The new $1 million gift will target top recruits. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

One of the most prestigious foundations in Texas has made a generous gift to a local university's fledgling medical department. The M.D. Anderson Foundation has pledged $1 million to the University of Houston College of Medicine, UH announced.

The sizable gift is meant to establish the M.D. Anderson Foundation Endowed Professorship in Medicine, specifically to recruit a leader in health care to join the College of Medicine faculty, according to a press release.

The gift, matched one-to-one by an anonymous donor to create a $2 million endowment, aims to support the new medical school's mission to improve health and health care in underserved communities in Houston and across Texas.

This isn't the first time the M.D. Anderson Foundation has supported UH. The foundation has gifted more than $6 million to UH Libraries, UH Law Center, Hobby School of Public Affairs, and the College of Medicine.

"Innovation in health care requires a fresh approach and a willingness to break down traditional silos to collaborate with experts in other health disciplines such as pharmacy, engineering, law and even data sciences, said Dr. Stephen Spann, founding dean of the UH College of Medicine," in a statement.

"By harnessing the power of data analytics, we can fundamentally change the way we deliver higher quality and cost-effective care to more people. Thanks to the M.D. Anderson Foundation's generosity and vision, we will be able to recruit a new faculty member who can help us greatly to accomplish these goals."

As previously reported, UH received a $50 million gift from an anonymous donor in 2019 to establish the "$100 Million Challenge," meant to recruit top nationally recognized and awarded research faculty for chairs and professorships, designed to inspire another $50 million in investments from additional donors.

Now, the school hopes to utilize these funds to address what the school describes as a "critical primary care physician shortage, especially in low-income and minority communities lacking access to a regular source of care and have gaps in preventative care, which leads to higher rates of sickness, hospitalization, and death."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

As the new UH medical school welcomes its second class, it's also planning for a new facility to support low-cost care. Photo via UH.edu

New Houston med school to offer low-cost health care thanks to $1M gift

for the people

The University of Houston College of Medicine has announced it will open a low-cost health care facility thanks to a $1 million gift from The Cullen Trust for Health Care.

UHCOM will open the direct primary care clinic on the campus of Memorial Hermann Southwest Hospital, and, according to a news release from UH, it's only just the beginning of a network of clinics focused on treating those without health insurance.

"A direct primary care practice will add value to the local health care ecosystem by tackling one of the most pressing problems of our city: the lack of a comprehensive primary care system for the uninsured," says UH President Renu Khator in the release. "The Cullen Trust for Health Care shares our commitment to improving the overall health and health care of the population of Greater Houston and we are grateful for their support."

The direct primary care, or DPC, model is an alternative to insurance-based and fee-based care and eliminates third party payers. Instead, patients pay a monthly membership to receive primary care services — including telehealth, basic office procedures, at-cost laboratory testing, and access to medications at reduced prices. The clinic will offer same-day or next-day appointments as a guarantee and be staffed by faculty physicians and UH health professions students.

"The UH College of Medicine wants to restore primary care as the foundation of health care. We have developed a model with strong incentives to innovate the delivery of primary care designed to improve quality and more effectively control the cost of care," says Dr. Stephen Spann, founding dean of the UH College of Medicine, in the release. "We are building our model upon the four pillars of access, population health, social determinants of health and trusting relationships. In this framework, the physician is accountable for the health of their member panel and will demonstrate long-term cost and quality outcomes."

Dr. Stephen Spann is the founding dean of the UH College of Medicine. Photo via UH.edu

Founded in 2020, UHCOM's brief existence has been supported by generous donors – including a foundational $50 million gift as well as an endowment. This latest funding is from The Cullen Trust for Health Care — established in 1978 as an organization that grants financial assistance to institutions providing health care services in the Greater Houston area.

"The Cullen Trust for Health Care is proud to support this pilot endeavoring to bring a new form of patient-centered primary care to Houston's underserved communities. We are hopeful that the new UH College of Medicine direct primary care clinic will proactively engage patients to increase utilization and improve continuity of care," says Cullen Geiselman, chairman of the board for The Cullen Trust for Health Care.

This week, the school also announced its second-ever class of students. The UHCOM class of 2025 includes 30 students selected out of about 6,000 applicants. According to a news release, more than half of the second cohort received a $100,000 four-year scholarship. The future doctors will be celebrated with a White Coat Ceremony on Saturday, July 31, at the Hilton University of Houston.

More than half — 67 percent — of the new class is female and 60 percent of the group are Black or Hispanic. Sixty-three percent represent low socioeconomic status (as defined by Texas Medical Dental Schools Application Services).

