learn more about them and their recent news below by clicking on each article.

Atul Varadhachary, managing director of Fannin Innovation

Atul Varadhachary of Fannin joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

Commercializing a life science innovation that has the potential to enhance or even save the lives of millions of patients is a marathon, not a sprint. That's how Atul Varadhachary thinks of it, and he's leading an organization that's actively running that race for several different early-stage innovations.

For over a decade, Fannin has worked diligently to develop promising life science innovations — that start as just an idea or research subject — by garnering grant funding and using its team of expert product developers to build out the technology or treatment. The model is different from what you'd see at an accelerator or incubator, and it also varies from the path taken by an academic or research institution.

The life science innovation timeline is very different from a software startup's, which can get to an early prototype in less than a year.

"In biotech, to get to that minimally viable product, it can take a decade and tens of millions of dollars," Varadhachary, managing director at Fannin, says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. Read more.

Natasha Gorodetsky, founder and CEO of Product Pursuits

A product management expert shares how artificial intelligence is affecting the process for the tech and startup worlds. Photo via LinkedIn

For over a year, the tech and business community has been obsessing over artificial intelligence. As Natasha Gorodetsky, the Houston-based founder and CEO of Product Pursuits, writes in a guest column about how the product management community is not an exception.

"Product managers — as well as startup founders leading a product function — more than any other role, face a challenge of bringing new life-changing products to market that may or may not be received well by their users," she writes. "A product manager’s goal is complex — bring value, stay ahead of the competition, be innovative. Yet, the "behind the scenes" grind requires endless decision making and trade offs to inspire stakeholders to move forward and deliver."

She continues in her article to outline the trends of AI for product management. Read more.

Jay Hartenbach, COO of Diakonos Oncology

A Houston company with a promising immuno-oncology is one step closer to delivering its cancer-fighting drug to patients who need it. Photo via Diakonos

Diakonos Oncology has recently made major headway with the FDA, including both a fast track and an orphan drug designation. It will soon start a phase 2 trial of its promising cancer fighting innovation.

The therapy catalyzes a natural immune response, it’s the patient’s own body that’s fighting the cancer. Hartenbach credits Decker with the idea of educating dendritic cells to attack cancer, in this case, glioblastoma multiforme (GBM), one of the most aggressive cancers with which doctors and patients are forced to tangle.

“Our bodies are already very good at responding very quickly and aggressively to what it perceives as virally infected cells. And so what Dr. Decker did was basically trick the immune system by infecting these dendritic cells with the cancer specific protein and mRNA,” details COO Jay Hartenbach. Read more.