Created through the Rice Biotech Launch Pad, Motif Neurotech is focused on developing minimally invasive bioelectronics for the treatment of psychiatric conditions. Photo via motifneuro.tech

A new tool in the fight against treatment-resistant depression could be on the horizon thanks to a Rice University professor.

Jacob Robinson, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and of bioengineering is also co-founder and CEO of Motif Neurotech. Created through the Rice Biotech Launch Pad, Motif Neurotech is focused on developing minimally invasive bioelectronics for the treatment of psychiatric conditions. The company closed its series A round with an oversubscribed $18.75 million earlier this year.

This week, Rice University announced that Robinson has published a peer-reviewed study in Science Advances describing his wireless device called the Digitally programmable Over-brain Therapeutic (DOT). The epidural cortical stimulator is 9 millimeters in width, meaning that it’s easily implantable but is powerful enough to send electrical stimulation to the brain through the dura, the membrane that protects the brain and spinal cord.

“It overcomes challenges by using a battery-free and wireless approach to create an implant that can deliver precise and programmable stimulation to the brain, without brain surgery,” Robinson explained in a press release.

Jacob Robinson, a professor of electrical and computer engineering and of bioengineering, is also co-founder and CEO of Motif Neurotech. Photo via motifneuro.tech

The DOT stimulator is intended to send electrical charges meant to provide neuromodulation for mental health woes including not just depression, but also obsessive compulsive disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder. The treatment could be an alternative to transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS), a technique that has increased in popularity in recent years.

TMS uses pulsed magnetic fields to stimulate the brain. A typical TMS course includes 36 total treatments and can cause headaches. The DOT stimulator can enact the same timing patterns used in TMS, such as the intermittent theta burst stimulation (iTBS) paradigm, which has been noted to improve mood in patients, but can be achieved at home with far greater ease. Implantation takes just 20 minutes.

So far, the DOT stimulator has been implanted in both a human and a pig. In the pig, researchers noted that the electrical stimulation did not cause any damage to the brain or dura. Just as importantly, it showed stable performance for 30 days in inducing motor responses, meaning it can operate on a longer-term basis.

Motif Neurotech was founded along with Kaiyuan Yang and physicians Sunil Sheth and Sameer Sheth. The Rice Biotech Launchpad brings together local researchers like Robinson and his team with a network of industry executives. With their manuscript, entitled “Miniature battery-free epidural cortical stimulators” freshly published on the Science Advances website, big things could be coming for the bioelectronics company and for sufferers of treatment-resistant depression.

Rice team demonstrates miniature brain stimulator in humanswww.youtube.com

A Houston-founded company is targeting mothers and daughters with their teletherapy app. Photo courtesy of Passport Journeys

Houston startup addresses mother-daughter dynamic with first app of its kind

When Lacey Tezino’s mother died of cancer she vowed to help other mothers and daughters find their own ways to bond in beautiful, nurturing ways.

Tezino turned that vow into a mission that is now available for others to embark on with an online therapy app tailored specifically for the mother-daughter dynamic Passport Journeys.

The Houston-based company is billed as the first mother-daughter teletherapy application that stands out in a crowded market place on online therapy like Better Help. Tezino, the founder and CEO, partnered with seven Houston-based licensed behavioral health clinics to make the dream a reality.

The app, which launched aptly on Mother's Day, can be downloaded via Apple or Google Play, and includes video therapy sessions, journal opportunities, interactive worksheets, and help those who need access to this form of mental health help with ease.

“Outside of our target audience being mother-daughter, we are also the first teletherapy app to find prescribed activities,“ Tezino tells InnovationMap. “We are the first ones that are actually having the therapist in between their video sessions assign the mother-daughter pair intentional bonding activities. It is meant for them to spend quality time on where they are at in their relationship…there aren’t any other apps that are doing that.”

According to research from Passport Journeys, there are 85 million mothers in the United States, and the company hopes to help connect mothers and daughters in a flexible, and affordable way that differs from traditional therapy settings in a time where mental health is a priority for many.

