This uniquely Houston technology is an AI program that allows scientists to understand the functions of cells by evaluating cell activation, killing, and movement. Photo via Getty Images

T-cell immunotherapy is all the rage in the world of fighting cancer. A Houston company’s researchers have discovered a new subset of T cells that could be a game changer for patients.

CellChorus is a spinoff of Navin Varadarajan’s Single Cell Lab, part of the University of Houston’s Technology Bridge. The lab is the creator of TIMING, or Time-lapse Imaging Microscopy In Nanowell Grids. It’s a visual AI program that allows scientists to understand the functions of cells by evaluating cell activation, killing, and movement.

Last month, Nature Cancer published a paper co-authored by Varadarajan entitled, “Identification of a clinically efficacious CAR T cell subset in diffuse large B cell lymphoma by dynamic multidimensional single-cell profiling.”

“Our results showed that a subset of T cells, labeled as CD8-fit T cells, are capable of high motility and serial killing, found uniquely in patients with clinical response,” says first author and recent UH graduate Ali Rezvan in Nature Cancer.

Besides him and Varadarajan, contributors hail from Baylor College of Medicine/Texas Children’s Hospital, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Kite Pharma, and CellChorus itself.

The team identified the CD80-fit T cells using TIMING to examine interactions between T cells and tumor cells across thousands of individual cells. They were able to integrate the results using single-cell RNA sequencing data.

T-cell therapy activates a patient’s own immune system to fight cancer cells, but not every patient responds favorably to it. Identifying CD8-fit cells could be the key to manufacturing clinical response even in those for whom immunotherapy hasn’t been effective.

“This work illustrates the excellence of graduate students Ali Rezvan and Melisa Montalvo; and post-doctoral researchers Melisa Martinez-Paniagua and Irfan Bandey among others,” says Varadarajan in a statement.

Earlier last month, CellChorus recently received a $2.5 million SBIR grant. The money allows the company to share TIMING more widely, facilitating even more landmark discoveries like CD8-fit cells.

CellChorus created a visualization AI program that helps scientists to better understand the functioning of cells, including their activation, killing and movement. Photo via Getty Images

Houston health tech startup scores $2.5M SBIR grant to advance unique cell therapy AI technology

fresh funding

A Houston biotech company just announced a new award of $2.5 million.

CellChorus, a spinoff of the Single Cell Lab at the University of Houston, announced the fresh funding, which comes from an SBIR (Small Business Innovation Research) grant from the National Institute of Health (NIH) through its National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences (NCATS).

CellChorus is the business behind a technology called TIMING, which stands for Time-lapse Imaging Microscopy In Nanowell Grids. It’s a visualization AI program that helps scientists to better understand the functioning of cells, including their activation, killing and movement. This more in-depth knowledge of immune cells could be instrumental in developing novel therapies in countless disorders, including cancers and infectious diseases.

“While many cell therapies have been approved and are in development, the industry needs an integrated analytical platform that provides a matrix of functional readouts, including cell phenotype and metabolism on the same cells over time,” Rebecca Berdeaux, vice president of science at CellChorus, says in a press release. “We are grateful to NCATS for its support of the development of application-specific kits that apply dynamic, functional single-cell analysis of immune cell phenotype and function. The product we will develop will increase the impact of these therapies to improve the lives of patients.”

A two-year, $2.1 million Phase II grant will begin after the company achieves predetermined milestones under a $350,000 Phase I grant that is currently taking place. As Berdeaux explained, the funds will be used to develop TIMING kits which will manufacture analytics that provide end-users with rapid, specific and predictive results to accelerate translational research and the development and manufacture of more effective cell therapies.

TIMING is more than a great idea whose time has yet to come. It has already been proven in great depth. In fact, last June, CellChorus CEO Daniel Meyer told InnovationMap that he was initially attracted to the technology because it was “very well validated.” At the time, CellChorus had just announced a $2.3 million SBIR Fast-Track grant from the National Institute of General Medical Sciences. The company also went on to win an award in the Life Science category of the 2023 Houston Innovation Awards.

That confirmation of success comes from more than 200 peer-reviewed papers that describe myriad cell types and types of therapy, all of which used data from TIMING assays. TIMING data has benefited industry leaders in everything from research and clinical development to manufacturing. With the new grant, TIMING will become more widely available to scientists making important discoveries relating to the inner workings of the cells that drive our immunity.

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SpaceX's mega rocket completes its fourth test flight from Texas without exploding

houston, we have liftoff

SpaceX’s mega Starship rocket completed its first full test flight Thursday, returning to Earth without exploding after blasting off from Texas.

It was the fourth launch of the world’s biggest and most powerful rocket, standing nearly 400 feet (121 meters) tall. The three previous flight demos ended in explosions. This time, the rocket and the spacecraft managed to splash down in a controlled fashion, making the hourlong flight the longest and most successful yet.

“Despite loss of many tiles and a damaged flap, Starship made it all the way to a soft landing in the ocean!” SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said via X.

Starship was empty as it soared above the Gulf of Mexico and headed east on a flight to the Indian Ocean. Within minutes, the first-stage booster separated from the spacecraft and splashed into the gulf precisely as planned, after firing its engines.

The spacecraft reached an altitude of nearly 130 miles (211 kilometers), traveling at more 16,000 mph (26,000 kph), before beginning its descent. Live views showed parts of the spacecraft breaking away during the intense heat of reentry, but a cracked camera lens obscured the images.

