Houston innovator talks space health and the future of the commercial sector

houston innovators podcast episode 102

James Hury joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to discuss the role of the Translational Research Institute for Space Health. Photo courtesy of TRISH

Only about 500 humans have made it to space, which, from a research perspective, isn't a large data set. Yet as commercial space exploration continues and more people make it up into space, new opportunities for space health research are being made available.

"If you look at all the people who have gone into space, they've mostly been employees of nations — astronauts from different governments," says James Hury of the Translational Research Institute for Space Health on this week's episode of the Houston Innovators Podcast. "We're going to start to get people from all different ages and backgrounds."

Hury is the deputy director and chief innovation officer for Houston-based TRISH, and he's focused on identifying space tech and research ahead of the market that has the potential to impact human health in space. From devices that allow astronauts to perform remote health care on themselves to addressing behavioral health challenges, TRISH is supporting the future of space health.

The organization, which is housed out of Baylor College of Medicine and supported by NASA, has a major role to play in the future of space. The Federal Aviation Administration released new space travel regulations that require travelers to contribute something to society. One way to check that box is to collaborate with TRISH on its research.

"If you are willing to go and help participate in experimentation and research endeavors, then you are helping to gain knowledge for all of humankind," Hury says of future space travelers willing to pay tens of millions of dollars to go to space.

TRISH has stood up the first commercial spaceflight medical research program to work with commercial spaceflight crews to bring back crucial research to one database. Called EXPAND — Enhancing eXploration Platforms and Analog Definition — the new collaborative program is meant to address the challenges that humans face on space missions — early detection and treatment of medical conditions, protection from radiation, mental health, team dynamics, and more.

The human aspect of space exploration has always been at the core of Houston's space industry. And this isn't going to change as commercialization within the sector continues.

"I think we'll be Space City forever," Hury says on the show. "We have a whole lot of expertise here that can support this new economy."

He shares more on the future of space health and Houston's role in space exploration on the episode. Listen to the full interview below — or wherever you stream your podcasts — and subscribe for weekly episodes.


Here's what researchers raked in the cash to support their research. Photo via Getty Images

Fresh funds: 2 Houston organizations dole grants to advance research

research roundup

Funding fuels the research that supports the innovations of tomorrow. Two Houston-based scientific organizations announced funding recipients that are working on advancing research in space health and chemistry.

4 research teams receive funds to advance space health work

The Translational Research Institute for Space Health, known as TRISH, at Baylor College of Medicine has announced almost $4 million in grants to four research teams. As more and more plans to launch humans into space continue to develop, TRISH is working to support research addressing human health in space.

TRISH's Biomedical Research Advances for Space Health initiative looked for new ways to reduce potential damage from the environment through manipulation of human metabolism and the normal state-of-being at the cellular or whole organism level, according to a press release.

"These outstanding awardees brought cutting-edge proposals to the table. Each project provides a unique opportunity to advance human health research on the bleeding edge of science fiction," says TRISH Executive Director, Dorit Donoviel, in the release. "This creative research has the potential to protect all humans through advancing tissue transplantation or helping patients that have medical conditions such as heart or brain damage that could be aided by reducing cellular activity."

The awardees, who will begin their TRISH-funded research in April 2022, for BRASH 2101 included:

  • Clifton Callaway, M.D., Ph.D., University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
    • Cold-Sleep for Long Duration Spaceflight
  • Tammy Chang, M.D., Ph.D., University of California, San Francisco
    • The Effect of Isochoric Supercooling on Human Liver Metabolic Function
  • Allyson Hindle, Ph.D., University of Nevada, Las Vegas
    • Can Humans Hibernate at Warm Temperatures?
  • Christopher Porada, Ph.D., Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina
    • Using Human Organoids and Fossilized Remains from Extinct Hominins to Unlock the Secrets of Torpor/Hibernation

Houston organization names 2021 award recipient

The Welch Foundation has named professor Chi-Huey Wong as the 2021 recipient of the Robert A. Welch Award in Chemistry. Wong is a leader in synthetic chemistry and chemical biology. Specifically, the award recognizes Wong for his development of new methods for the synthesis of complex carbohydrates and glycoproteins and the elucidation of carbohydrate-mediated biological recognition associated with disease progression, according to a press release.

"The mission of The Welch Foundation is to improve the lives of others through the advancement of chemical research, and Dr. Wong has been working towards that goal for decades," says Carin Barth, chair and director of The Welch Foundation Board of Directors. "Not only has he made revolutionary advances in chemistry and biology, but his methodologies will facilitate new drug and vaccine developments for years to come."

