The gift will create the John M. O’Quinn Foundation Neurodegenerative Disorders Laboratory at Houston Methodist. Photo via houstonmethodist.org

Houston Methodist announced that it has received a $10 million gift from the The John M. O’Quinn Foundation to support research into neurological disorders, including Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease and others.

The gift will create the John M. O’Quinn Foundation Neurodegenerative Disorders Laboratory at Houston Methodist, which will be led by Dr. Jun Li, who chairs the department of neurology at the Houston Methodist Neurological Institute. The NIH-backed researcher and his team will provide care, clinical trial opportunities and subspecialty programs through the lab, according to a release from Houston Methodist.

The funds will also be used to recruit neurodegenerative disorders specialists to lab by creating endowed research chairs, research fellowships and funding for pilot studies.

"Many neurodegenerative diseases are chronic and significantly impact the quality of life, causing pain, weakness, loss of ambulation and sensory loss,” Li says in a statement. “Our team is committed to working with patients to help make their lives better through treatment, and this generous gift fuels our determination to do even more and to help find therapies for these neurological diseases. This commitment from The John M. O’Quinn Foundation will support an interdisciplinary team of neurologists and neuroscientists to further explore treatment options.”

The O'Quinn Foundation has been a long-time supporter of the hospital group, according to Houston Methodist, and has had members of its organization suffer from neurodegenerative disorders.

"As our population continues to live longer, we believe it’s critical to help now, and we know Houston Methodist is best positioned with its renowned researchers and clinicians like Dr. Li to help those with neurodegenerative diseases to have a better quality of life, and ultimately, a treatment for these diseases that impact so many,” President and Executive Director of the foundation Robert C. Wilson III says in the statement.

Earlier this year, Houston Methodist also received a $1 million grant from Susan and William “Dub” Henning, Jr. to support Alzheimer’s research at the Nantz National Alzheimer Center at the hospital. It created the Susan and William Henning Jr. Neurodegenerative Research Endowment.

Meanwhile, over the summer, a Houston clinical-stage biotech that treats neurodegenerative diseases company went public. The company, Coya Therapeutics (Nasdaq: COYA), has developed a biologics therapy that prevents further spreading of neurodegenerative diseases by making regulatory T cells functional again and closed a $15.25 million IPO in January. Click here to learn more about the company's treatments for ALS and Alzheimer's.

Houston Methodist's Nantz National Alzheimer Center received a $1 million donation to continue research in neurodegenerative diseases. Photo via Houston Methodist

Houston hospital snags $1M to advance Alzheimer’s research

money moves

Thanks to a recent donation, Houston Methodist is setting up an endowment to support research in neurodegenerative diseases.

Susan and William “Dub” Henning, Jr. have committed to a $1 million gift to Houston Methodist to support Alzheimer’s research at the Nantz National Alzheimer Center at the hospital. This gift will be used to create the Susan and William Henning Jr. Neurodegenerative Research Endowment and in response, a NNAC family room will be named in memory of Dub’s parents, Lena and William Henning.

“Knowing the impact that Alzheimer’s can have not only on patients, but also on the immediate and extended family members experiencing the disease inspired us to support the work being done at the Nantz National Alzheimer Center,” says Dub Henning in a news release. “We want to give hope to families struggling with this disease and contribute to ultimately finding a cure.”

Every year, the NNAC — led by Joseph C. Masdeu — treats thousands of patients looking to prevent Alzheimer’s disease, slow memory loss progression, and improve their quality of life. In 2021 alone, the center provided more than 4,000 patient visits. The fresh funding will allow for Dr. Masdeu's research projects — including more than 26 current studies, 14 in clinical trials and 12 studies to clarify the nature of diseases causing dementia — to continue the important work.

“One of our clinical trials will determine the effects of exercise in preventing deposits of amyloid and tau, two of the proteins that accumulate in the brain of people living with Alzheimer’s disease, and we’re also exploring the role of proper sleep in disease development,” says Masdeu in the release. “Among other studies, we are collaborating with Baylor College of Medicine to define genetic and chemical factors predisposing to the accumulation of amyloid and tau in the brain of people at all stages of the Alzheimer’s spectrum.