UH's College of Medicine is the newest addition to the Texas Medical Center. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

TMC approves the addition of the University of Houston's new medical school

joining the club

The largest medical city in the world has a new resident. The University of Houston College of Medicine is the newest official member of the Texas Medical Center (TMC). The move comes following approval by the TMC board of directors, UH announced.

This addition, which is Houston's first new medical school in nearly 50 years, means potential collaboration with dozens of hospitals and academic institutions, including four other medical schools.

UH's new College of Medicine was found to specifically serve underserved communities in Houston and across Texas. To address a critical statewide shortage of primary care doctors, the UH College of Medicine emphasizes primary care, especially in urban and rural communities, which often have poorer health outcomes, a press release notes. The inaugural class launched in fall 2020 with some 30 medical students.

TMC named the University of Houston a member institution in 2009; the school's College of Pharmacy has been a member since 1980.

A new three-story, 130,000-square-foot College of Medicine building is currently under construction on the UH campus, with a summer 2022 opening date. The facility will be located on 43-acres and will feature modern classroom and meeting spaces, state-of-the-art anatomy and simulation suites, and more, per UH.

Unofficially dubbed "Medical City," the Medical Center sees more than 10 million patients per year, employs more than 106,000 total workers, and is home to the world's largest children's hospital (Texas Children's Hospital), and cancer hospital (MD Anderson Cancer Center).

"We are elated to join the Texas Medical Center as a member institution and look forward to engaging with colleagues at other institutions to advance clinical issues and best practices, and further joint research endeavors," said Dr. Stephen Spann, founding dean of the UH College of Medicine and new member of the TMC Advisory Board, in a statement. "The tragedy of the COVID-19 pandemic has paradoxically produced an opportunity to address larger issues facing our health care systems, such as health equity. Together with our TMC partners, we can help be part of the solution."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

This week's Houston innovators to know include Travis Parigi of LiquidFrameworks, Kathy Luders of NASA, and Stephen Spann of the University of Houston. Photos courtesy

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Starting a new week, we'd like to introduce you to three Houston innovators who have recently made headlines. All three represent industries at the core of Houston's business community — from space and energy to health care.

Travis Parigi, founder and CEO of LiquidFrameworks

Travis Parigi, founder and CEO of LiquidFrameworks, joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how he's navigating both a global pandemic and an oil downturn. Photo courtesy of LiquidFrameworks

Travis Parigi, founder and CEO of LiquidFrameworks, joined the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss how both the oil downturn and the pandemic has affected his business, which provides cloud-based, mobile field operations management solutions to oil and gas, environmental, and industrial service companies.

"We've seen these types of challenges in the past within the oil and gas space — it is cyclical based on commodities," Parigi explains on thi week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We're well positioned to weather these storms."

Parigi shares his biggest concerns about the oil and gas market and how he's looking into partnering with another Houston energy tech startup, Data Gumbo, on the episode. Listen and read more.

Kathy Lueders, associate administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations Mission Directorate at NASA's Johnson Space Center

Kathy Lueders will lead the future of human space flight at NASA. Photo via nasa.gov

NASA's Johnson Space Center, home to human exploration, has a new leader. Kathy Lueders, formerly the commercial crew program manager, has been named associate administrator of the Human Exploration and Operations (HEO) Mission Directorate by NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine on Friday, June 12.

"Kathy gives us the extraordinary experience and passion we need to continue to move forward with Artemis and our goal of landing the first woman and the next man on the Moon by 2024," says Bridenstine in a news release. "She has a deep interest in developing commercial markets in space, dating back to her initial work on the space shuttle program."

Lueders has been with NASA for over 12 years — spending time at both JSC and Kennedy Space Center in Florida. Read more.

Dr. Stephen Spann, founding dean of the University of Houston's College of Medicine

The University of Houston broke ground on its new medical school building and named the College of Medicine's inaugural class. Photo via UH.edu

The University of Houston is the first institution in town in about 50 years to establish a new medical school, and UH is doing it for a specific reason — to get more primary care doctors in practice. UH's College of Medicine plans to have 50 percent of graduates choose primary care specialties including family medicine, general internal medicine, and general pediatrics. For some perspective, nationally, only about 20 percent of medical students choose primary care.

"We were very deliberate in our pursuit of medical students who fit the mission. This is much different than most other medical schools because we need different solutions for the current health care problems facing our city and state," said Dr. Stephen Spann, founding dean of the College of Medicine, in a statement. Read more.

