Five cancer research teams have been selected to receive funds from a new initiative from the University of Texas. Photo via news.utexas.edu

In a renewed effort to move the needle on finding a cure for cancer, the University of Texas system has launched a new collaboration in oncological data and computational science across three programs.

Houston-based University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center has teamed up with two UT Austin schools — the Oden Institute for Computational Engineering and Sciences and the Texas Advanced Computing Center. The collaboration was announced this summer to tap into mathematical modeling and advanced computing along with oncology expertise to inspire new methods of cancer treatment.

"Integrating and learning from the massive amount of largely unstructured data in cancer care and research is a formidable challenge," says David Jaffray, Ph.D., chief technology and digital officer at MD Anderson, in a news release. "We need to bring together teams that can place quantitative data in context and inform state-of-the-art computational models of the disease and accelerate progress in our mission to end cancer."

Now, the first five projects to be funded under this new initiative have been announced.

  • Angela Jarrett of the Oden Institute and Maia Rauch of MD Anderson will develop a patient-specific mathematical model for forecasting treatment response and designing optimal therapy strategies for patients with triple-negative breast cancer.
  • Caroline Chung of MD Anderson and David Hormuth of the Oden Institute are using computational models of the underlying biology to fundamentally change how radiotherapy and chemotherapy are personalized to improve survival rates for brain cancer patients.
  • Ken-Pin Hwang of MD Anderson and Jon Tamir of UT Austin's Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering and the Oden Institute will use mathematical modeling and massively parallel distributed computing to make prostate MR imaging faster and more accurate to reduce the incidence of unnecessary or inaccurate biopsies.
  • Xiaodong Zhang of MD Anderson and Hang Liu of TACC will advance both the planning and delivery of proton therapy via a platform that combines mathematical algorithms and high-performance computing to further personalize these already highly tailored treatments.
  • Tinsley Oden and Prashant Jha of the Oden Institute and David Fuentes of MD Anderson will integrate a new mechanistic model of tumor growth with an advanced form of MRI to reveal underlying metabolic alterations in tumors and lead to new treatments for patients.

"These five research teams, made up of a cross section of expertise from all three stakeholders, represent the beginning of something truly special," says Jaffray in a release. "Our experts are advancing cancer research and care, and we are committed to working with our colleagues at the Oden Institute and TACC to bring together their computational expertise with our data and insights."

Later this month, the five teams will log on to a virtual retreat along with academic and government thought leaders to further collaborate and intertwine their research and expertise.

"Texas is globally recognized for its excellence in computing and in cancer research. This collaboration forges a new path to international leadership through the combination of its strengths in both," says Karen Willcox, director of the Oden Institute. "We are thrilled that leaders in government, industry and academia see the potential of this unique Texan partnership. We're looking forward to a virtual retreat on October 29 to continue to build upon this realization."

Houston Methodist stood out yet again on an annual best hospitals report, but several other Houston institutions were recognized as well. Courtesy of Methodist Hospital/Facebook

New report recognizes best hospitals in Houston

better than all the rest

Hospitals across Houston were ranked by their patient care, patient safety, outcomes, nursing, advanced technology and reputation in an annual report that identifies the top medical facilities in the country.

U.S. News & World Report released its 31st annual best hospital rankings this week, which included both adult and children's hospital tracks across several categories. The report released both overall and local rankings after evaluating over 4,500 medical centers nationwide in 16 specialties, and 134 hospitals were ranked in at least one specialty.

For the ninth year in a row, the top hospital in Houston and Texas, according to the report, is Houston Methodist, which ranked at No. 20 nationally and made the report's Honor Roll.

"Our U.S. News rankings are especially meaningful right now as this has been an exceptionally difficult time for our health care workers," says Marc Boom, M.D., president and CEO of Houston Methodist, in a news release. "We have always served our community by providing exceptional care — during the COVID-19 pandemic and before. It's a true testament to our commitment to being unparalleled."

