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TMC Innovation Institute announces redesign of its acceleration program for 2020

In 2020, the TMCx program will become a needs-based accelerator looking to solve problems the Texas Medical Center's member institutions face on a regular basis. Courtesy of TMC

TMCx has been helping medical device and digital health startups create solid business plans and lasting relationships with Texas Medical Center institutions for five years, and on the accelerator's fifth anniversary, the team announced it's mixing things up a little to better accomplish those goals.

On Nov. 7, TMCx celebrated the conclusion of its ninth cohort, and 16 medical device companies pitched to a crowd at the TMC Innovation Institute. The companies in this cohort, just like the ones before it, were selected based on their technologies that solved a problem using digital health or medical devices. However, previously, the TMC's member institutions weren't directly part of the process until after the cohort was selected.

Based on feedback from alumni, member institutions, corporate partners, and stakeholders, TMCx has redesigned the program so that next year, the accelerator will focus on the specific needs of the needs that the organizations within the TMC have identified.

"Our focus going forward is on our member institutions — the clinics, the hospitals, and our partners who really bring forward these technologies into the future," says Emily Reiser, innovation strategist at the TMC Innovation Institute.

TMCx will become a needs-based accelerator program, Reiser says, and the team at the accelerator will partner with member institutions to run specific cohorts matched to their areas of interests.

The first step will be to identify these areas of interest, then in February of 2020, TMCx will invite a number of companies related to those interests to Houston for two weeks. The TMCx team, member institutions, and other stakeholders will get to interact with the companies and see how they stack up against each other, and to see if they can really fill the needs of the hospitals, clinics, and more.

Finally, after narrowing down the companies, the final startups and entrepreneurs will be invited to participate in a six-month accelerator program that will provide the same resources, connections, and programming that TMCx has always provided to advance the health startups.

Reiser says the TMCx team and all its partners will help identify the missing pieces these companies have and provide solutions, as well as making the right connections to all the right pilot partners, investors, clinical trial experts, and more.

"We'll be here to help them fill those gaps and make sure they have lasting relationships with our clinical partners in the hospitals," Reiser says.

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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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