Wong is the Scripps Family Chair Professor in the Department of Chemistry at The Scripps Research Institute. He will receive $500,000 to advance his research. Houston-based Welch Foundation has contributed more than $1.1 billion to the advancement of chemistry since 1954.

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Dorit Donoviel of TRISH, Nuri Firat Ince of UH, and Vanessa Wade of Connect the Dots. Courtesy photos

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from space to engineering — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.


Dorit Donoviel, director of the Translational Research Institute for Space Health

Dorit Donoviel, director of the Translational Research Institute for Space Health

The new program will work with commercial spaceflight crews to bring back crucial research to one database. Photo via Libby Neder Photography

The Translational Research Institute for Space Health, or TRISH, at Baylor College of Medicine announced a unique program that will work with commercial spaceflight providers and their passengers. The EXPAND — Enhancing eXploration Platforms and Analog Definition — Program will collect information and data from multiple space flights and organize it in one place. TRISH selected TrialX to build the centralized database.

"The space environment causes rapid body changes. This can help us understand how we humans react to and overcome stress. Ensuring that space explorers remain healthy pushes us to invent new approaches for early detection and prevention of medical conditions," says Dorit Donoviel, executive director at TRISH, in the release.

"Studying a broad range of people in space increases our knowledge of human biology. TRISH's EXPAND program will leverage opportunities with commercial spaceflight providers and their willing crew to open up new research horizons." Click here to read more.

Nuri Firat Ince, associate professor of biomedical engineering at UH

A medical device designed by a UH professor will close the loop with high frequency brain waves to prevent seizures from occurring. Photo via uh.edu

Nuri Firat Ince, an associate professor of biomedical engineering at UH, has received a federal grant aimed at helping stop epileptic seizures before they start. The BRAIN Initiative at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke awarded the $3.7 million grant to go toward Ince's work to create a seizure-halting device based on his research.

According to UH, Ince has reduced by weeks the time it takes to locate the seizure onset zone (SOZ), the part of the brain that causes seizures in patients with epilepsy. He's done this by detecting high-frequency oscillations (HFO) forming "repetitive waveform patterns" that identify their location in the SOZ.

"If the outcomes of our research in acute settings become successful, we will execute a clinical trial and run our methods with the implanted … system in a chronic ambulatory setting," Ince says. Click here to read more.

Vanessa Wade, founder and owner of Connect the Dots

It's time for large corporations to step up to support small businesses founded by people of color. Photo courtesy

In her guest column for InnovationMap, Vanessa Wade addressed some of the challenges she faced founding a company as a person of color — specifically the lack of access to funding. In the article, she calls corporations to action to help business leaders like herself.

"The journey ahead can feel discouraging, but the good news is that now I have a much better idea of what it will take to build an equitable road back and get businesses like mine on even footing," she writes. Click here to read more.

The new program will work with commercial spaceflight crews to bring back crucial research to one database. Photo via NASA/Unsplash

Houston organization launches the first commercial spaceflight medical research program

out of this world health care

With commercial space activity reaching cruising altitude, a Houston space health research organization has introduced a new program to create a centralized database.

The Translational Research Institute for Space Health, or TRISH, at Baylor College of Medicine announced a unique program that will work with commercial spaceflight providers and their passengers. The EXPAND — Enhancing eXploration Platforms and Analog Definition — Program will collect information and data from multiple space flights and organize it in one place. TRISH selected TrialX to build the centralized database.

As a partner to the NASA Human Research Program, the Houston-based organization's mission is to reduce health risks for astronauts and uncover advances for terrestrial healthcare, according to a news release.

"The space environment causes rapid body changes. This can help us understand how we humans react to and overcome stress. Ensuring that space explorers remain healthy pushes us to invent new approaches for early detection and prevention of medical conditions," says Dorit Donoviel, executive director at TRISH, in the release. "Studying a broad range of people in space increases our knowledge of human biology. TRISH's EXPAND program will leverage opportunities with commercial spaceflight providers and their willing crew to open up new research horizons."

The new collaborative program is meant to address the challenges that humans face on space missions — early detection and treatment of medical conditions, protection from radiation, mental health, team dynamics, and more. TRISH has been working on these challenges since its inception.

"This ground-breaking research model is only possible because everyone — scientists, commercial spaceflight companies, and passengers - recognizes the importance of space health research, and what we can learn by working together," says Dr. Emmanuel Urquieta, TRISH's chief medical officer, in the release.