The University of Houston broke ground on its new medical school building and named the College of Medicine's inaugural class. Photo via UH.edu

Houston medical school presents inaugural class as construction begins on new building

doctors in training

This month, the University of Houston has taken a couple huge steps toward establishing a prestigious medical school program — the first new medical school to be established in Houston in almost 50 years.

UH has broken ground on its $80 million medical school building that is expected to be completed in 2022, and the program has named its inaugural class.

The new cohort of future doctors is a group diverse in ethnic background and life experience. The school plans to tackle a key issue in public health: the shortage of primary care doctors. These future doctors are charged by the university with eliminating health disparities in underserved urban and rural areas, which often have poorer health outcomes.

The UH College of Medicine received 1,728 applications for its first class of students; 164 applicants were interviewed for the 30 available spots, according to UH. An 18-member admissions committee screened those most likely to pursue primary care.

Here is a breakdown of UH's inaugural medical school class:

  • 30 students
  • 73 percent underrepresented minorities in medicine
  • 63 percent female
  • 57 percent first generation in college
  • 40 percent low socioeconomic status
  • 100 percent Texas resident
  • Five graduates of the University of Texas at Austin; two graduates each from the University of Houston, Baylor, Texas A&M, Houston Baptist, Prairie View A&M, and Rice University

According to the school, the goal is for 50 percent of graduates of the UH College of Medicine to choose primary care specialties including family medicine, general internal medicine, and general pediatrics. For some perspective, nationally, only about 20 percent of medical students choose primary care.

"We were very deliberate in our pursuit of medical students who fit the mission. This is much different than most other medical schools because we need different solutions for the current health care problems facing our city and state," said Dr. Stephen Spann, founding dean of the College of Medicine, in a statement.

Each student will receive a $100,000 four-year scholarship through philanthropy to cover tuition and fees. At full enrollment, the College of Medicine will have 480 students, per the school. The Health 2 Building in the UH Medical District will be the college's temporary home for the first two years until a new $80 million medical school building is completed in 2022. Construction crews broke ground on the new building on June 15, according to the university.

Being part of UH's inaugural medical school is deeply personal for students such as Cenk Cengiz. At 14, Cengiz's family emigrated from Turkey to Houston, but could not afford health insurance. Cengiz attended high school and college without ever seeing a doctor, which attracted him to the field of medicine and peaked his interest in the medical school's unique mission to help underserved communities.

"I came a long way from washing dishes at age 14 at a pizza store," Cengiz said in a statement. "My parents are super proud of me."

Dr. Stephen Spann is the founding dean of the College of Medicine. Photo via uh.edu

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The University of Houston College of Medicine can now enroll its inaugural class. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

University of Houston's medical school gets accreditation, plans to start first class in July

now enrolling future doctors

The University of Houston has received the green light to move forward with its recruiting and enrolling its first class of 30 medical students for the first new medical school in Houston in over 50 years.

The University of Houston College of Medicine has received its preliminary accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the authority on medical education in the United States and Canada that is sponsored by the American Medical Association and the American Association of Medical Colleges.

This accreditation means the school can begin enrolling its inaugural class of 30 students and begin classes on July 20. Each of these new students will receive a $100,000 four-year scholarship thanks to an anonymous donor.

"Today is a historic day for the University of Houston, city of Houston, and the state of Texas because we are building this dream together," says Renu Khator, president and chancellor of the university, in a news release. "By training the next generation of compassionate physicians who understand how to provide quality health care at a reasonable cost, we are expanding our capabilities to serve the people and neighborhoods too often left behind."

Khator announced her plans to create the new school in 2014, with the goal being to address the shortage of 4,800-plus primary care physicians in Texas, according to the release.

For now, the school will operate out of UH's Health 2 Building, but the university plans to break ground this summer a new $80 million College of Medicine building. Completion is expected in 2022.

The school will focus its curriculum on primary care, behavioral and mental health, and preventive care, per the release, and create a household-centered care program that involves connecting a student with a family in an underserved community. According to the release, UH med students will be required to spend four weeks in a clinic in a rural part of the state.

"At full staffing we will have 65 full-time faculty teaching on campus, but there will be also be a large number of community-based faculty teaching in the outpatient and inpatient clinical settings," says Dr. Stephen Spann, founding dean of the medical school, in the release. "It is imperative that we place our medical students and faculty directly in the communities with the most need."

The school will still need fill accreditation from LCME, and, according to the release, this level of approval is usually granted within the fourth year of operation as long as the school meets the standards set by the organization.

"We are extremely grateful to receive LCME accreditation, but now the real work begins because we want to be accountable for improving the overall health and health care of the region," Spann says in the release.