The spacecraft remained intact enough to transmit data all the way to its targeted splashdown site in the Indian Ocean.

It was a critical milestone in the company’s plan to eventually reuse the rocket that NASA and Musk are counting on to get humanity to the moon and then Mars.

“What a show it has been,” SpaceX launch commentator Kate Tice said from Mission Control at company headquarters in California.

SpaceX came close to avoiding explosions in March, but lost contact with the spacecraft as it careened out of space and blew up short of its goal. The booster also ruptured in flight, a quarter-mile above the gulf.

Last year’s two test flights ended in explosions shortly after blasting off from the southern tip of Texas near the Mexican border. The first one cratered the pad at Boca Chica Beach and hurled debris for thousands of feet (meters).

SpaceX upgraded the software and made some rocket-flyback changes to improve the odds. The Federal Aviation Administration signed off Tuesday on this fourth demo, saying all safety requirements had been met.

Starship is designed to be fully reusable. That’s why SpaceX wants to control the booster’s entry into the gulf and the spacecraft’s descent into the Indian Ocean — it’s intended as practice for planned future landings. Nothing is being recovered from Thursday’s flight.

NASA has ordered a pair of Starships for two moon-landing missions by astronauts, on tap for later this decade. Each moon crew will rely on NASA’s own rocket and capsule to leave Earth, but meet up with Starship in lunar orbit for the ride down to the surface.

SpaceX already is selling tourist trips around the moon. The first private lunar customer, a Japanese tycoon, pulled out of the trip with his entourage last week, citing the oft-delayed schedule.

SpaceX’s founder and CEO has grander plans: Musk envisions fleets of Starships launching people and the infrastructure necessary to build a city on Mars.

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The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Science and Educational Media Group. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

Houston clean energy accelerator names 4th cohort of early-stage tech companies

seeing green

The Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator has named 12 early-stage energy technology companies to its latest cohort.

The companies, which hail from six states and two countries, are providing solutions across carbon management, advanced materials, hydrogen, solar, and more. The program, which operates in a hybrid capacity based out of the Ion, will run for 10 weeks beginning July 9 and culminating in a demo day alongside the 21st Rice Alliance Energy Tech Venture Forum on September 12. Throughout the duration, the companies will come to Houston three times.

"As Houston’s preeminent energy startup accelerator, this is an open door to the region’s energy ecosystem for ventures from around the world and puts them through a rigorous curriculum to bolster their fundraising efforts, prepare them for accelerated adoption into the marketplace and expand their connections for potential pilots, partnerships and sales," per a Rice Alliance news release.

This cohort's executives-in-residence, or XiRs, include Tim Franklin-Hensler, John Jeffers, Ritu Sachdeva and Nick Tillmann. In addition to these innovators — who bring their expertise, mentorship, and strategic growth planning — the program is ed by the Rice Alliance’s Kerri Smith and Matt Peña.

Class 4 for the Rice Alliance Clean Energy Accelerator includes:

  • 1s1 Energy, based in Portola Valley, California, develops electrolyzers with boron-based materials so that utilities and heavy industry can produce low-cost green hydrogen to decarbonize existing and future businesses.
  • Houston-based Capwell provides a cost-effective, modular, and easily transportable system that eliminates methane emissions from wells for state governments and oil and as companies.
  • CarboMat, from Calgary, Alberta, provides a clean technology that produces low-cost, sustainable, and mid-tier grade carbon fibers at a 60 percent reduced production cost and 50 percent reduced GHG emissions to composite manufacturers in industries that require large volumes of inexpensive carbon fibers for production of commodity grade products.
  • Cleveland, Ohio-headquartered Corrolytics offers cutting-edge technology that detects corrosion on-site and in near real-time, providing accurate insights into microbial corrosion and general corrosion.
  • Geolabe, from Los Almos, New Mexico, provides an automated methane monitoring system that helps organizations measure environmental performance and introduce and prioritize remedial actions.
  • Kaizen, which operates in Tomball just outside of Houston, provides hydrogen based microgrids that enable fleet electrification at sites that are grid constrained or off grid. The solutions emit no local emissions and reduce global emissions.
  • Los Angeles-based QEA Tech offers services and equipment to capture carbon dioxide with a patent-pending granulated metal carbonate sorption technology captures over 95 percent of the CO2 emitted from post-combustion point sources.
  • QEA Tech, headquartered in Honolulu, provides ocean thermal energy technologies and power plants that delivers abundant, affordable, base load power to utilities and companies who need a firm, dispatchable, and 24/7 carbon-free source of electricity.
  • From Ontario, Canada, QEA Tech provides detailed building envelope energy audits using drones, thermography, and proprietary AI based software.
  • Houston-based Sensytec offers patented sensors, delivering real-time, accurate material performance data of concrete and advanced building materials.
  • Vroom Solar, based in Springfield, Missouri, provides Smart Solar Management technology that optimizes solar and optional AC power differently at a lower cost and smaller footprint for solar customers who need affordable, efficient, and user-friendly power anywhere.
  • VulcanX, from Vancouver, Canada, provides hydrogen and solid carbon to gas utilities, steel manufacturers and ammonia producers who require low-cost and low-emission hydrogen.

Since launching in 2021, the Clean Energy Accelerator has accelerated 43 ventures that have raised more than $166 million in funding. According to the program, these companies have piloted their technologies, connected with investors, created jobs, and many relocated to Houston.

The 2023 cohort included 15 clean energy companies.

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This article originally ran on EnergyCapital.