Elaine Finger's donation will go toward an endowed chair to advance education, research and innovation in business and health care at the University of Houston. Photo via uh.edu

A Houston philanthropist made a $2 million gift to the University of Houston to advance health care business innovation

Elaine Finger's donation will go toward an endowed chair to advance education, research and innovation in business and health care at the University of Houston. The Elaine W. Finger Endowed Chair in Health Care Business Innovation is a joint appointment in the C.T. Bauer College of Business and the Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine. The project will aim to catalyze innovative advancements to help the university into a leading hub for innovative solutions.

The endowment was made through the Bauer Foundation, and will be matched dollar-for-dollar via UH’s Aspire Fund. The Aspire Fund is a grant program created by the gift of an anonymous donor that matches all eligible gifts up to $50 million — for a total of $100 million — and is aimed to assist in education, health care innovation research, and industry outreach.

“An investment in health care business innovation is far more than a gift, it is a visionary commitment to the future of healthcare in Houston and beyond,” Diane Z. Chase, UH senior vice president for academic affairs and provost, says in a news release. “The establishment of this Chair is a testament to our shared dedication to developing solutions that will shape the health care landscape for generations to come.”

Bauer College launched the Healthcare Business Institute, or HBI, this summer to address research and innovative solutions for quality, cost and access concerns. HBI also works to connect students, faculty and researchers from Bauer, the Fertitta Family College of Medicine and the highly ranked health law program at the UH Law Center, and other UH programs.

UH will search for a new chair that according to the university, “will be considered a thought leader in health care innovation" and who is of high national prominence and able to elevate the stature of the University of Houston by bringing a record of achievements recognized by membership in the National Academy of Science, National Academy of Medicine or another national academy related to the field of study.

Ravi Aron, research director and professor of health care strategy, currently leads HBI.

UH's C. T. Bauer College of Business will house the newly launched Healthcare Business Institute. Photo via Getty Images

University of Houston introduces institute to bring business solutions to health care industry

medical biz

The University of Houston announced this month that it has now launched its new Healthcare Business Institute, which will work with medical and business leaders as well as students to find solutions to pressing issues in the health care industry, such as high costs, access to care and new innovative technologies.

The institute will be part of the university's C. T. Bauer College of Business and led by Ravi Aron, research director and professor of health care strategy and technology in the Bauer College Department of Decision & Information Sciences, and Dr. Edward Kroger, the administrative director of the center.

“Providers are facing increasingly limited reimbursement from the U.S. government, insurers and employers. The industry is, therefore, struggling with finding new ways to increase value by improving quality and decreasing cost,” Aron says in a statement. “This is complicated by the fact that the industry is the most heavily regulated in the country. While policy, regulations and the government all have roles to play, efficient care delivery also requires businesses–small, medium, large and startups-to play a significant role in delivering effective and efficient care.”

The institute plans to bring together stakeholders from device makers and pharmaceutical companies to angel investors and educators to address many of these issues. Faculty and partners will release impactful research on topics such as hospital operations, new health care technologies, AI and machine learning in hospital contexts, emerging financial models in health care and a number of other topics.

Research will be shared in a new practitioner-facing Knowledge Portal that will feature a journal, editorials, and other media components like blogs, videos and audio.

The HBI will also have an educational component, with formal degree-based and shorter non-degree tracts, as well as a masters program related to health care leadership. Multiple executive education programs are also in the works.

“This unique combination of researchers, educationists and students will also benefit by connecting to perhaps the world’s most diversified health care ecosystem,” Aron says in the statement.

And Houston is the right place to house such an institute, says Bauer College Dean and Cullen Distinguished Chair Professor Paul A. Pavlou.

“Technology, data, and AI are enabling unprecedented advances in medicine, and Houston’s impressive health care network presents an exciting opportunity for a Healthcare Business Institute,” Pavlou says in the release. “Not only is Houston home to the Texas Medical Center, UH is the only university in Houston that includes a large number of health care researchers at the Bauer College of Business, a world-ranked health law program at the UH Law Center, a computer science department with many distinguished research faculty, and a new College of Medicine."

“The opportunity for meaningful collaboration among health care researchers, industry leaders, and students through HBI will be a tremendous asset for Houston with the potential for local, national and global impact,” he continues.

Earlier this summer, UH announced plans to open a 70,000-square-foot innovation hub next to the M.D. Anderson Library on UH's main campus in 2025. It's slated to house a makerspace, the Cyvia and Melvyn Wolff Center for Entrepreneurship, the Energy Transition Institute, innovation programs, and Presidential Frontier Faculty labs and offices.
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Houston researchers create AI model to tap into how brain activity relates to illness

brainiac

Houston researchers are part of a team that has created an AI model intended to understand how brain activity relates to behavior and illness.

Scientists from Baylor College of Medicine worked with peers from Yale University, University of Southern California and Idaho State University to make Brain Language Model, or BrainLM. Their research was published as a conference paper at ICLR 2024, a meeting of some of deep learning’s greatest minds.

