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

Motif Neurotech, which develops minimally invasive bioelectronics for mental health treatment, closed its series A round with an oversubscribed $18.75 million. Photo via Rice.edu

Rice University medical device spinout secures nearly $19M series A

fresh funding

A health tech startup based out of a newly formed accelerator program at Rice University has raised venture funding.

Motif Neurotech closed its series A round with an oversubscribed $18.75 million. The company, which develops minimally invasive bioelectronics for mental health treatment, was formed out of the Rice Biotech Launch Pad that launched last fall.

The round was led by Arboretum Ventures, with participation from new investors KdT Ventures, Satori Neuro, Dolby Family Ventures, re.Mind Capital and existing investors Divergent Capital, TMC Venture Fund, PsyMed Ventures, Empath Ventures and Capital Factory, according to a news release from Rice.

“Minimally invasive bioelectronics are the future of mental health treatment,” Jacob Robinson, CEO and founder of Motif Neurotech, says in the release. “Thirty percent of patients with depression don’t respond to two or more medications, and there is a significant need for additional treatment options that are effective and easily accessible."

The fresh funding will go toward developing the inaugural product, the DOT microstimulator, a wireless, battery-free device that can provide at-home therapy for treatment-resistant depression, or TRD, a major depressive disorder.

“This is a pivotal moment for the company as it closes its Series A in addition to the recent successful completion of the proof-of-concept first-in-human implant of the DOT stimulator device," Tom Shehab, managing partner of Arboretum Ventures, says in the release. "We believe Motif’s device will greatly improve the quality of life for patients who have been diagnosed with difficult to treat mental health disorders, including TRD."

Shehab, along with Amy Kruse, chief investment officer of Satori Neuro, will reportedly join Motif Neurotech's board of directors alongside Anthony Arnold, president and CEO of Sensydia Corporation, and Jacob Robinson, professor of electrical and computer engineering and bioengineering at Rice.

The Rice Biotech Launch Pad was established to take biotech innovations from concept to clinical trials in five years or less. It occupies 15,000 square feet of space on campus and is funded through federal grants and donations.

The Ion has announced the latest companies to move into the hub. Photo courtesy of The Ion

The Ion announces new tenants that have recently moved in, expanded within the hub

moving in

Several organizations — from tech startups to a nonprofit — have moved into the Ion recently to either relocate or expand their presence in Houston.

The Ion District announced new tenants today, bringing the total space leased to 86 percent, according to a news release. The recent additions to the Ion include:

  • Carbon Clean announced its new United States HQ last month. The startup’s technology has captured nearly two million tons of carbon dioxide at almost 50 sites around the world.
  • Cognite is a Norwegian software company for asset-heavy industries that turns industrial data into customer value.
  • OpenStax, a Houston-based nonprofit, is publishing openly licensed college textbooks that are free online and low cost in print.
  • Synopic is a California-based startup that's building next-gen depth-enabled cameras to improve visualization and decision making during medical procedures.
  • Houston-based Motif Neurotech, a medical equipment manufacturing startup, is working to develop minimally invasive electronic solutions for mental health.
  • RedSwan CRE, founded in Houston, is a crowdfunding-style investment platform and marketplace of tokenized commercial real estate.
  • Nauticus Robotics, a marine robotics hardtech and software company, recently went public.
  • Rice University’s Office of Innovation and its Nexus Lab, which is under construction and designed for prototyping and scaling-up technologies, is increasing its presence in the Ion.
  • Also noteworthy is the expanded office of Ara Partners, which first moved into the Ion last year. The Houston-based, global private equity firm is focused on investing in carbon decentralization technology.
  • Dallas-headquartered flexible workspace provider Common Desk announced that it would expand its space by nearly 50 percent at the Ion last December.

“Welcoming this amazing lineup of new tenants, across the breadth of sectors they represent, demonstrates that the Ion is the place to be and do business in Houston,” says Jan E. Odegard, executive director of the Ion, in the news release. “By continuing to fill our space with new innovators across all these different offerings, from all around the globe, we’ve become the home for collisions that will create solutions to the biggest problems facing our world today.

"We pride ourselves on advancing the diverse knowledge, teams, technologies, and products that will propel our world forward. Our inspiring new tenants will do just that,” he continues.

The Ion's grand opening took place just about a year ago, and existing tenants include Chevron, Microsoft, (Schlumberger) SLB Innovation Factori, Houston Methodist. The growing Ion District is home to more than 300 businesses, including corporates, small businesses, startups, and restaurants.

“The Ion continues to see leasing demand from companies that understand the value of a creative and active work environment,” says Bryson Grover, investment manager of real estate development at Rice Management Co. “Companies are choosing Ion District because it offers more than just a solution for space needs. Workers are given the opportunity to experience a sense of community that brings together like-minded individuals and those with different perspectives.”

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Houston organization selected for program to explore future foods in space health

research and development

What would we eat if we were forced to decamp to another planet? The most immediate challenges faced by the food industry and astronauts exploring outside Earth are being addressed by The Translational Research Institute for Space Health (TRISH) at Baylor College of Medicine’s Center for Space Medicine’s newest project.

Earlier this month, TRISH announced the initial selection for its Space Health Ingress Program (SHIP) solicitation. Working with California Institute of Technology and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the Baylor-based program chose “Future Foods for Space: Mobilizing the Future Foods Community to Accelerate Advances in Space Health,” led by Dr. Denneal Jamison-McClung at the University of California, Davis.

“TRISH is bringing in new ideas and investigators to propel space health research,” says Catherine Domingo, TRISH operations lead and research administration associate at Baylor College of Medicine, in the release. “We have long believed that new researchers with fresh perspectives drive innovation and advance human space exploration and SHIP builds on TRISH’s existing efforts to recruit and support new investigators in the space health research field, potentially yielding and high-impact ideas to protect space explorers.”

