Six Houston inventors have been recognized with the highest professional distinction for inventors within academia. Photo via Pexels

The National Academy of Inventors has announced its annual set of NAI Fellows — and six Houstonians make the list of the 164 honorees from 116 research institutions worldwide.

The NAI Fellows Program honors academic inventors "who have demonstrated a spirit of innovation in creating or facilitating outstanding inventions that have made a tangible impact on the quality of life, economic development, and the welfare of society," according to a news release. The appointment is the highest professional distinction for inventors within academia.

The six Houstonians on the list join a group that hold more than 48,000 U.S. patents, which have generated over 13,000 licensed technologies and companies, and created more than one million jobs, per the release. Additionally, $3 trillion in revenue has been generated based on NAI Fellow discoveries.

These are the scientists from Houston organizations:

    • Zhiqiang An, University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston: An is the director of the Texas Therapeutics Institute, a drug discovery program operated by the John P. and Kathrine G. McGovern Medical School at Houston. He's also a professor of molecular medicine and holder of the Robert A. Welch Distinguished University Chair in Chemistry at UTHealth.
    • Alex Ignatiev, University of Houston: Ignatiev served as director of two NASA-supported research and technology development centers at the University of Houston and as Lillie Cranz and Hugh Roy Cullen Professor of Physics, Chemistry, and Electrical and Computer Engineering.
    • David Jaffray, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center: Jaffray was appointed MD Anderson's first-ever chief technology and digital officer in 2019. He oversees MD Anderson’s Information Services division and Information Security department and is a professor of Radiation Physics with a joint appointment in Imaging Physics.
    • Pei-Yong Shi,The University of Texas Medical Branch: Pei-Yong Shi is a professor and John Sealy Distinguished Chair in Innovations in Molecular Biology Department of Biochemistry & Molecular Biology;. He's also the Vice Chair for Innovation and Commercialization.
    • Ganesh Thakur, University of Houston: Thakur is a pioneer in carbon capture, utilization and storage and has a patent on forecasting performance of water injection and enhanced oil recovery. His team is continuing to push the research envelope for CCUS employing world-class lab research, simulation, machine learning and artificial intelligence.
    • Darren Woodside, Texas Heart Institute: Woodside is the Vice President for Research and Director of the Flow Cytometry and Imaging Core at the Texas Heart Institute. His research centers around the role that cell adhesion plays in cardiovascular and autoimmune diseases, and the development of novel means to identify and treat these diseases.
    Ten other Texas-based innovators made the list, including:
    • Sanjay Banerjee, The University of Texas at Austin
    • Thomas Boland, The University of Texas at El Paso
    • Joan Brennecke, The University of Texas at Austin
    • Gerard Cote, Texas A&M University
    • Ananth Dodabalapur, The University of Texas at Austin
    • Holloway (Holly) H. Frost Jr., The University of Texas at Arlington
    • James E. Hubbard, Texas A&M University
    • Yi Lu, University of Texas at Austin
    • Samuel Prien, Texas Tech University
    • Earl E. Swartzlander Jr., The University of Texas at Austin
    This year's class will be inducted at the Fellows Induction Ceremony at the 11th Annual Meeting of the National Academy of Inventors in June in Phoenix, Arizona.

    "The caliber of this year's class of NAI Fellows is outstanding. Each of these individuals are highly-regarded in their respective fields," says Paul R. Sanberg, president of NAI's board of directors, in the release. "The breadth and scope of their discovery is truly staggering. I'm excited not only see their work continue, but also to see their knowledge influence a new era of science, technology, and innovation worldwide."

    The Texas Medical Center announced the groundbreaking of the TMC3 Collaborative Building. Image courtesy of Elkus Manfredi Architects

    TMC breaks ground on collaborative Houston research center

    in the works

    A fall 2023 opening is set for a research center under construction at the Texas Medical Center's new TMC3 life science campus.

    The 250,000-square-foot TMC3 Collaborative Building will house research initiatives organized by the Texas Medical Center, University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, Texas A&M University Health Science Center, and University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. Construction began in January.

    "The founding institutions behind [this building] are among the world's leading innovators in health and science. Their work at both the bench and bedside saves lives. The entire spirit behind this building reflects a joint investment — both financially and strategically — in lifesaving research, data collaborations, and technologies," William McKeon, president and CEO of Texas Medical Center, says in a September 20 news release.

