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TMC receives grant to collaborate with a government agency to enhance illness-detecting technology

The TMC Innovation Institute has been tapped by the government to collaborate on illness-detecting technology. Courtesy of TMC

The Texas Medical Center has been identified as a key partner for a national health-focused initiative. TMCx has been selected as one of eight accelerator programs to be a part of the program that focuses on identifying emerging health security threats, according to a release from TMC.

The United States Department of Health and Human Services has provided TMCx a $96,500 to conduct research and provide solutions for two different challenges within mitigating these risks.

"The first is 'pre-symptomatic' detection of illness, or detecting illness in patients and suggesting treatment before they even begin to show symptoms," the release reads. "The second is addressing sepsis, a life-threatening reaction to infection."

Sepsis, which is one of the most costly illnesses hospitals treat, affects 1.7 million patients a year.

HHS' Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, or BARDA, has a new entity called DRIVe, which stands for Division of Research, Innovation, and Ventures. The effort will be lead by the new organization, which comes at a result of the 21st Century Cures Act that was enacted to spur health security within technology.

In July, HHS officials toured the TMC Innovation Institute campus before deciding to work with the accelerator. TMCx is no stranger to the national spotlight. In November, the organization was lauded for its accelerator program with a national award.

The accelerator has announced its eighth cohort of startups this spring. The 21 companies will be focused on digital health. Last cohort, TMCx accelerated 23 companies that raised $73 million by demo day.

In December, Erik Halvorsen, who had lead the Innovation Institute for a few years, abruptly left his position as director. Lance Black, associate director of TMCx, has been named the interim director.

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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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