The goal of the project is to develop sustainable food products and ingredients that could fuel future space travelers on long-term voyages, or even habitation beyond our home planet.

Jamison-McClung and her team’s goal is to enact food-related space health research and inspire the community thereof by mobilizing academic and food-industry researchers who have not previously engaged with the realm of space exploration. Besides growing and developing food products, the project will also address production, storage, and delivery of the nutrition created by the team.

To that end, Jamison-McClung and her recruits will receive $1 million over the course of two years. The goal of the SHIP solicitation is to work with first-time NASA investigators, bringing new minds to the forefront of the space health research world.

“As we look to enable safer space exploration and habitation for humans, it is clear that food and nutrition are foundational,” says Dr. Asha S. Collins, chair of the SHIP advisory board, in a press release. “We’re excited to see how accelerating innovation in food science for space health could also result in food-related innovations for people on Earth in remote areas and food deserts.”

Clean energy nonprofit CEO to step down, search for replacement to begin

moving on

Greentown Labs, which is co-located in the Boston and Houston areas, has announced its current CEO is stepping down after less than a year in the position.

The nonprofit's CEO and President Kevin Knobloch announced that he will be stepping down at the end of July 2024. Knobloch assumed his role last September, previously serving as chief of staff of the United States Department of Energy in President Barack Obama’s second term.

“It has been an honor to lead this incredible team and organization, and a true privilege to get to know many of our brilliant startup founders," Knobloch says in the news release. “Greentown is a proven leader in supporting early-stage climatetech companies and I can’t wait to see all that it will accomplish in the coming years.”

The news of Knobloch's departure comes just over a month after the organization announced that it was eliminating 30 percent of its staff, which affected 12 roles in Boston and six in Houston.

According the Greentown, its board of directors is expected to launch a national search for its next CEO.

“On behalf of the entire Board of Directors, I want to thank Kevin for his efforts to strengthen the foundation of Greentown Labs and for charting the next chapter for the organization through a strategic refresh process,” says Dawn James, Greentown Labs Board Chair, in the release. “His thoughtful leadership will leave a lasting impact on the team and community for years to come.”

Knobloch reportedly shifted Greentown's sponsorship relationships with oil companies, sparking "friction within the organization," according to the Houston Chronicle, which also reported that Knobloch said he intends to return to his clean energy consulting firm.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston college lands $5M NASA grant to launch new aerospace research center

to infinity and beyond

The University of Houston was one of seven minority-serving institutions to receive a nearly $5 million grant this month to support aerospace research focused on extending human presence on the moon and Mars.

The $4,996,136 grant over five years is funded by the NASA Office of STEM Engagement Minority University Research and Education Project (MUREP) Institutional Research Opportunity (MIRO) program. It will go toward creating the NASA MIRO Inflatable Deployable Environments and Adaptive Space Systems (IDEAS2) Center at UH, according to a statement from the university.

“The vision of the IDEAS2 Center is to become a premier national innovation hub that propels NASA-centric, state-of-the-art research and promotes 21st-century aerospace education,” Karolos Grigoriadis, Moores Professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of aerospace engineering at UH, said in a statement.

Another goal of the grant is to develop the next generation of aerospace professionals.

Graduate, undergraduate and even middle and high school students will conduct research out of IDEAS2 and work closely with the Johnson Space Center, located in the Houston area.

The center will collaborate with Texas A&M University, Houston Community College, San Jacinto College and Stanford University.

Grigoriadis will lead the center. Dimitris Lagoudas, from Texas A&M University, and Olga Bannova, UH's research professor of Mechanical Engineering and director of the Space Architecture graduate program, will serve as associate directors.

"Our mission is to establish a sustainable nexus of excellence in aerospace engineering research and education supported by targeted multi-institutional collaborations, strategic partnerships and diverse educational initiatives,” Grigoriadis said.

Industrial partners include Boeing, Axiom Space, Bastion Technologies and Lockheed Martin, according to UH.

UH is part of 21 higher-education institutions to receive about $45 million through NASA MUREP grants.

According to NASA, the six other universities to received about $5 million MIRO grants over five years and their projects includes:

  • Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage: Alaska Pacific University Microplastics Research and Education Center
  • California State University in Fullerton: SpaceIgnite Center for Advanced Research-Education in Combustion
  • City University of New York, Hunter College in New York: NASA-Hunter College Center for Advanced Energy Storage for Space
  • Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University in Tallahassee: Integrative Space Additive Manufacturing: Opportunities for Workforce-Development in NASA Related Materials Research and Education
  • New Jersey Institute of Technology in Newark:AI Powered Solar Eruption Center of Excellence in Research and Education
  • University of Illinois in Chicago: Center for In-Space Manufacturing: Recycling and Regolith Processing

Fourteen other institutions will receive up to $750,000 each over the course of a three-year period. Those include:

  • University of Mississippi
  • University of Alabama in Huntsville
  • Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge
  • West Virginia University in Morgantown
  • University of Puerto Rico in San Juan
  • Desert Research Institute, Reno, Nevada
  • Oklahoma State University in Stillwater
  • Iowa State University in Ames
  • University of Alaska Fairbanks in Fairbanks
  • University of the Virgin Islands in Charlotte Amalie
  • University of Hawaii at Manoa in Honolulu
  • University of Idaho in Moscow
  • University of Arkansas in Little Rock
  • South Dakota School of Mines and Technology in Rapid City
  • Satellite Datastreams

NASA's MUREP hosted its annual "Space Tank" pitch event at Space Center Houston last month. Teams from across the country — including three Texas teams — pitched business plans based on NASA-originated technology. Click here to learn more about the seven finalists.