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Education equity-focused nonprofit taps into robotics, AI to better serve Houston children

the future is bright

Generally, when children are under the age of five, educators believe that they are best suited for and interested in learning, because those are the years in which there is the strongest opportunity to build a broad and solid foundation for lifelong literacy and well-being.

That sentiment is deeply held by Collaborative for Children, the Houston-based nonprofit organization with the mission to meaningfully improve the quality of early childhood education and provide access to cutting-edge technology through its Centers of Excellence to all children, especially those in low-income and marginalized communities.

“The reason the organization was started about 40 years ago is that a group of philanthropists in the greater Houston area suggested that this was so important because 90 percent of the brain develops or grows in the time frame between ages zero to five years of age,” Melanie Johnson, president and CEO of Collaborative for Children, tells InnovationMap.

“And if we were losing children and not preparing them by third grade to be literate, and then subsequently losing them after that for high dropout rates and achievement gaps between poor and affluent children, that this would be the perfect place to start," she continues. "And so, they put the collaborative, the emphasis, and finances collaborative of every, most every early education effort around this region.”

Collaborative for Children’s work in the community is centered around making sure that there is educational equity for all children, regardless of financial status, and providing access to technologies in meaningful ways.

“Ultimately, we want to bridge the digital divide early on so that when children start off their academic journey, they're starting off equipped with the skills to be successful there on,” says Johnson.

Most recently, the institution has focused on utilizing social-emotional learning robots and coding tech toys like the Pepper — the world’s first social humanoid robot able to recognize faces and basic human emotions — and NAO, which resembles human being and stimulates, robots to enhance learning in the classrooms of its Centers of Excellence.

“Technology enhances the learning experience in the Centers of Excellence in ways that a teacher might not be able to,” says Johnson. “Artificial intelligence is used in gamification to allow a child to play and learn while playing.”

For Collaborative for Children, gamification involves transforming typical academic components into gaming themes.

“While playing, the AI gauges the level of skills that they’ve been able to enter into that system and respond with even more challenging tasks or tasks that are still lateral so that they can continue to repeat that skill,” says Johnson.

The socio-emotional learning robots are indeed fascinating, but how does the nonprofit reach these children, and their parents, who might be skeptical of technology?

Ultimately, through the teachers. They draw them in via the technology. If teachers are excited, they act as a conductor of that energy to their students, making their innovative lessons well, electric.

That resonates with most all children, but especially with those diagnosed with autism.

“Robotics like NAO are great for children on the autism spectrum because they are emotionally sensitive and emotionally intelligent,” says Johnson. “They are low sensory, so as NAO runs around the classroom, it can literally have individual and unique conversations with each child based on facial recognition. But most importantly for me, is that this particular robot is able to evaluate children without statistical bias that a teacher might have.

“A teacher might think that because a child confuses the letter D and B, which are basically shaped the same in opposite directions, that they're not learning," she continues. "And the robot will have no prior knowledge in terms of, is this child the better child, or have they been learning throughout the year? The answers are accurate or inaccurate. So, they remove statistical bias when assessing children in the classroom.”

The misconception about teaching technologies is that it’s about screen time. According to Johnson, it’s not. It’s more about interacting with technology.

“We’ve added, you know, all kinds of modern-day technology so that this world that we're preparing these children for 80 percent of the jobs we don't even know will exist when they are adults,” says Johnson. “So, we're just trying to make sure that there is no divide in terms of 21st century skills and 21st century preparation.”

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Collaborative for Children has so many facets to assist children with their early development, but there are inherent challenges when attempting to reach their target audience in low-income and marginalized communities that the organization counters with programs like the Collab Lab, which is a mobile classroom that brings critical, future-focused early childhood education directly to the community at no cost.

Designed to be convenient for families, Collab Lab connects parents and their youngest children with experts, educators, resources, and proven programs whose goal is to make sure that kids have the skills essential to learning from the moment they walk into kindergarten for the first time.

“There are a myriad of challenges in these communities that we serve, specifically with technology,” says Johnson. “When children enter first grade, and especially second grade, they're given notepads, basically, digital notepads, because it's no good in pre-K oftentimes, but it is very helpful for children who will never have access or have limited access to iPads and things of that nature.

“So while we don't want them to be babysat by screen time and have social media impacting their self-image and self-worth, we definitely want them to have appropriate doses and appropriate uses of technology in the early education, so that those barriers that their parents face with limited means, that these children can go to first grade and into the robotics class and be able to be evaluated and assessed on the digital notepads that are required nowadays,” she continues.

While technology is very important, Collaborative for Children also focuses on the critical social and emotional skills children need as they develop and the all too important relationship between children and their parents and teachers.

