A unique innovation from the University of Houston has the potential to help stroke victims recover mobility. Photo courtesy of UH

A University of Houston professor has taking a huge step in advancing his game-changing stroke recovery tech.

Jose Luis Contreras-Vidal, the director of the UH BRAIN Center, recently published his work on a noninvasive brain-machine in a summer issue of the journal Sensors. InnovationMap first reported on Contreras-Vidal's technology in 2022, when it was being tested.

Contreras-Vidal's device uses a wireless, mobile dry-electrode headset placed on the scalp to convert electroencephalography (EEG) recordings (or measurements of electrical activity in different parts of the brain) to interface with a closed-loop brain–computer (BCI) and communicate with exoskeleton devices. Together, the technology triggers robotic movement based on the wearer's brain activity.

The technology has potential to boost cortical plasticity after a stroke, which can improve motor skills recovery.

According to a statement from UH, a patent is pending on Contreras-Vidal's BCI algorithm and the self-positioning dry electrode bracket used on the scalp. The technology has also now been validated and tested at the University of Houston.

Contreras-Vidal says the technology makes stroke recovery easier for the user and even possible at home.

“Most commercial EEG-based BCI systems are tethered to immobile processing hardware or require complex programming or set-up, making them difficult to deploy outside of the clinic or laboratory without technical assistance or extensive training," he says in a statement. "A portable and wireless BCI system is highly preferred so it can be used outside lab in clinical and non-clinical mobile applications at home, work, or play.”

Additionally, the technology uses off-the-shelf components and is adjustable to fit about 90 percent of the population, according to UH.

"Current commercial EEG amplifiers and BCI headsets are prohibitively expensive, lack interoperability, or fail to provide a high signal quality or closed-loop operation, which are vital for BCI applications,” Contreras-Vidal adds.

The development of this technology was originally funded in part by an $813,999 grant from the National Science Foundation’s Division of Translational Impacts. UH reports that about 795,000 people in the United States suffer from a stroke annually.

Other leaders in Houston’s medical industry have tapped into innovative ways to treat and rehabilitate stroke patients in recent years. Baylor St. Luke's Hospital began using AI to reduce the time it takes to treat patients who've suffered from a stroke in 2021.

Stroke patients have a new hope for arm rehabilitation thanks to a team from UH. Photo courtesy of UH

Robotic device created at the University of Houston helps stroke patients to rehabilitate

next-gen recovery

Almost 800,000 people in the United States suffer from a stroke annually — and the affliction affects each patient differently. One University of Houston researcher has created a device that greatly improves the lives of patients whose stroke affected motor skills.

UH engineering professor Jose Luis Contreras-Vidal developed a next-generation robotic arm that can be controlled by the user's brainwaves. The portable device uses a brain-computer interface (BCI) developed by Contreras-Vidal. Stroke patient Oswald Reedus, 66, is the first person to use a device of this kind.

Reedus lost the use of his left arm following a stroke that also caused aphasia, or difficulty speaking. While he's been able to recover his ability to speak clearly, the new exoskeleton will help rehabilitate his arm.

When strapped into the noninvasive device, the user's brain activity is translated into motor commands to power upper-limb robotics. As patients like Reedus use the device, more data is collected to improve the experience.

“If I can pass along anything to help a stroke person’s life, I will do it. For me it’s my purpose in life now,” says Reedus in a news release from UH. His mother and younger brother both died of strokes, and Reedus is set on helping the device that can help other stroke patients recover.

Contreras-Vidal, a Hugh Roy and Lillie Cranz Cullen distinguished professor, has led his device from ideation to in-home use, like with Reedus, as well as clinical trials at TIRR Memorial Hermann. The project is funded in part from an $813,999 grant from the National Science Foundation’s newly created Division of Translational Impacts.

"Our project addresses a pressing need for accessible, safe, and effective stroke rehabilitation devices for in-clinic and at-home use for sustainable long-term therapy, a global market size expected to currently be $31 billion," Contreras-Vidal says in the release. "Unfortunately, current devices fail to engage the patients, are hard to match to their needs and capabilities, are costly to use and maintain, or are limited to clinical settings."

Dr. Gerard E. Francisco, chief medical officer and director of the Neuro Recovery Research Center at TIRR Memorial Hermann, is leading the clinical trials for the device. He's also chair and professor in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at McGovern Medical School at UTHealth Houston. He explains that TIRR's partnership with engineering schools such as the Cullen College of Engineering at UH and others around the nation is strategic.

“This is truly exciting because what we know now is there are so many ways we can induce neuroplasticity or how we can boost recovery,” says Francisco in the release. “That collaboration is going to give birth to many of these groundbreaking technologies and innovations we can offer our patients.”

Both parts of the device — a part that attaches to the patient's head and a part affixed to their arm — are noninvasive. Photo courtesy of UH

Baylor St. Luke's Hospital is using a new Bay Area technology to provide treatment to stroke patients. Photo courtesy Baylor St. Luke's

Houston hospital taps artificial intelligence to boost stroke treatment

health tech

For neurologists and neurocritical care providers like Dr. Chethan Rao, medical director of Neuroscience ICU at Baylor St. Luke's Hospital, time is incredibly important when it comes to brain-related recoveries.

"For every minute that you don't treat a patient with a stroke, 2 million nerve cells die. In the normal aging process, you lose about 35,000 cells a year or so," Rao says. "In other words, you age about 10 years every minute you don't get a treatment for stroke."

This is why his team is using new technologies, softwares, and innovation to drastically reduce the time it takes to treat patients who've suffered from a stroke starting from the moment they enter through the doors of their hospital.

One of the latest advancements at Baylor St. Luke's is the adoption of the San Francisco-based artificial intelligence app called Viz.ai across its stroke care teams.

The app received FDA approval in February 2020 and uses deep learning algorithms to analyze CAT scans for suspected large vessel occlusion (LVO) strokes. Baylor purchased the software about a year ago and is the first Houston-area hospital to use artificial intelligence for this type of treatment.

Viz.ai instantly allows doctors to determine salvageable and unsalvageable brain tissue, creating what Dr. Rao describes as a "map" for any potential procedures. Determining the viability of this type of treatment traditionally would take about 15 to 20 minutes, according to Rao.

"That's the reason artificial intelligence and automated technology has become extremely important. Because the more you've reduced the time it's required to make decisions and to provide treatments for stroke, that benefit is humungous for the patient," he says.

Rao says that his team uses the software about every day and has treated roughly 140 stroke patients with guidance from the tool.

Next the hospital aims to connect Viz.ai with additional automated systems it has adopted to speed up processes for stroke patients and manage their care, including TigerConnect for internal HIPAA-approved messaging and Decisio, a Houston-based product that captures key time stamps.

And Rao adds that the hospital is researching ways to extend the use of Viz.ai for select patients—to salvage more brain matter and analyze additional neurological events.

"More exciting things will be coming out of it," he says. "We're also working on helping it analyze aneurysms, not just blockages. Can we locate the bleeds, so that we can create different alert systems and then create different treatment pathways immediately?"

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CultureMap Emails are Awesome

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.