EXPAND's first collaboration is the Inspiration4 mission, which is launching on September 15. The all-civilian crew will perform a variety of TRISH-supported human health experiments during their time in orbit.

"Shorter commercial space flights like Inspiration4 have similarities to early NASA Artemis missions," says Jimmy Wu, TRISH's senior biomedical engineer. "This allows TRISH an opportunity to test new health and performance technologies for future NASA astronauts."

The potential impact of innovation with this new centralized database and biobank is profound, says James Hury, TRISH's deputy director and chief innovation officer.

"The EXPAND database has the flexibility to seamlessly take in multiple types of data from different flight providers in order to create a repository that can integrate information," says Hury in the release. "A centralized, standardized research database and biobank will increase access to knowledge about human health for the global research community."

The first crew of all civilians is headed into orbit this month — and they are going to bring back essential research. Photo via inspiration4.com

Houston-based research organization teams up with SpaceX for historic mission

space health

The world's first all-civilian human spaceflight mission to orbit will be participating in health-related research projects sponsored by a Houston organization.

The crew of Inspiration4 will contribute to research projects that the Translational Research Institute for Space Health, or TRISH, at Baylor College of Medicine will sponsor. The project is a collaboration is between TRISH, SpaceX, and investigators at Weill Cornell Medicine.

"The crew of Inspiration4 is eager to use our mission to help make a better future for those who will launch in the years and decades to come," says Jared Isaacman, commander of the Inspiration4 mission, in a news release. "In all of human history, fewer than 600 humans have reached space. We are proud that our flight will help influence all those who will travel after us and look forward to seeing how this mission will help shape the beginning of a new era for space exploration."

According to the release, all biomedical data collected for the Inspiration4 mission will be accessible through an open data repository funded and overseen by TRISH. The mission will include the following TRISH-sponsored research:

  • Collect research-grade ECG activity, movement, sleep, heart rate and rhythm, blood oxygen saturation, cabin noise and light intensity.
  • Perform a series of tests in the Cognition app designed to assess changes in behavioral and cognitive performance. This is the same app that is currently used by astronauts in NASA-funded research studies.
  • Scan organ systems via a Butterfly IQ+ Ultrasound device, which is designed with artificial intelligence guidance for non-medical experts. Data collected will determine if non-medical experts can self-acquire clinical grade images without guidance from ground support and will provide a timeline of biological changes before and during spaceflight. This device is also currently being tested by astronauts on the International Space Station.
  • Collect and test drops of blood during spaceflight for markers of immune function and inflammation using a state-of-the-art miniaturized device called the Vertical Flow Immunoassay.
  • Use balance and perception tests pre-flight and immediately post-flight to measure sensorimotor adaptation during changes of gravity. These tests are currently performed by astronauts upon return from spaceflight.
  • Archive, fully analyze, and share resulting biomedical samples and data in collaboration with investigators at Weill Cornell Medicine and research data in an open format database to enable greater collaborative research.

Researchers at Weill Cornell Medicine will be collecting the environmental and biomedical data and biological samples from Inspiration4's four crew members before, during, and after the mission. These samples and data will be added to a planned Biobank that will hold cryogenically-frozen samples and data from the Inspiration4 mission. The sample collection will enable long-term research and health monitoring for astronauts. WorldQuant is providing funding support for the work at Weill Cornell Medicine.

The mission, which will be aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9, is slated for September 15 from Launch Complex 39A at NASA's Kennedy Space Center. The three-day mission will target approximately a 575 km orbit, flying farther from Earth than any human spaceflight since the Hubble Space Telescope repair missions. Inspiration4's goal is to inspire humanity and raise money for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.

The space mission will be riding aboard SpaceX's Falcon 9. Photo via inspiration4.com

Several Houston startups won kudos and more at recent competitions — plus more Houston innovation news. Photo via Getty Images

Houston energy startups claim big wins, space health fellows named, and more innovation news

Short stories

What's the latest in news for the Houston innovation ecosystem? So glad you asked. Here's some local startup and tech news you might have missed.

In this roundup of short stories within Houston innovation, an energy transition startup snagged $100,000 in a recent competition, four space health researchers were named to a Houston program, a Houston tech startup was tapped by Google for its recent cohort, and more.

Cemvita Factory wins $100,000 in clean energy competition

Cemvita Factory has secured wins in two recent startup competitions. Photo courtesy of Cemvita

A Houston company has been named the the $100,000 cash winner of an inaugural competition.

