all heart

Massive $32M gift from former patient, new UH deal pump big changes into Houston organization

The Texas Heart Institute recently received its largest charitable donation in its history. Photo courtesy of THI

Leadership at The Texas Heart Institute has two major things to celebrate. First, it just received a $32 million donation from a patient — the largest charitable donation in its history.

Shortly after that news came out, the institute announced a new partnership with the University of Houston Tilman J. Fertitta Family College of Medicine that allows those UH medical students to join a clinical rotation at The Texas Heart Institute. The alliance means valuable insights and experience with both inpatient and outpatient cardiology for UH's future doctors.

"Students will have the chance to develop their skills in the diagnosis and management of cardiovascular conditions and will be taught by outstanding clinical educators,” said Dr. Joseph G. Rogers, president and CEO of The Texas Heart Institute and heart failure specialist at The Texas Heart Institute Center for Cardiovascular Care, in a press release announcing the news.

A game-changing gift that's all heart

As for that mammoth gift, the $32 million donation comes from Dr. Frederick M. Weissman, a neurologist from New York who was a patient at the Institute 40 years ago. Fittingly, huis gift will be used to support cardiovascular research.

This isn't Weissman's first gift to the institution. That came following his experience there in the mid-1980s, when he was treated by world-renowned cardiac surgeon Dr. Denton A. Cooley.

In November of 1986, Weissman wrote a check for $5,000; another followed the next month, with a note that read, in part, “my conscience compels me to make another contribution to The Texas Heart Institute. I don’t think I could ever repay you for what you and your staff have done for me.” Weissman and Cooley would go on to be friends throughout their lives.

When Dr. Weissman died in 2005, he left The Texas Heart Institute $500,000. The organization recently received the residual of his estate — valued at more than $32 million.

“Those of us who were fortunate enough to work with and be trained by Dr. Cooley know he was much more than just an incredibly gifted surgeon," renowned transplant surgeon and Co-director of THI’s Center for Preclinical Surgical & Interventional Research, Dr. O.H. “Bud” Frazier, said in press materials announcing the donation. "He established lifelong relationships with his patients and encouraged all of us to do the same. Dr. Weissman’s extraordinary generosity reflects the impact Dr. Cooley still has on the Institute he founded.”

A big leap for THI and the Coogs

Looking ahead, this game-changing gift and new affiliation with UH promises big things for students, doctors, researchers, and patients.

Medical students in rotation at The Texas Heart Institute will be exposed to progressive clinical care, allowing them to gain a deep understanding of the etiology, pathophysiology and management of cardiovascular disease from prevention to the most contemporary treatments available today. This level of hands-on experience is invaluable for future physicians, and will certainly contribute to the advancement of cardiovascular medicine.

"We are honored to launch this new affiliation with Fertitta Family College of Medicine,” said Dr. Jorge Escobar, director of undergraduate medical education at The Texas Heart Institute. "With new advances in diagnostic imaging, bedside testing, and clinical trials coupled with the complex care we provide to our patients, the rotation will be an impactful experience for the students."

Pumping with growth

Meanwhile, THI recently established The Texas Heart Institute Research Innovation Fund to propel the next generation of cardiovascular research by sparking discovery, supporting innovation, and recognizing excellence in high-risk, high-reward scientific exploration.

To that end, $5 million of the Weissman bequest has been designated to match philanthropic commitments of $10,000 or greater made to THI’s Research Innovation Fund and its priority initiatives in 2023, allowing donors the opportunity to double the impact of their research investment.

Founded in 1962, THI performed the first successful heart transplant and total artificial heart implant in the United States. It has gone on to become one of the world's leading institutions for cardiovascular treatment and research.


This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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A research team housed out of the newly launched Rice Biotech Launch Pad received funding to scale tech that could slash cancer deaths in half. Photo via Rice University

A research funding agency has deployed capital into a team at Rice University that's working to develop a technology that could cut cancer-related deaths in half.

Rice researchers received $45 million from the National Institutes of Health's Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health, or ARPA-H, to scale up development of a sense-and-respond implant technology. Rice bioengineer Omid Veiseh leads the team developing the technology as principal investigator.

“Instead of tethering patients to hospital beds, IV bags and external monitors, we’ll use a minimally invasive procedure to implant a small device that continuously monitors their cancer and adjusts their immunotherapy dose in real time,” he says in a news release. “This kind of ‘closed-loop therapy’ has been used for managing diabetes, where you have a glucose monitor that continuously talks to an insulin pump. But for cancer immunotherapy, it’s revolutionary.”

Joining Veiseh on the 19-person research project named THOR, which stands for “targeted hybrid oncotherapeutic regulation,” is Amir Jazaeri, co-PI and professor of gynecologic oncology at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center. The device they are developing is called HAMMR, or hybrid advanced molecular manufacturing regulator.

“Cancer cells are continually evolving and adapting to therapy. However, currently available diagnostic tools, including radiologic tests, blood assays and biopsies, provide very infrequent and limited snapshots of this dynamic process," Jazaeri adds. "As a result, today’s therapies treat cancer as if it were a static disease. We believe THOR could transform the status quo by providing real-time data from the tumor environment that can in turn guide more effective and tumor-informed novel therapies.”

With a national team of engineers, physicians, and experts across synthetic biology, materials science, immunology, oncology, and more, the team will receive its funding through the Rice Biotech Launch Pad, a newly launched initiative led by Veiseh that exists to help life-saving medical innovation scale quickly.

"Rice is proud to be the recipient of the second major funding award from the ARPA-H, a new funding agency established last year to support research that catalyzes health breakthroughs," Rice President Reginald DesRoches says. "The research Rice bioengineer Omid Veiseh is doing in leading this team is truly groundbreaking and could potentially save hundreds of thousands of lives each year. This is the type of research that makes a significant impact on the world.”

The initial focus of the technology will be on ovarian cancer, and this funding agreement includes a first-phase clinical trial of HAMMR for the treatment of recurrent ovarian cancer that's expected to take place in the fourth year of THOR’s multi-year project.

“The technology is broadly applicable for peritoneal cancers that affect the pancreas, liver, lungs and other organs,” Veiseh says. “The first clinical trial will focus on refractory recurrent ovarian cancer, and the benefit of that is that we have an ongoing trial for ovarian cancer with our encapsulated cytokine ‘drug factory’ technology. We'll be able to build on that experience. We have already demonstrated a unique model to go from concept to clinical trial within five years, and HAMMR is the next iteration of that approach.”

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