“Theory leads our work,” says Johnson. “It's all focused on fine motor skills, gross motor skills, social emotional, can a child build rapport with their teacher and with the students around them. Those things are paramount and will never change.

“What we use technology to do is enhance and remove biases from teacher-pupil interaction, but also to bridge any kind of divide in terms of 21st century skills. And in addition to that, we engage the families. So families who might not know about hydro-fueled cars in those communities that we serve will be able to be exposed to those concepts, as well through our group connections or parent partnerships.”

Ultimately, the last thing Collaborative for Children wants is to send children from early learning and childcare environments into the K-12 system unprepared to be successful for the real world.

“At Collaborative for Children,” adds Johnson. “We are continuously pushing the envelope at our Centers for Excellence so that the children that we serve will always be on the cutting edge.

The last thing Collaborative for Children wants is to send children from early learning and childcare environments into the K-12 system unprepared to be successful for the real world. Photo courtesy of Collaborative for Children

Houston med school develops revolutionary mRNA vaccine for elephants

zoology biology

An innovative team from Baylor College of Medicine and Texas Children’s Hospital has worked with the Houston Zoo to develop a first-of-its-kind treatment for elephants, which has been administered to its first patient.

Tess, the beloved, 40-year-old matriarch of the Houston Zoo’s elephant herd, is recovering well after receiving the first-ever mRNA vaccine against elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV) 1A on Tuesday, June 18. The veterinary staff at the Houston Zoo will monitor Tess in the coming weeks to check her reaction and the efficacy of the vaccine.

EEHV 1A is a deadly infection for Asian Elephants. While generally benign in African Elephants, Asian Elephants can develop fatal hemorrhages. The fatality rate is a whopping 80 percent, making it one of the most serous threats to elephant populations outside of humans.

Anti-viral drugs have some effect on the disease, but two-thirds show no improvement. This has led to a search for a vaccine. For 15 years, the Houston Zoo and Dr. Paul Ling at Baylor College of Medicine’s Department of Virology and Microbiology have partnered to develop the drug. They have been helped by worldwide research from zoos and animal specialists, as well as graduate student Jessica Watts and Dr. Jeroen Pollet at Houston's Texas Children’s Hospital. The research has been funded by private donations, research partnerships, and grants.

Before being inoculated, the mRNA vaccine was exhaustively tested, with the dosage being extrapolated from data involving horses.

Houston Zoo veterinarians will periodically test Tess to see if she is developing the appropriate antibodies. If she is and there are no adverse reactions, the next step will be to administer the vaccine to the rest of the Houston herd. Many of these are Tess’s own children (Tucker, Tupelo, Tilly, and Teddy) and grandchildren (Winnie).

Should the vaccine prove effective, the doses will be made available worldwide to zoos and private elephant sanctuaries. It is likely to have a significant benefit on protecting and preserving the Asian Elephant population. As of January, there are fewer than 50,000 of the animas left in the wild. They are currently listed as endangered, and breeding programs and research done through the Houston Zoo are essential to keeping the animals from going extinct.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

New study says Houston is best city to grow business

Report

The Bayou City has again received recognition as a top hub for business.

According to a new study by business revenue experts The RevOps Team, Houston is one of the cities in the US with 10 or more companies listed in the S&P 500, and has been named as the number one city with the fastest growing businesses in the U.S. Houston scored the highest Average Business Growth (ABG) at 26.7 percent. The business experts divided the data from the S&P 500 Index to see what businesses had the highest share-price growth in the last year.

Out of the 28 states and the cities with 10 or more businesses listed in the S&P 500, Houston was No. 1t for growing businesses with Atlanta, in second place with 15 companies listed and reaching an ABG of 24.2 percent. Two cities in Texas ranked in the top five with Dallas taking third place at 14.9 percent.

Texas ranked fifth place overall in the top five states for business growth with high-performing businesses like Vistra. Vistra was the company with the highest growth in Texas at 277.68 percent, followed by NRG Energy (NRG) with 170.43 percent and Caterpillar Inc. (CAT) at 69.13 percent.

“You need to be ready to both leverage opportunity and adapt to challenges,” Kerri Linsenbigler of RevOps Team said in a news release. “Growing a business wherever you are in the U.S. is not for the faint-hearted, and business owners in Texas will be proud that they have ranked highly in the top five.”

Earlier this month, over a dozen Houston-based companies madeU.S. News and World Report's collection of the "Best Companies to Work For" in 2024-2025.

In December, the city was ranked among the 25 best metropolitan areas to start a small business in a report by personal finance website The Credit Review placed Houston in the No. 22 spot.