    Located at the heart of the 37-acre TMC3 campus and facing the site's Helix Gardens, the $185.8 million, four-story building is designed to foster collaboration among academic healthcare institutions and industry partners. Within the building, the three academic healthcare partners will create a 43,000-square-foot joint research lab. Furthermore, a 7,000-square-foot, 500-seat atrium will be available for lectures and other activities.

    Beyond space shared by TMC3's four founders, 85,000 square feet of lab and office space will be developed for industry partners, and MD Anderson will create a 14,000-square-foot space for strategic initiatives. The building also includes 14,200 square feet that will host TMC's strategic initiatives; Braidwell, a life science-focused investment firm; the TMC Venture fund; and national venture and equity and partners.

    "This project represents a once-in-a-generation opportunity for Houston's academic medical community to collaborate together and with industry to advance our missions and accelerate knowledge and cures," says Dr. Peter WT Pisters, president of MD Anderson.

    "By breaking down silos and bringing clinicians and scientists together in this resource-rich location to speed new therapies to market from regenerative medicine and advanced imaging to drug discovery and data sciences, we will have the ability to translate discoveries into preventions and treatments for patients in need," adds Jon Mogford, chief operating officer and senior vice president of Texas A&M Health.

    UTHealth is one of eight U.S. sites for the trial. Photo via uth.edu

    Houston health center working with new study that uses app to track long-term COVID-19 effects

    pandemic innovation

    Aided by technology, medical sleuths at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston are tracking the long-term effects of COVID-19 as part of a national study.

    At the heart of the study is an app that allows patients who have shown COVID-19 symptoms and have been tested for COVID-19 to voluntarily share their electronic health records with researchers. The researchers then can monitor long-term symptoms like brain fog, fatigue, depression, and cardiovascular problems.

    UTHealth is one of eight U.S. sites for the INSPIRE trial (Innovative Support for Patients with SARS COV-2 Infections Registry). Researchers are recruiting study participants from Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center. They want to expand recruitment to urgent care clinics in the Houston area.

    Aside from accessing patients' data through the Hugo Health platform, UTHealth researchers will ask participants to fill out brief follow-up surveys every three months over the course of 18 months. The study complies with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996 (HIPAA), the federal law that protects patients' information from being disclosed without their knowledge.

    "This is a very novel and important study," Dr. Ryan Huebinger, assistant professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at UTHealth's McGovern Medical School and co-principal investigator of the study, says in a news release.

    In a study like this, researchers typically must see a patient in person or at least reach out to them.

    "Using this platform is novel because we don't have to schedule additional appointments or ask questions like 'How long were you hospitalized?' – we can automatically see that in their records and survey submissions," Huebinger says.

    Mandy Hill, associate professor in the McGovern Medical School's Department of Emergency Medicine and the study's co-principal investigator, says about one-fourth of the people in the study will be local residents who didn't test positive for COVID-19.

    "That group will be our control group to be able to compare things like prevalence and risk factors," Huebinger says.

    Eligible participants must be at least 18 years old, must have experienced COVID-19 symptoms, and must have been tested for COVID-19 in the past four weeks.

    "This is not going to be the last pandemic. The more information we can gather across communities now will give us a leg up when the next pandemic happens," Hill says, "so that we can be more prepared to take steps toward prevention."

    Researchers hope to sign up at least 300 study participants in Houston. The entire INSPIRE trial seeks to enroll 4,800 participants nationwide. The study is supposed to end in November 2022.

    "There's such great potential for numerous research findings to come out of this study. We could find out if people in Houston are suffering from post-COVID-19 symptoms differently than other parts of the country, whether minorities are more affected by long-hauler symptoms, and if certain interventions work better than others," Hill says.

    The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is financing the study. Aside from UTHealth, academic institutions involved in the research are:

    • University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas
    • Rush University Medical Center in Chicago
    • Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut
    • University of Washington in Seattle
    • Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia
    • University of California, Los Angeles
    • University of California, San Francisco
    Five Houston research centers have received funds from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas in its most recent round of grants. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

    Houston cancer-fighting researchers granted over $30 million from statewide organization

    just granted

    The Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas has again granted millions to Texas institutions. Across the state, cancer-fighting scientists have received 55 new grants totaling over $78 million.