“For your mental health in general, having these resources — there are thousands of these apps out there, but having something that is targeted therapy for your relationship is different, and the importance is your relationships ripple through your mental health,” Tezino says. “Fostering and growing this (mother-daughter) relationship is a part of mental health.”

Lacey Tezino founded Passport Journeys to provide a teletherapy platform for mothers and daughters. Photo courtesy

Boxes by Speak As One keep mental health tools feeling fresh, without overloading the user. Photo courtesy of Speak As One

New Texas-based mental health subscription box plans national launch at SXSW 2023

speak now and hold your peace

Mental health apps are so alluring, but once you’ve recorded your two-week streak and things are feeling a little more organized, it can be hard to keep going. It’s hard enough to keep up with journaling and a great bedtime routine, and many lovely self-help tools also lose their effectiveness when the novelty wears off.

A smart company might harness that novelty as its hook — and an easily distracted self-helper won’t fall off the wagon. Like many other companies in the mental health space, Speak As One will work on a subscription model, but this one won’t languish, unused on a credit card statement. The service, which plans to launch during SXSW 2023, delivers boxes of tangible mental health tools, inspiration, games, and even sensory objects that act as a monthly nudge to try something new, and curiosity takes care of the rest.

A sample box included:

  • Stress balls with short inspirational phrases by MindPanda
  • An Emotional First Aid Kit containing advice for situations as they come up, like sleeplessness and feelings of inadequacy
  • Tiny colorful putties at different resistances by Flint Rehab
  • A notebook, and two books: Athlete Mental Health Playbook and 1000 Unique Questions About Me
  • Other small items

It’s more than packing and shipping out a few toys each month. The boxes are curated with help from a licensed therapist, who leaves a personal note along with tips on how to use the items inside and additional resources. There is one type of box right now that aims to “reduce anxiety, increase mindfulness, and promote peace and balance,” but for further customization (for $10 more), the team is working on boxes tailored to first responders, veterans, athletes, and people in “recovery.”

Speak As One emphasizes community stories in its branding outside the delivery box, and uses inspiration from “influencers” (less content creators and more so people who can embody a relatable story) to build the specialty boxes. The company’s YouTube channel shares dozens of interviews with founder Julie Korioth, a former board member for Austin’s SIMS Foundation, a well-respected mental health resource for members of the local music industry.

“With hundreds of millions of people struggling with mental health, and COVID making the issue much worse, society continues to ostracize those who openly discuss mental health issues,” said Korioth in a release. “I founded this company so we can change the way the world sees, discusses, and supports mental health. Our goal is to promote empathy, connectedness, acceptance, and thoughtfulness with an innovative toolkit that caters to specific needs."

In addition to offering a nudge, these boxes could make great care packages for a loved one who is feeling introspective or going through a significant life event. It is possible to buy gift boxes, if presentation is your thing, but it’d be just as easy to repackage a box that comes before the receiver ready to appreciate the items at home.

The cost of one box is manageable at $49.99 (especially considering the retail value of products included, which the sample box far exceed), but for many subscribers this adds up fast. Luckily, there is no pressure to continue a lengthy commitment — subscriptions last between one and six months, so users have plenty of time to reconsider and sit with the items that have already been delivered.“

The goal is to meet our audience at any phase of their mental health journey,” said Korioth. “We’re creating change and a global life-long support system for children and adults dealing with mental health challenges. We simultaneously highlight businesses, the tech community, athletes, and artists doing wonderful work in this space.”

The company plans to partner with corporations to connect with employees and provide boxes to individuals the company chooses, and will turn some content into session albums with sales proceeds dedicated to mental health research.

More information and links to preorder are available at speakasone.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

MindBar founder Hailey O’Neill wanted to make sure keeping up with mental health isn't a luxury. Photo courtesy of MindBar

New Texas app makes mental health care more accessible

mental health on the mind

Much easier than finding a therapist is finding laments at the cost and accessibility of mental health care. Group therapy is more affordable, but still a pricey and intimidating commitment. Text therapy like BetterHelp costs a lot more and often feels stilted. Now, a new Texas-based platform is paving the way for another option.