The GS Beyond Energy Innovation Challenge from Cleantech.org named Cemvita Factory as the big winner — out of six finalists. Another Houston company, Amperon Inc. , came in second place, followed by Skycool Systems in third place. The third Houston startup named to the finals, Veloce Energy, was named the crowd's favorite. The three Houston finalists were announced in June.

"Our top three startups face many challenges on the path to accelerating the energy transition, and we are honored to be a part of their journey. Startuplandia is a rough and tumble world, and it was a very close competition. Congrats to Moji Karimi and the Cemvita Factory team. Can't wait to see what you do next," says Neal Dikeman, chairman of Cleantech.org and a partner at one of the prize sponsors, Energy Transition Ventures, in a news release. "And a huge thanks to our accelerator and incubator partners. We look forward to working with everyone again in the future."

Cemvita Factory was also named the winner of The Ion's Houston Startup Showcase a few weeks ago.

Google taps Houston startup for latest cohort

Google has named DOSS to its Black Founders Accelerator. Photo via Pexels

A Houston startup has made it into the Google for Startups Accelerator: Black Founders cohort. DOSS, a digital, voice-activated real estate tool, was selected for the second cohort of the accelerator.

Bobby Bryant leads the company as founder and CEO. DOSS is joined by 10 other startups — including two other Texas companies, Dallas-based Zirtue and Fêtefully.

"Being a digital real estate search and transactional marketplace, this is a perfect opportunity for DOSS to have direct access to Google Engineers and Developers. This is a startup founder's dream to work with Google," Bryant writes in a LinkedIn post.

The program concludes with a showcase on Thursday, October 21 from 11:30 am to 1:00 pm.

Space health organization selects four fellows

These four fellows will continue their space health research with the support of TRISH. Photo via Pexels

Houston-based Translational Research Institute for Space Health, known as TRISH, at Baylor College of Medicine has named four scientists to receive postdoctoral fellowship awards to further their career in space health. Each fellow will work on a two-year project that "addresses challenges to astronaut health during deep space exploration missions," according to a news release. The fellows also become part of the TRISH Academy of Bioastronautics, a forum for postdoctoral researchers working on TRISH research projects.

"The space industry needs a strong pool of highly-trained scientists focused on human health to return us to the moon," says Zélia Worman, TRISH scientific program manager and lead for postdoctoral career development, in the release. "TRISH has selected four postdoctoral fellows who are ready for the challenge. We are proud to welcome these outstanding scientists to our Academy of Bioastronautics and work with them to launch their career in space health and reach for the Moon and Mars safely."

The postdoctoral fellows are:

  • Kaylin Didier of the University of Wisconsin, Madison — focused on ionizing radiation and immune responses: exploring sex differences
  • James Jahng of Stanford University, California — focused on countermeasure development against myocardial mitochondrial stress by space radiation exposure
  • Heather McGregor of the University of Florida, Gainesville — focused on investigating planta somatosensory noise as a countermeasure for balance and locomotion impairments in simulated lunar and Martian gravity
  • Mallika Sarma of Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland — focused on stress response and neurovestibular compensation and the potential ameliorative effects of team support

Houston energy consortium names winners in startup competition

Energy tech founders pitched at the Society of Petroleum Engineers' summit. Photo via Getty Images

The Innovation and Entrepreneurship Summit from the Society of Petroleum Engineers-Gulf Coast Section concluded with a startup pitch event earlier this month. Three startups were recognized at the Shark Tank-style competition.

  • The judges selected Houston-based SaaS startup InerG as the winner.
  • The People's Choice winner was New Jersey-based Anax Power.
  • North Carolina-based Revolution Turbine was the runner-up, according to the judges, as well as received honorable mention from the People's Choice portion of the competition.
The judges of the event — or the "sharks" — included Plug and Play Director Payal Patel, Montrose Lane Managing Partner Ryan Gurney, CSL Ventures Vice President Abhinav Jain, and SCF Ventures Managing Director Hossam Eldadawy.

Capital Factory is calling for all female founders

Attention female founders — Capital Factory has a competition you need to know about. Photo via Getty Images

Austin-based Capital Factory's Texas Fund, in partnership with Beam Angel Network, Seven Seven Six Fund, and Golden Seeds (Houston), has announced a $100,000 Investment Challenge for its 4th Annual Women In Tech Summit on October 4. Capital Factory is looking for five technology startup finalists to pitch to a panel of advisors and judges made up of successful investors, entrepreneurs, and industry leaders. The prize on the line? A $100,000 investment and membership into Capital Factory.