    Five Houston-area institutions — Baylor College of Medicine, the University of Houston, The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston, The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, and the The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center — have received around $30 million of that grand total.

    "These awards reflect CPRIT's established priorities to invest in childhood cancer research, address population and geographic disparities, and recruit top cancer research talent to our academic institutions," says Wayne Roberts, CPRIT CEO, in a news release. "I'm excited about all the awardees, particularly those in San Antonio, a region that continues expand their cancer research and prevention prowess. San Antonio is poised to have an even greater impact across the Texas cancer-fighting ecosystem."

    Four grants went to new companies that are bringing new technologies to the market. Two companies with a presence in Houston — Asylia Therapeutics and Barricade Therapeutics Corp. — received grants in this category.

    Last fall, CPRIT gave out nearly $136 million to Texas researchers, and, to date, the organization has granted $2.49 billion to Texas research institutions and organizations.

    Here's what recent grants were made to Houston institutions.

    Baylor College of Medicine

    • $900,000 granted for Feng Yang's research in targeting AKT signaling in MAPK4-high Triple Negative Breast Cancer (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $897,527 Hyun-Sung Lee's research for Spatial Profiling of Tumor-Immune Microenvironment by Multiplexed Single Cell Imaging Mass Cytometry (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $899,847 for Joshua Wythe's research in targeting Endothelial Transcriptional Networks in GBM (Individual Investigator Award)

    University of Houston

    • $890,502 for Matthew Gallagher's research in Transdiagnostic Cognitive Behavioral Therapy for Smokers With Anxiety and Depression (Individual Investigator Research Award for Prevention and Early Detection)
    • $299,953 for Lorraine Reitzel's research in Taking Texas Tobacco Free Through a Sustainable Education/Training Program Designed for Personnel Addressing Tobacco Control in Behavioral Health Settings (Dissemination of CPRIT-Funded Cancer Control Interventions Award)

    The University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston

    • $1,993,096 for Abbey Berenson's research in maximizing opportunities for HPV vaccination in medically underserved counties of Southeast Texas (Expansion of Cancer Prevention Services to Rural and Medically Underserved Populations)

    The University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston

    • $900,000 for Melissa Aldrich's research on "Can Microsurgeries Cure Lymphedema? An Objective Assessment" (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $900,000 for John Hancock's research in KRAS Spatiotemporal Dynamics: Novel Therapeutic Targets (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $900,000 for Nami McCarty's research in targeting Multiple Myeloma Stem Cell Niche (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $1.96 million for Paula Cuccaro's research in Expanding "All for Them": A comprehensive school-based approach to increase HPV vaccination through public schools (Expansion of Cancer Prevention Services to Rural and Medically Underserved Populations)

    The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center

    • $900,000 for Laurence Court's research in Artificial Intelligence for the Peer Review of Radiation Therapy Treatments
    • $900,000 for John deGroot's research in targeting MEK in EGFR-Amplified Glioblastoma (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $900,000 for Don Gibbons's research in Investigating the Role ofCD38 as a Mechanism of Acquired Resistance to Immune Checkpoint Inhibitors in Lung Cancer (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $900,000 for John Heymach's research in Molecular Features Impacting Drug Resistance in Atypical EGFR Exon 18 and Exon 20 Mutant NSCLC and the Development of Novel Mutant- Selective Inhibitors (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $900,000 for Zhen Fan's research in Development of a Novel Strategy for Tumor Delivery of MHC-I-Compatible Peptides for Cancer Immunotherapy (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $900,000 for Jin Seon Im's research in off the shelf, Cord-Derived iNK T cells Engineered to Prevent GVHD and Relapse After Hematopoietic Stem Cell Transplantation (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $900,000 for Jae-il Park's research in CRAD Tumor Suppressor and Mucinous Adenocarcinoma (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $900,000 for Helen Piwnica-Worms's research in Single-Cell Evaluation to Identify Tumor-stroma Niches Driving the Transition from In Situ to Invasive Breast Cancer (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $898,872 for Kunal Rai's research in Heterogeneity of Enhancer Patterns in Colorectal Cancers- Mechanisms and Therapy (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $900,000 for Ferdinandos Skoulidis's research in Elucidating Aberrant Splicing-Induced Immune Pathway Activation in RBMl0-Deficient KRAS-Mutant NSCLC and Harnessing Its Potential for Precision Immunotherapy (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $887,713 for Konstantin Sokolov's research in High-Sensitivity 19F MRI for Clinically Translatable Imaging of Adoptive NK Cell Brain Tumor Therapy (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $900,000 for Liuqing Yang's research in Adipocyte-Producing Noncoding RNA Promotes Liver Cancer Immunoresistance (Individual Investigator Award)
    • $1.44 million for Eugenie Kleinerman's research in Doxorubicin-Induced Cardiotoxicity: Defining Blood and Echocardiogram Biomarkers in a Mouse Model and AYA Sarcoma Patients for Evaluating Exercise Interventions (Individual Investigator Award for Cancer in Children and Adolescents)
    • $2.4 million for Arvind Dasari's research in Circulating Tumor DNA- Defined Minimal Residual Disease in Colorectal Cancer (Individual Investigator Research Award for Clinical Translation)
    • Targeting Alterations of the NOTCH! Pathway in Head and Neck Squamous Cell Carcinoma (HNSCC)(Faye Johnson) - $1.2 million (Individual Investigator Research Award for Clinical Translation)
    • $2.07 million for Florencia McAllister's research in Modulating the Gut- Tumor Microbial Axis to Reverse Pancreatic Cancer Immunosuooression (Individual Investigator Research Award for Clinical Translation)
    • $2 million to recruit Eric Smith, MD, PhD, to The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center from Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (Recruitment of First-Time, Tenure-Track Faculty Members Award)
    • $2 million for Karen Basen-Engquist's research in Active Living After Cancer: Combining a Physical Activity Program with Survivor Navigation (Expansion of Cancer Prevention Services to Rural and Medically Underserved Populations)