Houston Methodist Sugar Land Hospital tied for No. 4 in Houston and No. 6 (three-way tie) in Texas. Additionally, the hospital was recognized on the top lists for 11 specialties:

  • No. 12 for cardiology/heart surgery
  • No. 13 for orthopedics
  • No. 14 for gastroenterology/GI surgery
  • No. 17 for cancer
  • No. 19 (tie) for nephrology
  • No. 20 for pulmonology and lung surgery
  • No. 23 for neurology/neurosurgery
  • No. 26 for geriatrics
  • No. 26 (tie) for gynecology
  • No. 28 for diabetes and endocrinology
  • No. 49 for ear, nose and throat

The second-best hospital in Houston on this year's ranking was Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center, which was also named the No. 3 hospital in the state.

"At Baylor St. Luke's, we are transforming the way we deliver care for our patients through groundbreaking technologies and a multidisciplinary approach that allows us to give the best possible care to patients and their families," says Doug Lawson, CEO of St. Luke's Health, in a news release. "I praise our dedicated staff and physicians for helping us achieve this recognition."

Baylor St. Luke's also made an appearance across five specialties:

  • No. 17 for cardiology/heart surgery
  • No. 21 for gastroenterology/GI surgery
  • No. 21 for neurology/neurosurgery
  • No. 27 for cancer
  • No. 47 for geriatrics

"This is a great report that confirms the efforts of our partnership at Baylor St. Luke's and our affiliated hospitals to provide unsurpassed care to patients, conduct research that will change lives and train the next generation of physicians", says Dr. Paul Klotman, president, CEO, and executive dean at Baylor College of Medicine. "Baylor St. Luke's high ranking in Texas is in parallel with Baylor College of Medicine being the highest ranked medical school in Texas. Together, we are an outstanding academic medical center and learning health system."

Memorial Hermann - Texas Medical Center came in No. 3 in Houston and No. 5 in Texas. The hospital ranked in one adult specialty and two children's specialties.

  • No. 43 for ear, nose and throat (adult)
  • No. 22 for cardiology/heart surgery (pediatric)
  • No. 31 for neurology/neurosurgery (pediatric)

On the children's hospital track, Houston's Texas Children's Hospital ranked as No. 4 nationally and was recognized in all 10 pediatric specialties, which included:

  • No. 1 for pediatric cardiology/heart surgery
  • No. 2 for pediatric nephrology
  • No. 2 for pediatric neurology/neurosurgery
  • No. 3 for pediatric pulmonology and lung surgery
  • No. 4 for pediatric cancer
  • No. 5 for pediatric diabetes and endocrinology
  • No. 5 for pediatric gastroenterology/GI surgery
  • No. 6 for pediatric urology
  • No. 10 for neonatology
  • No. 15 for pediatric orthopedics

Zooming in on the specific specialties, several other Houston hospitals in addition to these top tier hospitals, secured spots in the top 10 rankings.

University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center was ranked No. 1 nationally for adult cancer treatment. Additionally, the hospital made an appearance in six other adult specialties and one pediatric specialty.

  • No. 4 for ear, nose and throat
  • No. 6 for urology
  • No. 14 for gynecology
  • No. 27 for diabetes and endocrinology
  • No. 41 for geriatrics
  • No. 46 for gastroenterology/GI surgery
  • No. 38 for cancer (pediatric)
TIRR Memorial Hermann in Houston ranked No. 3 nationally for rehabilitation.
For all 31 years, The Menninger Clinic has been recognized as a top hospital in the psychiatric speciality. This year, the clinic ranked at No. 9 nationally.

"Our clinical teams provide personalized care with the right blend of art and science. We have pioneered measuring the effectiveness of this treatment, and the results consistently demonstrate that patients sustain their well-being for at least a year after they leave Menninger," says Armando Colombo, president and CEO, in a news release. "Going forward, we will improve access to make it easier for more Texans to access these life-changing results."

