The funding will go toward created a summer program called the University of Houston Cardiovascular Undergraduate Research Experience, or UH-CURE. Photo via UH.edu

University of Houston professors have received a nearly $800,000 grant to create a new summer program that will support diverse future researchers.

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute provided $792,900 in grant funding to Bradley McConnell, professor of pharmacology at the UH College of Pharmacy, and Tho Tran, research assistant professor of chemistry at the UH College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics.

The funding will go toward created a summer program called the University of Houston Cardiovascular Undergraduate Research Experience, or UH-CURE. Ten undergraduate students per year will be selected for five years in cardiovascular research across disciplinary lines.

"We are so grateful to be able to provide talented students across the U.S. an opportunity to experience our excellent cardiovascular research environment,” Tran says in a news release. “We want UH-CURE participants to gain confidence in their research abilities through our hands-on approach and the skillset to navigate future challenges through our professional training.”

The goal is to increase students’ interest in cardiovascular research, and students have the opportunity to receive a $6,000 stipend, travel to a globally recognized cardiovascular research conference, and take part in on-campus housing and a food allowance. The summer program will also try to develop research skills, increase awareness of transdisciplinary research, promote diversity and collaborations, cultivate transferable skills necessary for succeeding in graduate school and help facilitate undergraduate students to pursue further training in cardiovascular research.

The program will integrate students into a research lab where they will learn research skills, data analysis, and research integrity. The program will be under the mentorship of a faculty member from across UH’s colleges, and include workshop and enrichment activities.

McConnell and Tran previously formed the American Heart Association-funded UH-HEART pilot program, which focused on cardiovascular research. They expanded on that initiative with UH-CURE, which includes cardiovascular research across disciplinary lines from community engagement and population-based research to basic, translational, and applied research. UH-CURE also helps prepare for careers in cardiovascular research.

“We all know that a diverse environment leads to a much better generation of ideas and solutions,” Tran adds. “We hope to bring that strength to the future of cardiovascular research through our students.”

Tho Tran (left) and Bradley McConnell are professors at UH. Photo via UH.edu

Redemption Square in Generation Park will feature high-tech parking solution pilot program. Photo via generationpark.com

Houston developer to roll out innovative pilot to improve parking at major development

testing tech

Houston real estate company McCord Development will roll out an innovative 12-week pilot to learn how to make parking smarter at its master planned development Generation Park in Northeast Houston.

In partnership with Milwaukee-based CivicSmart Inc., a leader in Smart City parking, the company will test a new Internet-of-Things-based parking solution at Generation Park's mixed-use lifestyle center, Redemption Square. The program is only the second of its kind in the U.S., according to McCord.

McCord will install 30 of CivicSmart's solar powered bollards at Redemption Square that track real-time parking occupancy data through LTE license-plate-reading cameras. The data will be analyzed to help McCord optimize traffic and develop better strategies and parking rates.

"We are thrilled to introduce one of the first parking pilot programs in the country,” Ashwin Chandran, Director of Technology Innovation at McCord, said in a statement. “At McCord, we strive to measure and understand behavior in order to enhance the human experience and make efficient business decisions. We hope to use this data to improve the overall performance of our operations across all our assets.”

According to the statement, the intention of the program is to help keep curbside spots available for short-term guests.

From the customer perspective, parkers will pay via text or QR code, where they will enter their license plate number and payment information, which will be stored for subsequent visits.

The bollards can also dispatch up-to-the-minute pricing details to parkers, and can be controlled remotely by the developer to close certain parking spots for special events.

In addition to the 30 bollards, Redemption Square will still also offer free parking in its nearby garage, and other parking options on Redemption Square Road and metered spaces on Assay Street, according to the statement.

Last week, McCord also announced plans to create a 45-acre biomanufacturing campus within the 4,300-acre Generation Park development. Known as BioHub Two, the center will include 500,000 square feet for manufacturing, lab, and office space. It's slated to join San Jacinto College’s Biotech Training Center in the development, which was announced last December.