    Seed Awards for Product Development Research

    • Houston and Boston-based Asylia Therapeutics's Jeno Gyuris was granted $3 million for its development of a Novel Approach to Cancer Immunotherapy by Targeting Extracellular Tumor- derived HSP70 to Dendritic Cells
    • Houston-based Barricade Therapeutics Corp.'s Neil Thapar was granted $3 million for its development of a First-In-Class Small Molecule, TASIN, for Targeting Truncated APC Mutations for the Treatment of Colorectal Cancer (CRC)
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    Health tech startup launches Houston study improve stroke patients recovery

    now enrolling

    A Houston-born company is enrolling patients in a study to test the efficacy of nerve stimulation to improve outcomes for stroke survivors.

    Dr. Kirt Gill and Joe Upchurch founded NeuraStasis in 2021 as part of the TMC Biodesign fellowship program.

    “The idea for the company manifested during that year because both Joe and I had experiences with stroke survivors in our own lives,” Gill tells InnovationMap. It began for Gill when his former college roommate had a stroke in his twenties.

    “It’s a very unpredictable, sudden disease with ramifications not just for my best friend but for everyone in his life. I saw what it did to his family and caregivers and it's one of those things that doesn't have as many solutions for people to continue recovery and to prevent damage and that's an area that I wanted to focus myself on in my career,” Gill explains.

    Gill and Upchurch arrived at the trigeminal and vagus nerves as a potential key to helping stroke patients. Gill says that there is a growing amount of academic literature that talks about the efficacy of stimulating those nerves. The co-founders met Dr. Sean Savitz, the director of the UTHealth Institute for Stroke and Cerebrovascular Diseases, during their fellowship. He is now their principal investigator for their clinical feasibility study, located at his facility.

    The treatment is targeted for patients who have suffered an ischemic stroke, meaning that it’s caused by a blockage of blood flow to the brain.

    “Rehabilitation after a stroke is intended to help the brain develop new networks to compensate for permanently damaged areas,” Gill says. “But the recovery process typically slows to essentially a standstill or plateau by three to six months after that stroke. The result is that the majority of stroke survivors, around 7.6 million in the US alone, live with a form of disability that prevents complete independence afterwards.”

    NeuraStasis’ technology is intended to help patients who are past that window. They accomplish that with a non-invasive brain-stimulation device that targets the trigeminal and vagus nerves.

    “Think of it kind of like a wearable headset that enables stimulation to be delivered, paired to survivors going through rehabilitation action. So the goal here is to help reinforce and rewire networks as they're performing specific tasks that they're looking to improve upon,” Gill explains.