Although it may not replace the need for talk therapy entirely, MindBar, which launched in Austin in July, spreads the workload of coaches and therapists across many clients, keeps things online, and ultimately sets users up at their own pace. Like MasterClass for mental health, the app reduces the barrier to entry to just $14.99 per month.

The one-way service definitely can’t listen and identify a user’s thought patterns, or recommend personalized courses of action, but it can provide a wide series of useful primers to bring into talk therapy later, augment less frequent sessions, or just facilitate some preventative care and curiosity about the mind.

“MindBar has gained considerable traction since its launch in July, and our members have enjoyed the wide range of tools to cultivate a healthy mind,” writes MindBar founder Hailey O’Neill in an email interview. “We set out to represent the idea that mental health is a right, not a luxury, and the growth we’ve already seen within our app and its members is beginning to deliver on that ambition.”

Although MindBar is not therapy, it's also not YouTube. Classes take an experience or topic — stress, grief, and self-esteem to name a few — and break it down into video modules and worksheets. Each is organized and taught by one “teacher,” whose qualifications are clearly laid out in her biography from “years of coaching,” to therapy certifications and PhDs. Instead of browsing individual videos, users join each class; it’s just a click, but it feels distinct from mental health apps that encourage tackling everything at once.

Take the “Body Image” class as an example: It contains six modules of around 15 minutes, each paired with a multi-part “worksheet" of open-ended questions and text boxes for journaling on the platform. These are then wrapped up in a friendly little print out for those who’d prefer to write. If a user decided to moderate their own experience to simulate the commitment of traditional therapy (say 50 minutes biweekly), just taking this class could fill six to twelve weeks. Compare $30 for two months of MindBar to $450 for three therapy sessions.

Since MindBar exposes a user to the theory and methods of one particular professional, further avenues open up for extra or post-curricular work. Molly Seifert teaches “Body Image.” On Seifert’s MindBar biography page, there’s a link to her website and social media. Her credentials point out her 22-episode podcast, What She Gained, adding roughly 10 hours of free content to a user’s journey, should they follow her off the platform.

There is a button to book a session — something MindBar is working on finalizing — and on Seifert’s website, she offers a more involved “Body Confidence Program” that costs $897. Most users likely will not end up signing up for a teacher’s nearly-$1,000 group therapy track. However, the opportunity is there to follow this thread from a dip of the toes to a full-blown client-provider relationship.

A 2021 report by Sapien Labs’ Mental Health Million Project 2021 found that in the United States, 37 percent of respondents who did not seek help for clinical mental health problems did so because they lacked confidence in the mental health system. Nearly as many, 34 percent, did not know what kind of help to seek. More than a quarter preferred self-help. Imagine the shift if these respondents had a self-paced, minimal commitment platform that funneled them to professionals they learned to trust.

As of August 31, 2022, there are 26 classes on MindBar. Sign up at mind-bar.com.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

NH Hospital's innovative approach to mental health is based on the patient's biochemical makeup and gene-environment interfaces. Photo courtesy of NH Hospital

Houston health center tackles mental health with customization and tech for innovative solutions

custom health care

There's no one-size-fits-all solution to medical care. NH Hospital is bringing innovative technologies and functional medicine to patients in the Houston area. Using patients' biochemical makeup, the medical provider has created a unique service for Houstonians seeking a multi-pronged approach to behavioral health and substance use disorders.

The past year has been an incubator for mental health issues. Pandemic isolation, social distancing, financial instability, racial reckonings, and a massive death toll have posed an enormous threat to the mental wellbeing of people around the world. Experts predict a long-term spike in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) cases as society grapples with the tragedies of the last year, but the toll is already here.

A recent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study found that the percentage of adults with recent symptoms of anxiety or depression increased from 36.4 to 41.5 percent between Aug. 19, 2020, and Feb. 1, 2021.