“For a long time we’ve known that brain activity is related to a person’s behavior and to a lot of illnesses like seizures or Parkinson’s,” Dr. Chadi Abdallah, associate professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor and co-corresponding author of the paper, says in a press release. “Functional brain imaging or functional MRIs allow us to look at brain activity throughout the brain, but we previously couldn’t fully capture the dynamic of these activities in time and space using traditional data analytical tools.

"More recently, people started using machine learning to capture the brain complexity and how it relates it to specific illnesses, but that turned out to require enrolling and fully examining thousands of patients with a particular behavior or illness, a very expensive process,” Abdallah continues.

Using 80,000 brain scans, the team was able to train their model to figure out how brain activities related to one another. Over time, this created the BrainLM brain activity foundational model. BrainLM is now well-trained enough to use to fine-tune a specific task and to ask questions in other studies.

Abdallah said that using BrainLM will cut costs significantly for scientists developing treatments for brain disorders. In clinical trials, it can cost “hundreds of millions of dollars,” he said, to enroll numerous patients and treat them over a significant time period. By using BrainLM, researchers can enroll half the subjects because the AI can select the individuals most likely to benefit.

The team found that BrainLM performed successfully in many different samples. That included predicting depression, anxiety and PTSD severity better than other machine learning tools that do not use generative AI.

“We found that BrainLM is performing very well. It is predicting brain activity in a new sample that was hidden from it during the training as well as doing well with data from new scanners and new population,” Abdallah says. “These impressive results were achieved with scans from 40,000 subjects. We are now working on considerably increasing the training dataset. The stronger the model we can build, the more we can do to assist with patient care, such as developing new treatment for mental illnesses or guiding neurosurgery for seizures or DBS.”

For those suffering from neurological and mental health disorders, BrainLM could be a key to unlocking treatments that will make a life-changing difference.

Houston-based cleantech unicorn named among annual top disruptors

on the rise

Houston-based biotech startup Solugen is making waves among innovative companies.

Solugen appears at No. 36 on CNBC’s annual Disruptor 50 list, which highlights private companies that are “upending the classic definition of disruption.” Privately owned startups founded after January 1, 2009, were eligible for the Disruptor 50 list.

Founded in 2016, Solugen replaces petroleum-based products with plant-derived substitutes through its Bioforge manufacturing platform. For example, it uses engineered enzymes and metal catalysts to convert feedstocks like sugar into chemicals that have traditionally been made from fossil fuels, such as petroleum and natural gas.

Solugen has raised $643 million in funding and now boasts a valuation of $2.2 billion.

“Sparked by a chance medical school poker game conversation in 2016, Solugen evolved from prototype to physical asset in five years, and production hit commercial scale shortly thereafter,” says CNBC.

Solugen co-founders Gaurab Chakrabarti and Sean Hunt received the Entrepreneur of The Year 2023 National Award, presented by professional services giant EY.

“Solugen is a textbook startup launched by two partners with $10,000 in seed money that is revolutionizing the chemical refining industry. The innovation-driven company is tackling impactful, life-changing issues important to the planet,” Entrepreneur of The Year judges wrote.

In April 2024, Solugen broke ground on a Bioforge biomanufacturing plant in Marshall, Minnesota. The 500,000-square-foot, 34-acre facility arose through a Solugen partnership with ADM. Chicago-based ADM produces agricultural products, commodities, and ingredients. The plant is expected to open in the fall of 2025.

“Solugen’s … technology is a transformative force in sustainable chemical manufacturing,” says Hunt. “The new facility will significantly increase our existing capabilities, enabling us to expand the market share of low-carbon chemistries.”

Houston cleantech company tests ​all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology

RESULTS ARE IN

Houston-based clean energy company Syzygy Plasmonics has successfully tested all-electric CO2-to-fuel production technology at RTI International’s facility at North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park.

Syzygy says the technology can significantly decarbonize transportation by converting two potent greenhouse gases, carbon dioxide and methane, into low-carbon jet fuel, diesel, and gasoline.

Equinor Ventures and Sumitomo Corp. of Americas sponsored the pilot project.

“This project showcases our ability to fight climate change by converting harmful greenhouse gases into fuel,” Trevor Best, CEO of Syzygy, says in a news release.

“At scale,” he adds, “we’re talking about significantly reducing and potentially eliminating the carbon intensity of shipping, trucking, and aviation. This is a major step toward quickly and cost effectively cutting emissions from the heavy-duty transport sector.”

At commercial scale, a typical Syzygy plant will consume nearly 200,000 tons of CO2 per year, the equivalent of taking 45,000 cars off the road.

“The results of this demonstration are encouraging and represent an important milestone in our collaboration with Syzygy,” says Sameer Parvathikar, director of renewable energy and energy storage at RTI.

In addition to the CO2-to-fuel demonstration, Syzygy's Ammonia e-Cracking™ technology has completed over 2,000 hours of performance and optimization testing at its plant in Houston. Syzygy is finalizing a site and partners for a commercial CO2-to-fuel plant.

Syzygy is working to decarbonize the chemical industry, responsible for almost 20 percent of industrial CO2 emissions, by using light instead of combustion to drive chemical reactions.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.