3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

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

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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Houston biotech company launches animal testing on a drug that could treat COVID-19

searching for a cure

A clinical stage pharmaceutical company based in Houston has entered into the next phase of testing out a drug that could be used to treat COVID-19.

Moleculin Biotech Inc. has tapped an independent lab to examine the antiviral activity of its WP1122 portfolio in a COVID-19 animal model. The drug was originally developed as a cancer-fighting glycolysis inhibitor and submitted for its COVID-19 treatment patent in April.

"With in vivo studies for the treatment of COVID-19 in such high demand, we are excited to begin an in vivo study involving our WP1122 portfolio," says Walter Klemp, chairman and CEO of Moleculin, in a press release. "Even though we may have initial observations earlier, having the final data readout in December will push the estimated window for filing an Investigational New Drug application into 2021.

"We are also planning to conduct other in vivo studies, intended to enable us to file a complete IND with the US Food and Drug Administration."

The in vivo study, which would use the lab's hamster model and SARS-CoV-2. Moleculin Biotech expects to have the data from the study in December.

"We are excited about the additional in vitro testing as this will involve more than one molecule from our WP1122 anitmetabolite portfolio against SARS-CoV-2 and other viruses," says Klemp.

Moleculin Biotech was founded by Klemp in 2007 and went public in 2016. The company is based in the Memorial Park area of Houston.

Houston apartment company on 6 smart home technologies for renters

guest column

With recent changes to the ways we work and live, the importance of smart home technology in apartment complexes is becoming more important than ever. Residents not only want to streamline their lifestyles, but are looking for ways to limit contact when performing interactions.

A great example of smart home technology can be found at Drewery Place in Midtown. Built by Australian property developer Caydon, Drewery Place is at the forefront of smart home technology, providing residents with plenty of options to simplify their lifestyles in contactless style. Below are just some of the smart home features that residents in this tech savvy development enjoy.

Latch keyless entry

Fumbling for your keys is a thing of the past. Now you can use your phone to open not only your apartment door, but also resident-only areas such as the fitness center, pool area and pet park.

Smart thermostats

Come home to the perfect climate with smart thermostat technology. Now you can flick on the heat or blast in the cool as you can control the temperature from anywhere on your phone.

Set the scene

You know those days when things are just a little too bright? Or maybe you want to lighten the mood a little? Whatever you're feeling, get your lighting to match it with dimmer and lighting controls on your phone. There's also a host of pre-programmed lighting scenes so you can set the mood for any occasion.

Alexa — your new best friend

All of Drewery Place's apartments are wired and ready for Amazon's smart assistant, Alexa. Using voice control, you can get Alexa to adjust lighting, play your favorite music, summon an Uber and even order Amazon packages.

Caydon HQ

All residents at Drewery Place can pay their rent, request a maintenance repair, book amenities, organize a dog walker or request a Spruce chore such as a deep clean for their apartment. You can also get notifications from the concierge on when packages arrive and arrange contactless pickup from the downstairs mail lockers.

Get physical

Not into group classes? Organize a training session for one, anytime at the fitness center using MIRROR gym technology. This is literally a magic mirror, where a virtual trainer will train with you in the class of your choice. There's over 20+ categories to choose from, plus they'll correct your form in real-time — so you get personalized attention minus the class numbers.

The staff at Drewery Place are also taking extra precautions to help stop the spread of COVID-19 with regular deep cleanings, social distancing protocol and signage throughout the building. If you want to learn more, you can organize a personal tour complete with masks and social distancing.

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Emma Alexander is acting chief of operations and director of sales and marketing for Caydon.

2 Houston research teams to receive support from local space health organization

out of this world

A Houston-based organization has named five research projects to advance the understanding of space radiation using human tissue. Two of the five projects are based in Houston.

The Translational Research Institute for Space Health, or TRISH, is based at Baylor College of Medicine and funds health research and tech for astronauts during space missions. The astronauts who are headed to the moon or further will be exposed to high Galactic Cosmic Radiation levels, and TRISH wants to learn more about the effects of GCR.

"With this solicitation, TRISH was looking for novel human-based approaches to understand better Galactic Cosmic Rays (GCR) hazards, in addition to safe and effective countermeasures," says Kristin Fabre, TRISH's chief scientist, in a news release. "More than that, we sought interdisciplinary teams of scientists to carry these ideas forward. These five projects embody TRISH's approach to cutting-edge science."

The five projects are:

  • Michael Weil, PhD, of Colorado State University, Colorado — Effects of chronic high LET radiation on the human heart
  • Gordana Vunjak-Novakovic, PhD of Columbia University, New York — Human multi-tissue platform to study effects of space radiation and countermeasures
  • Sharon Gerecht, PhD of Johns Hopkins University, Maryland — Using human stem-cell derived vascular, neural and cardiac 3D tissues to determine countermeasures for radiation
  • Sarah Blutt, PhD of Baylor College of Medicine, Texas — Use of Microbial Based Countermeasures to Mitigate Radiation Induced Intestinal Damage
  • Mirjana Maletic-Savatic, PhD of Baylor College of Medicine, Texas — Counteracting space radiation by targeting neurogenesis in a human brain organoid model

The researchers are tasked with simulating radiation exposure to human tissues in order to study new ways to protect astronauts from the radiation once in deep space. According to the release, the tissue and organ models will be derived from blood donated by the astronaut in order to provide him or her with customized protection that will reduce the risk to their health.

TRISH is funded by a partnership between NASA and Baylor College of Medicine, which also includes consortium partners Caltech and MIT. The organization is also a partner to NASA's Human Research Program.