"These promising developments would not be possible without the compassion and generosity of community supporters like the Henning family," he continues.

Susan and William “Dub” Henning, Jr. gave a $1 million gift to Houston Methodist. Photo courtesy of Houston Methodist

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New Houston venture studio emerges to target early-stage hardtech, energy transition startups

funding the future

The way Doug Lee looks at it, there are two areas within the energy transition attracting capital. With his new venture studio, he hopes to target an often overlooked area that's critical for driving forward net-zero goals.

Lee describes investment activity taking place in the digital and software world — early stage technology that's looking to make the industry smarter. But, on the other end of the spectrum, investment activity can be found on massive infrastructure projects.

While both areas need funding, Lee has started his new venture studio, Flathead Forge, to target early-stage hardtech technologies.

“We are really getting at the early stage companies that are trying to develop technologies at the intersection of legacy industries that we believe can become more sustainable and the energy transition — where we are going. It’s not an ‘if’ or ‘or’ — we believe these things intersect,” he tells EnergyCapital.

Specifically, Lee's expertise is within the water and industrial gas space. For around 15 years, he's made investments in this area, which he describes as crucial to the energy transition.

“Almost every energy transition technology that you can point to has some critical dependency on water or gas,” he says. “We believe that if we don’t solve for those things, the other projects won’t survive.”

Lee, and his brother, Dave, are evolving their family office to adopt a venture studio model. They also sold off Azoto Energy, a Canadian oilfield nitrogen cryogenic services business, in December.

“We ourselves are going through a transition like our energy is going through a transition,” he says. “We are transitioning into a single family office into a venture studio. By doing so, we want to focus all of our access and resources into this focus.”

At this point, Flathead Forge has seven portfolio companies and around 15 corporations they are working with to identify their needs and potential opportunities. Lee says he's gearing up to secure a $100 million fund.

Flathead also has 40 advisers and mentors, which Lee calls sherpas — a nod to the Flathead Valley region in Montana, which inspired the firm's name.

“We’re going to help you carry up, we’re going to tie ourselves to the same rope as you, and if you fall off the mountain, we’re falling off with you,” Lee says of his hands-on approach, which he says sets Flathead apart from other studios.

Another thing that's differentiating Flathead Forge from its competition — it's dedication to giving back.

“We’ve set aside a quarter of our carried interest for scholarships and grants,” Lee says.

The funds will go to scholarships for future engineers interested in the energy transition, as well as grants for researchers studying high-potential technologies.

“We’re putting our own money where our mouth is,” Lee says of his thesis for Flathead Forge.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.

Houston-based lunar mission's rocky landing and what it means for America's return to the moon

houston, we have a problem

A private U.S. lunar lander tipped over at touchdown and ended up on its side near the moon’s south pole, hampering communications, company officials said Friday.

Intuitive Machines initially believed its six-footed lander, Odysseus, was upright after Thursday's touchdown. But CEO Steve Altemus said Friday the craft “caught a foot in the surface," falling onto its side and, quite possibly, leaning against a rock. He said it was coming in too fast and may have snapped a leg.

“So far, we have quite a bit of operational capability even though we’re tipped over," he told reporters.

But some antennas were pointed toward the surface, limiting flight controllers' ability to get data down, Altemus said. The antennas were stationed high on the 14-foot (4.3-meter) lander to facilitate communications at the hilly, cratered and shadowed south polar region.

Odysseus — the first U.S. lander in more than 50 years — is thought to be within a few miles (kilometers) of its intended landing site near the Malapert A crater, less than 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the south pole. NASA, the main customer, wanted to get as close as possible to the pole to scout out the area before astronauts show up later this decade.

NASA's Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter will attempt to pinpoint the lander's location, as it flies overhead this weekend.