Any software, hardware, or CPG startup in Texas with a female founder or co-founder can apply to participate. The finalists will all be fast tracked into the Capital Factory portfolio, access to the Capital Factory Mentor network and coworking space, and up to $250,000 in potential total hosting credits from AWS, Google Cloud, Microsoft Azure and other major hosting providers. Capital Factory will receive: 1 percent common stock grant as advisor equity (separate from the investment) and the right to invest up to $250,000 in the next round of funding.

One winner will receive a $100,000 cash investment on a SAFE or Convertible Note using Capital Factory's term sheet and your most recent funding valuation, or a qualified term sheet provided by the company. The deadline is September 12. Submit your application

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City launches public dashboard for tracking COVID-19 in Houston's wastewater

data points

In 2020, a group of researchers began testing Houston's wastewater to collect data to help identify trends at the community level. Now, the team's work has been rounded up to use as an online resource.

The Houston Health Department and Rice University launched the dashboard on September 22. The information comes from samples collected from the city's 39 wastewater treatment plants and many HISD schools.

"This new dashboard is another tool Houstonians can use to gauge the situation and make informed decisions to protect their families," says Dr. Loren Hopkins, chief environmental science officer for the health department and professor in the practice of statistics at Rice University, in a news release. "A high level of virus in your neighborhood's wastewater means virus is spreading locally and you should be even more stringent about masking up when visiting public places."

The health department, Houston Water, Rice University, and Baylor College of Medicine originally collaborated on the wastewater testing. Baylor microbiologist Dr. Anthony Maresso, director of BCM TAILOR Labs, led a part of the research.

"This is not Houston's first infectious disease crisis," Maresso says in an earlier news release. "Wastewater sampling was pioneered by Joseph Melnick, the first chair of Baylor's Department of Molecular Virology and Microbiology, to get ahead of polio outbreaks in Houston in the 1960s. This work essentially ushered in the field of environmental virology, and it began here at Baylor. TAILOR Labs is just continuing that tradition by providing advanced science measures to support local public health intervention."

It's an affordable way to track the virus, says experts. People with COVID-19 shed viral particles in their feces, according to the release, and by testing the wastewater, the health department can measure important infection rate changes.

The dashboard, which is accessible online now, is color-coded by the level of viral load in wastewater samples, as well as labeled with any recent trend changes. Houstonians can find the interactive COVID-19 wastewater monitoring dashboard, vaccination sites, testing sites, and more information at houstonemergency.org/covid19.

Rice University rises with massive $100M gift for innovative new student center

student centered

Rice University's Owls are soaring of late, with the school just being named the top in Texas and No. 7 in the U.S. Now, the institution known as the "Ivy League of the South" is the recipient of a mammoth gift aimed at a game-changing student center.

The Moody Foundation has granted Rice University a massive $100 million for its planned Moody Center for Student Life and Opportunity, which will replace Rice's current Memorial Center (RMC), and will become a new focal point for the university's 300-acre wooded campus, the school announced.

Notably, this new student center is designed by Sir David Adjaye of Adjaye Associates; the acclaimed architect's other works include the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Scheduled to break ground in early 2022 and construction completed in 2023, the brand-new Moody Center for Student Life and Opportunity will maintain some elements of the old RMC, namely the chapel and cloisters. Students and staff can expect demolition of the rest of the existing RMC, per a press release.

Moody's $100 million grant matches the record for the largest gift in the university's history. (Last year, the Robert A. Welch Foundation donated $100 million to the school to establish the innovation-driven Welch Institute.) The Moody Foundation has contributed over $125 million to Rice since 1964, a press release notes.

As part of the Moody $100 million gift, a new Moody Fund for Student Opportunity will support an endowment dedicated to student programs "physically anchored in the new student center and elsewhere in the university," according to the school.

All this supports Rice's recently announced plans for a 20-percent expansion of the undergraduate student body by fall 2025, as CultureMap previously reported.

"We are extremely grateful for this extraordinary philanthropy in support of Rice students," said Rice president David Leebron in a statement. "This gift will enable our students to broaden their engagements and experiences while at Rice in ways that will empower their success throughout their lives. It will also enable us to both connect more deeply with Houston and with the world. This will be the epitome of what an inclusive and outward-looking student center should be."

Elle Moody, a trustee of both the Moody Foundation and Rice, added: "As a Rice University alumna, I know this gift will have a profound and lasting effect on the campus and its students. This investment is supporting much more than just a building. We're investing in every student, so they have access to pursue any endeavor whether it's leadership, artistic, athletic, global or more."

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.