As the world waits for a moment to exhale after a catastrophic year, NH Hospital keeps busy serving patients struggling with both behavioral health and addiction during the pandemic. Outside of depression and anxiety, the facility also treats bipolar disorder, PTSD, codependency, and postpartum depression by using a multidisciplinary approach.

NH Hospital integrates traditional medicine with functional medicine with a mission of treating the root cause of an issue and not just the symptoms. From providing an on-site chef and nutritionist to stimulating patients with calming acoustic therapy, the facility blends unique treatment modalities that address the whole body rather than an isolated issue.

"With functional medicine, we find other avenues and ways to allow [patients] to heal and to change their behavior," explains Debbie Cormier, CEO of NH Hospital.

Using genetic markers as a roadmap to health

You can build the closet of Carrie Bradshaw's dreams online, buy bespoke cologne based on your body chemistry, monogram jewelry and clothing, and even get a Renaissance-style portrait of your family pet. Tailor-made options are ubiquitous; why not customize medical care?

"For years, the traditional way, we just gave people the same amount of meds, the same diets, the same everything," and wondered why some patients responded better or quicker than others, explains Cormier. For the unlucky patients who didn't get stellar results, she says doctors may have thought "they just have to deal with it" and wait. "We don't feel that you should have to just deal with it," she continues.

When treating a patient, NH Hospital doctors consider the genetic makeup of each patient to create a custom care plan. With tests as simple as a swab of the cheek, the facility can gather biochemical markers that can share valuable medical information like risk factors for diseases.

Cormier believes NH Hospital's ability to look at a patient's genetic background and "treat you as an individual," is a key factor that sets the facility apart. The hospital also focuses on understanding how your genes interact with your environment.

Think of gene-environment interactions as nature vs. nurture, an ideology that research suggests plays significant roles in the outset of mental illness. Genetic and environmental factors interact to influence phenotype, the observable characteristics you exhibit when your genotype and environment interact.

When these factors are off-balance, it can result in undesirable results. A 2001 study of Finnish twins studied the socio-geographic impact on adolescent alcohol use in urban and rural environments. While the frequency of alcohol use was the same in both settings, the factors that led adolescents to drink were entirely different. Genetic factors played a larger role in urban areas, whereas the shared environment had a greater influence in rural settings.

By applying various modalities based on genetic information, doctors aren't going in blind and "know you from the inside out," says Cormier.

When a patient comes in struggling with something as grappling as depression or anxiety, conditions they've seen an uptick in since the beginning of the pandemic, doctors will run a genetic test as well as traditional lab work. Cormier says some potential treatment paths may include photosynthesis therapy, hydration therapy and nutrition.

Dietetics meets tech

NH Hospital helps patients get micronutrient infusions, but its nutrition program provides an integrated approach to fueling the body with the help of a staff chef.

"We only have so much energy every day, and we choose how we use the energy but by getting your diet right, it starts to heal you in all kinds of ways," says Cormier.

While the physical repercussions of a poor diet like diabetes and heart disease are widely known, you may be surprised to hear that nutrition can affect mood disorders and harm brain cells. According to Harvard Health Publishing, refined sugars can lead to brain impairment, depression and oxidative stress — the free radicals produced when the body uses oxygen, which can damage cells. By focusing on a patient's nutrition, "the person has a better chance to heal, not only from the issue that is brought to us but to overall feel good," she says.

Counseling, cryotherapy, transcranial magnetic stimulation and cocoon therapy therapies are just some of the other methods NH Hospital doctors use to treat their patients.

Cormier recalls the recovery of a patient who was experiencing depression and using a wheelchair due to pain in her knees. She gradually gained the ability to walk without pain again after a months-long treatment plan of cryotherapy and micronutrient infusions.

"She said that we really changed her life because we gave her back her life. Now she's walking a mile a day around her block and she's able to do daily moving. She said she hadn't done that in years," says Cormier.

A mission to heal

Outside of neuropsychology, NH Hospital offers medical detox with monitoring from trained professionals and therapy plans for patients coming off of alcohol, methamphetamine, heroin, opioids like fentanyl and other prescription drugs.