With Thursday’s touchdown, Intuitive Machines became the first private business to pull off a moon landing, a feat previously achieved by only five countries. Japan was the latest country to score a landing, but its lander also ended up on its side last month.

Odysseus' mission was sponsored in large part by NASA, whose experiments were on board. NASA paid $118 million for the delivery under a program meant to jump-start the lunar economy.

One of the NASA experiments was pressed into service when the lander's navigation system did not kick in. Intuitive Machines caught the problem in advance when it tried to use its lasers to improve the lander's orbit. Otherwise, flight controllers would not have discovered the failure until it was too late, just five minutes before touchdown.

“Serendipity is absolutely the right word,” mission director Tim Crain said.

It turns out that a switch was not flipped before flight, preventing the system's activation in space.

Launched last week from Florida, Odysseus took an extra lap around the moon Thursday to allow time for the last-minute switch to NASA's laser system, which saved the day, officials noted.

Another experiment, a cube with four cameras, was supposed to pop off 30 seconds before touchdown to capture pictures of Odysseus’ landing. But Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University’s EagleCam was deliberately powered off during the final descent because of the navigation switch and stayed attached to the lander.

Embry-Riddle's Troy Henderson said his team will try to release EagleCam in the coming days, so it can photograph the lander from roughly 26 feet (8 meters) away.

"Getting that final picture of the lander on the surface is still an incredibly important task for us,” Henderson told The Associated Press.

Intuitive Machines anticipates just another week of operations on the moon for the solar-powered lander — nine or 10 days at most — before lunar nightfall hits.

The company was the second business to aim for the moon under NASA's commercial lunar services program. Last month, Pittsburgh's Astrobotic Technology gave it a shot, but a fuel leak on the lander cut the mission short and the craft ended up crashing back to Earth.

Until Thursday, the U.S. had not landed on the moon since Apollo 17's Gene Cernan and Harrison Schmitt closed out NASA's famed moon-landing program in December 1972. NASA's new effort to return astronauts to the moon is named Artemis after Apollo's mythological twin sister. The first Artemis crew landing is planned for 2026 at the earliest.

3 female Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Welcome to another Monday edition of Innovators to Know. Today I'm introducing you to three Houstonians to read up about — 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.

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate

Emma Konet, co-founder and CTO of Tierra Climate, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast. Photo via LinkedIn

If the energy transition is going to be successful, the energy storage space needs to be equipped to support both the increased volume of energy needed and new energies. And Emma Konet and her software company, Tierra Climate, are targeting one part of the equation: the market.

"To me, it's very clear that we need to build a lot of energy storage in order to transition the grid," Konet says on the Houston Innovators Podcast. "The problems that I saw were really on the market side of things." Read more.

Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. Photo courtesy of Sage

A Houston geothermal startup has announced the close of its series A round of funding.

Houston-based Sage Geosystems announced the first close of $17 million round led by Chesapeake Energy Corp. The proceeds aim to fund its first commercial geopressured geothermal system facility, which will be built in Texas in Q4 of 2024. According to the company, the facility will be the first of its kind.

“The first close of our Series A funding and our commercial facility are significant milestones in our mission to make geopressured geothermal system technologies a reality,” Cindy Taff, CEO of Sage Geosystems, says. Read more.

Clemmie Martin, chief of staff at The Cannon

With seven locations across the Houston area, The Cannon's digital technology allows its members a streamlined connection. Photo courtesy of The Cannon

After collaborating over the years, The Cannon has acquired a Houston startup's digital platform technology to become a "physical-digital hybrid" community.

Village Insights, a Houston startup, worked with The Cannon to create and launch its digital community platform Cannon Connect. Now, The Cannon has officially acquired the business. The terms of the deal were not disclosed.

“The integration of a world-class onsite member experience and Cannon Connect’s superior virtual resource network creates a seamless, streamlined environment for member organizations,” Clemmie Martin, The Cannon’s newly appointed chief of staff, says in the release. “Cannon Connect and this acquisition have paved new pathways to access and success for all.” Read more.