Other plans for Generation Park include two multifamily complexes, a mixed-use development called The Commons, and retail and green spaces.

McCord will install 30 of CivicSmart's solar powered bollards at Redemption Square that track real-time parking occupancy data through LTE license-plate-reading cameras. Photo courtesy of Generation Park

A Houston pilot program created a way to design stylish homes at a fraction of the cost — and in less than half the time. Photo courtesy of BoxPrefab

Houston-grown partnership completes innovative pilot program promoting affordable housing

innovating an impact

For families who want to live near downtown, Houston's affordable housing deficit in and around the Inner Loop is no secret.

For thirty years and counting, Houston-based nonprofit Avenue has confronted this reality by creating affordable housing opportunities and comprehensive community development programs for families in Houston neighborhoods.

"One of our chief objectives is to help stabilize neighborhoods and give opportunities for people to stay in the neighborhoods by providing moderately-priced homes," says Robert Fiederlein, Avenue's senior director of real estate development.

After an audit of Houston's Northline neighborhood revealed the community's affordable housing shortage, the Avenue team began to explore various methods to deliver new construction to the community, through sustainable housing at affordable prices. Research of diverse construction methods led Avenue to the innovative solution of prefabricated family dwellings.

In their effort to find a smart, sustainable alternative to traditional construction, Avenue came across BoxPrefab, an innovative off-site construction company that produces precision-built prefabricated homes from design to completion.

BoxPrefab's sustainable-oriented attributes and efficient processes checked all of Avenue's 'must-have' boxes and the two entities kicked off their partnership with their premier pilot program for modular home development.

"We care a lot about bringing affordability to housing and bringing good designs to affordable housing. We were really excited to work with Avenue because we are really in tune with their mission," says Rame Hruska, BoxPrefab's co-founder. "This is a great solution for homeowners."

This housing solution is not your run-of-the-mill "affordable housing." Besides its sleek finishes and modern look, BoxPrefab's modular home design and construction process is practical and ultra-simplified. Using prefabricated components, the company specializes in building homes in a factory, a controlled environment, instead of building on-site, where the construction process is subject to external variables, like rain, inclement weather, or any labor diversions.

The BoxPrefab houses are created offsite and then set up on the property. Photo courtesy of BoxPrefab

"Reliability is a big factor for our clients. There's so many unknowns and variables, from weather to other various delays, so we can really give people a much more definitive price, time and set quality," says Hruska.

After producing the factory-built components, BoxPrefab then assembles the prefabricated modules on the home's lot. With this streamlined process, BoxPrefab is able to build homes faster and in a more systematic manner, all while reducing waste output and overall cost.

"We have confidence that if we placed higher orders, costs would go down," Fiederlein says. "This could be a way to build less costly affordable housing. Construction costs came out $130 per square foot, which is comparable to the other site-built homes that we're working on right now.

"Another thing we've learned was that we can do it in half the time as a site build," Fiederlein continues. "It takes six to seven months to build a site-built home and we completed this home in just over three months. Russell, with tighter scheduling, said he could've built quicker. We can half the time it would normally take. As you know, time is money."

BoxPrefab's construction process, fiscal efficiency and waste output reduction is exactly what Avenue was looking for in a partner. Together, the two entities successfully completed their pilot program by placing a three-bedroom-two-bathroom prefabricated home on the market in Houston's Northline neighborhood.

"We're really excited about this potential and see it as becoming a much more standard way to build," Hruska says.

Prefabricated building options are considered the future of construction, due to its increased reliability and quality in the construction process, Hruska says. Based on the success of their pilot program, Avenue anticipates investing in more modular housing in the future. BoxPrefab, while Houston-based and focused, has their sights set on expanding regionally, to service more clients with prefabricated solutions, says Russell Hruska, BoxPrefab co-founder.

"Modular is a viable path going forward," Fiederlein says. "It's going to take additional work to get there, but the pilot shows that it's certainly a method that helps to reduce costs…We're confident that it can be the way of delivering affordable housing at lower prices."

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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.