Since the U.S. The Department of Health and Human Services declared the opioid epidemic as a public health emergency in 2017, nearly 841,000 people have died of an opioid overdose. Like anxiety and depression, addiction is also on the rise during the pandemic. A CDC survey found that 13 percent of respondents began using drugs during the pandemic or increased their use of illicit substances.

NH Hospital doctors provide micronutrients among other aides to help "build [patients] up] before taking them off the drugs, says Cormier. "We're just trying to make sure the patient feels safe and that if we're doing all these things, we continue to move them in a positive direction instead of just letting them sweat it out," she says.

"Our leadership here is committed to doing what it takes to help people whether they have behavioral, medical, or whatever [condition] brings them through our doors so that we make them have a better life," says Cormier.

There is research pointing to how COVID-19 changes the mental health status of those infected. Miguel Tovar/University of Houston

UH expert: Mental health research just as important in the time of COVID-19

Houston voices

Researchers across every discipline are redirecting their work in order to study COVID-19. The well-being of our global community depends on it. While some are exploring vaccines for the respiratory illness (according to the Guardian, 78 strains of the vaccine are currently in the works), others are saying that researching mental health issues around the pandemic is an equally important undertaking.

Long-lasting and significant effects

"Rapid and rigorous research into the impact of COVID-19 on mental health is needed to limit the impact of the pandemic." The impact on the mental health of individuals may be long-lasting and significant, say experts in Lancet – Psychiatry journal.

There are countless mental health issues that are raised by the novel coronavirus and two major research thrusts. One explores the way isolation, social distancing and excess stress affects people. For instance, researchers are studying how individuals react when they are constantly bombarded with media and negative news stories.

The second is how the COVID-19 virus itself may break through neurological boundaries and cause changes to the mental health and well-being of those infected. Other coronaviruses have passed into the central nervous system, according to experts interviewed by CNN Health.

Still working

The range of articles emerging from this dark time show that researchers are working diligently behind the lines during the peak of this epidemic – hopefully within the confines of their "safe at home" or "shelter-in-place" orders.

In higher education, there are myriad articles published every day about how college students are coping. And there are thousands of very targeted, niche studies being undertaken, like how do hospitals protect the psychological well-being of nurses caring for COVID-19 patients?

Researchers with expertise in family life are conducting studies about how the crisis affects children and parents: "COVID-19 has far-reaching implications for children and parents. While I hope that something like this doesn't happen again in our lifetimes, it is an important time for us to study how differing levels of stress impact parenting," says Leslie Frankel, Ph.D., assistant professor of human development and family studies at the University of Houston.

Feeling down?

There is research pointing to how COVID-19 changes the mental health status of those infected. In some cases, encephalopathy or a malfunction of the brain may occur along with the stress and anxiety that is suffered by someone infected with COVID-19.

Michael Zvolensky, Ph.D., distinguished professor in the department of psychology at University of Houston and director of the Anxiety and Health Research Laboratory and Substance Use Treatment Clinic, says even those without the disease may suffer: "Many people worry about infection risk. Anxiety is apt to be exacerbated by the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, including virus risk potential, severity of COVID-related symptoms, and social isolation, among others. Although anxiety about the pandemic is normal, certain individuals – specifically, persons high in sensitivity to stress, may be particularly vulnerable to COVID-19 related stress presently and even when the social distancing measures are loosened."

Slow going

While the disease spreads quickly, the research unfolds more slowly than most we would like. An article on the World Economic Forum about COVID-19 research reads: "People and institutions tend to have a certain inertia, and it's not easy to alter their speed or course. Working within a compressed timeline, we've had to make changes and accommodations in order to reach ambitious goals."

If you are thinking about taking your mental health research in a different direction now that the pandemic has firmly taken hold, the NIH and NSF can help you determine what proposals to submit. There are funds for this type of research, after all, it is timely and absolutely required during these uncertain times.

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This article originally appeared on the University of Houston's The Big Idea.

Sarah Hill is the communications manager for the UH Division of Research.

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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.