    The study, which hopes to enroll around 25 subjects, is intended to help people with residual arm and hand deficits six months or more after their ischemic stroke. The patients enrolled will receive nerve stimulation three times a week for six weeks. It’s in this window that Gill says he hopes to see meaningful improvement in patients’ upper extremity deficits.

    Though NeuraStasis currently boasts just its two co-founders as full-time employees, the company is seeing healthy growth. It was selected for a $1.1 million award from the National Institutes of Health through its Blueprint MedTech program. The award was funded by the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. The funding furthers NeuraStasis’ work for two years, and supports product development for work on acute stroke and for another product that will aid in emergency situations.

    Gill says that he believes “Houston has been tailor-made for medical healthcare-focused innovation.”

    NeuraStasis, he continues, has benefited greatly from its advisors and mentors from throughout the TMC, as well as the engineering talent from Rice, University of Houston and Texas A&M. And the entrepreneur says that he hopes that Houston will benefit as much from NeuraStasis’ technology as the company has from its hometown.

    “I know that there are people within the community that could benefit from our device,” he says.

    Texas Space Commission launches, Houston execs named to leadership

    future of space

    Governor Greg Abbott announced the Texas Space Commission, naming its inaugural board of directors and Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee.

    The announcement came at NASA's Johnson Space Center, and the governor was joined by Speaker Dade Phelan, Representative Greg Bonnen, Representative Dennis Paul, NASA's Johnson Space Center Director Vanessa Wyche, and various aerospace industry leaders.

    According to a news release, the Texas Space Commission will aim to strengthen commercial, civil, and military aerospace activity by promoting innovation in space exploration and commercial aerospace opportunities, which will include the integration of space, aeronautics, and aviation industries as part of the Texas economy.

    The Commission will be governed by a nine-member board of directors. The board will also administer the legislatively created Space Exploration and Aeronautics Research Fund to provide grants to eligible entities.

    “Texas is home to trailblazers and innovators, and we have a rich history of traversing the final frontier: space,” Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick says in a news release. “Texas is and will continue to be the epicenter for the space industry across the globe, and I have total confidence that my appointees to the Texas Space Commission Board of Directors and the Texas Aerospace Research and Space Economy Consortium Executive Committee will ensure the Texas space industry remains an international powerhouse for cutting-edge space innovation.”

    TARSEC will independently identify research opportunities that will assist the state’s position in aeronautics research and development, astronautics, space commercialization, and space flight infrastructure. It also plans to fuel the integration of space, aeronautics, astronautics, and aviation industries into the Texas economy. TARSEC will be governed by an executive committee and will be composed of representatives of each higher education institution in the state.

    “Since its very inception, NASA’s Johnson Space Center has been home to manned spaceflight, propelling Texas as the national leader in the U.S. space program,” Abbott says during the announcement. “It was at Rice University where President John F. Kennedy announced that the U.S. would put a man on the moon—not because it was easy, but because it was hard.

    "Now, with the Texas Space Commission, our great state will have a group that is responsible for dreaming and achieving the next generation of human exploration in space," he continues. "Texas is the launchpad for Mars, innovating the technology that will colonize humanity’s first new planet. As we look into the future of space, one thing is clear: those who reach for the stars do so from the great state of Texas. I look forward to working with the Texas Space Commission, and I thank the Texas Legislature for partnering with industry and higher education institutions to secure the future of Texas' robust space industry."

    The Houston-area board of directors appointees included:

    • Gwen Griffin, chief executive officer of the Griffin Communications Group
    • John Shannon, vice president of Exploration Systems at the Boeing Company
    • Sarah "Sassie" Duggleby, co-founder and CEO of Venus Aerospace
    • Kirk Shireman, vice president of Lunar Exploration Campaigns at Lockheed Martin
    • Dr. Nancy Currie-Gregg, director of the Texas A&M Space Institute

    Additionally, a few Houstonians were named to the TARSEC committee, including:

    • Stephanie Murphy, CEO and executive chairman of Aegis Aerospace
    • Matt Ondler, president and former chief technology officer at Axiom Space
    • Jack “2fish” Fischer, vice president of production and operations at Intuitive Machines
    • Brian Freedman, president of the Bay Area Houston Economic Partnership and vice chairman of Wellby Financial
    • David Alexander, professor of physics and astronomy and director of the Rice Space Institute at Rice University

    To see the full list of appointed board and committee members, along with their extended bios, click here.