Othram and the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center have teamed up to create a modern forensic sequencing lab program. Getty Images

New program in Houston is training future forensic scientists and digitizing DNA evidence

crime scene innovation

Houston-area's first-privately held forensic sequencing laboratory has partnered with The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center to create an academic program that will provide forensic training to genome scientists that will help them crack previously unsolved criminal cases.

Othram was created in 2018 specifically to apply the power of modern DNA parallel sequences to forensic evidence. Its new academic program partnership is aimed at training Molecular Genetic Technology (MGT) graduate students in the newest laboratory techniques and technology for the recovery and analysis of human DNA from deteriorated or contaminated materials.

"Because this field is so new, there aren't many individuals who are experts in both genomics and forensic science," David Mittelman, CEO and founder of Othram, tells InnovationMap. "We wanted to collaborate with M.D. Anderson who has a great genetic testing program already to help students learn about how to apply current techniques that are being used to solve cases that no one else can solve."

MGT students, who study the role of genetics in medicine, will be able to train with Othram experts using new technological advances such as the ability to harness whole-genome shotgun sequencing for the unique needs that forensic evidence demands like human identification.

"The Texas Medical Center is the best in the world, specifically for genomics training so it seemed like a natural fit," says Mittelman. "Especially since we want to attract and expose students to this new area of forensics as a possible outlet."

The use of new technology is what sets Othram apart, last year they helped solved a 103-year old mystery of a headless torso found in an Idaho cave, using their Forensic-Grade Genome SequencingTM technology. The DNA extraction and sequencing lab at Othram distill the sample DNA down to a sequence, which with the help of computer software, can be analyzed to reconstruct the whole genome of an individual's DNA.

Then the DNA is digitized and matched to other databases such as the FBI's Combined DNA Index System to cross-reference for a DNA match. With Othram's ability to construct whole genomes from previously unusable DNA samples, they can further the search to identify human remains or identify suspects from living relatives.

"There is no one currently leveraging whole genome sequencing right now like Othram," says Mittelman. "There's a whole range of opportunities from taking a look at the whole genome from ancestry to relationship testing and physical trait prediction."

The unique learning experience for MGT students will integrate classroom lectures, laboratory demonstrations, and technological experiences. Mittleman says that the academic program partnership will enable a new generation of forensic genomics scientists to digitize the nation's DNA evidence and solve cold cases.

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Houston SaaS startup raises $10M to keep up with customer growth

money moves

A Houston software company has announced its latest funding.

Liongard, an IT software provider, has raised an additional $10 million led by Updata Partners with contribution from TDF Ventures — both existing investors in the company. The funding, according to a news release, will go toward providing the best customer service for Liongard's growing customer base.

The technology is providing managed service providers, or MSPs, improved visibility across the IT stack and an optimized user experience.

“Since working with our first MSP partners, we’ve seen time and again the power of visibility into IT data, reducing the time they spend researching customer issues and allowing them to respond faster than their peers,” says Joe Alapat, CEO and co-founder of Liongard, in the release. “This investment enables us to continue to achieve our vision of delivering visibility into each element of the IT stack.”

The company has about 2,000 partners in support of more than 60,000 end customers. And has been recognized as a top employer by Forbes and Inc. magazine earlier this year.

“We are excited to deepen our commitment with Liongard,“ says Carter Griffin, general partner at Updata, in the release. “With its leading data platform for MSPs we expect continued fast-paced growth.”

Liongard's last funding round was in May of 2020 and was a $17 million series B round. Both Updata Partners and TDF ventures were involved in that round. The company's total funding now sits at over $30 million.

Rice University rises to No. 1 spot in new ranking of best college investments

money moves

By one measure, earning a degree at Rice University is the smartest move in the Lone Star State.

In its eighth annual ranking of colleges and university that give students the best return on their educational investment, personal finance website SmartAsset places Rice at No. 1 in Texas and No. 10 in the U.S. It’s the only Texas school to break into the national top 10.

