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New innovation hub focused on resilience rises in downtown Houston

The Cannon Tower in downtown Houston now houses a new innovation hub that is geared at promoting resiliency. Image courtesy of The Cannon

It's hurricane season in Houston, and, after months of reacting to a pandemic, resiliency and storm preparedness on the top of the businesses and local government's minds.

Insurance Information Institute and ResilientH20 Partners have teamed up with The Cannon to create the Gulf Coast & Southwest Resilience Innovation Hub, which is now open in downtown Houston's Cannon Tower (1801 Main Street, Suite 1300).

"The Cannon Tower will provide a seamless onboarding for the Resilience Innovation Hub's activities. Houston is already home to networks which focus on issues like sustainability, green infrastructure, and smart cities," says Remington Tonar, chief revenue officer of The Cannon Accelerator and Fund in a news release.

The hub will act as a space for private and public sector entities — from academic partners and tech companies to investors and government agencies — to work together on pre-disaster mitigation innovations.

"As households and businesses learn from past natural disasters, especially those which struck the U.S.'s Gulf Coast, the Resilience Innovation Hub can accelerate the deployment of products, services, and projects aimed at reducing disaster-caused losses in consultation with insurance carriers and brokers," says Michel Léonard, vice president and senior economist for the Insurance Information Institute.

The Cannon Tower also serves as the headquarters for ResilientH20 Partners, and the space will eventually house in-person events for resilience-focused programming and events. On July 16 at 8:30 a.m., the hub will host its inaugural "Lightning Round" session for technology companies and investors.

"There has been a widespread interest in, and demand for, best-in-class actionable, alternative disaster mitigation solutions since 2017's Hurricane Harvey and subsequent storms caused extensive insured losses to autos, homes, businesses, and governmental properties," says Richard Seline, managing partner of ResilientH2O Partners, in a news release.

According to the release, nine of the 10 most expensive hurricanes in the United States have occurred in the past 16 years.

"Society saves six dollars for every dollar spent through mitigation grants funded through federal agencies and even more progress can be made on this front through further investment in pre-disaster risk mitigation," Seline continues.

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Building Houston

 
 

This UH engineer is hoping to make his mark on cancer detection. Photo via UH.edu

Early stage cancer is hard to detect, mostly because traditional diagnostic imaging cannot detect tumors smaller than a certain size. One Houston innovator is looking to change that.

Wei-Chuan Shih, professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering, recently published his findings in IEEE Sensors journal. According to a news release from UH, the cells around cancer tumors are small — ~30-150nm in diameter — and complex, and the precise detection of these exosome-carried biomarkers with molecular specificity has been elusive, until now.

"This work demonstrates, for the first time, that the strong synergy of arrayed radiative coupling and substrate undercut can enable high-performance biosensing in the visible light spectrum where high-quality, low-cost silicon detectors are readily available for point-of-care application," says Shih in the release. "The result is a remarkable sensitivity improvement, with a refractive index sensitivity increase from 207 nm/RIU to 578 nm/RIU."

Wei-Chuan Shih is a professor of electrical and computer engineering at the University of Houston's Cullen College of Engineering. Photo via UH.edu

What Shih has done is essentially restored the electric field around nanodisks, providing accessibility to an otherwise buried enhanced electric field. Nanodisks are antibody-functionalized artificial nanostructures which help capture exosomes with molecular specificity.

"We report radiatively coupled arrayed gold nanodisks on invisible substrate (AGNIS) as a label-free (no need for fluorescent labels), cost-effective, and high-performance platform for molecularly specific exosome biosensing. The AGNIS substrate has been fabricated by wafer-scale nanosphere lithography without the need for costly lithography," says Shih in the release.

This process speeds up screening of the surface proteins of exosomes for diagnostics and biomarker discovery. Current exosome profiling — which relies primarily on DNA sequencing technology, fluorescent techniques such as flow cytometry, or enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA) — is labor-intensive and costly. Shih's goal is to amplify the signal by developing the label-free technique, lowering the cost and making diagnosis easier and equitable.

"By decorating the gold nanodisks surface with different antibodies (e.g., CD9, CD63, and CD81), label-free exosome profiling has shown increased expression of all three surface proteins in cancer-derived exosomes," said Shih. "The sensitivity for detecting exosomes is within 112-600 (exosomes/μL), which would be sufficient in many clinical applications."

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