To determine the best-value colleges and universities in each state, SmartAsset crunched data in these categories: scholarships and grants, starting salary for new graduates, tuition, living costs, and retention rate.

While the tuition ($47,350) and student living costs ($17,800) at Rice are the highest among the top 10 Texas schools on the list, the average amount of scholarships and grants ($43,615), average starting salary ($77,900), and retention rate (97 percent) also are among the highest.

According to Rice, tuition, fees, on-campus room and board, books, and personal expenses for the 2022-23 academic year add up to $74,110. That figure, which excludes financial aid, applies to a full-time, degree-seeking student living on campus.

“Rice University is consistently ranked as a best value in higher education and is one of America’s leading teaching and research universities,” the school’s Office of Financial Aid says. “By attending Rice, you will not only receive a superior education at a reasonable cost, you also will benefit from having a Rice degree long after graduation.”

Three other schools in or near the Houston metro area appear on SmartAsset’s list of the biggest-bang-for-your-buck schools in Texas:

  • Prairie View A&M University, No. 4. The university posted the lowest retention rate (74 percent) among the 10 schools. The remaining figures sit roughly in the middle of the pack.
  • University of Houston, No. 5. The university’s tuition ($8,913) was the lowest in the top 10, as was the average amount of scholarships and grants ($6,544).
  • Texas A&M University-College Station, No. 6. The university’s living costs are the second highest among the top 10 ($17,636), while its average starting salary for new grads lands at No. 3 ($64,400).

Other schools in the state’s top 10 are:

  • University of Texas at Austin, No. 2.
  • University of Texas at Dallas (Richardson), No. 3.
  • Texas Tech University in Lubbock, No. 7.
  • LeTourneau University in Longview, No. 8.
  • University of North Texas in Denton, No. 9.
  • Texas State University in San Marcos, No. 10.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

Houston expert addresses the growing labor shortage within health care

guest column

Long before COVID-19 became a part of our new normal, the concerns around shortages in health care staffing were present.

To put this in real terms, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the latest projection of employment through the end of this decade is an increase of nearly 12 million jobs. A fourth of those — 3.3 million to be exact — are expected to go towards health care and social assistance roles.

Before the pandemic, the concerns centered around managing a growing retired population and a slowing in higher education nurse enrollment. Then amid the growing shortage concerns surrounding the support for aging baby boomers, we were all thrusted into a pandemic.

The stressors on health care professional staffing have doubled down and what the increased shortage has shown us is the need to intervene and change the traditional hiring practices. Speed to place a nurse on assignment doesn’t just ensure productivity — it is a matter of life or death.

Over the past several years, the evolution of technology has drastically changed how health care facilities operate and interact with their employees as well as patients. There was a point in time where the structure in health care staffing was rigid without flexibility or varieties of employment type. Conversations around travel positions, per diem, and permanent are all now commonplace as the recent shortages caused us to normalize the discussion around role type and use of technology to influence speed to hire.

This whole evolution was put to test when April 2020 came, and the initial brunt of the pandemic was in full swing. The entire world was in panic mode. During these quarantine times, we were in a state of a health care emergency with thousands of patients seeking health care. Unfortunately, hospitals could not keep up with this demand with their existing nurse professionals, and became severely overloaded and dangerous. Due to this the United States saw unprecedented labor shortages, impacting a large number of nurses and health care workers as it pertains to both their physical and mental health.

What we are seeing now is a period classified as the “The Great Rethinking,” where nurses and health care workers alike are speaking up for what they believe in and deserve. Salary transparency and flexibility are just the tip of the iceberg for this movement.

SkillGigs is unique in that we are giving the power back to registered nurses and health care professionals, while meeting the demand created by the pandemic. Our team has been fortunate to be a catalyst to direct the change in the future of work, and we look forward to continuing to innovate.

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Bryan Groom is the division president of health care at Houston-based SkillGigs.