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5 most popular innovation stories in Houston this week

Meet three Houston innovators to know, see why Houston is a top hub for veterans, and more are this week's trending stories. Photo via Getty Images

Editor's note: Another week has come and gone, and it's time to round up the top headlines from the past few days. Trending Houston tech and startup news on InnovationMap included innovators to know, a guest column on how veterans are leading the energy transition, funding news, and more.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Spencer Randall of CryptoEQ, Andy Grolnick of Graylog, and Imran Alibhai of Tvardi. Courtesy photos

In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from software to cryptocurrency — recently making headlines in Houston innovation. Click here to read more.

Houston-based veterans will lead the energy transition, says this expert

Houston has the the second largest veteran community in America — and the energy industry is vets' top employer. Photo via Getty Images

Many people living in Houston don't realize that the veteran community is taking an increasing leadership role in the energy transition. The Greater Houston area is the second largest veteran community in America with over 5,500 new veterans and their families coming to Houston annually. We are the fastest growing city in America for veterans as well.

In Houston you'll find a community of veterans who create a workforce and culture of excellence -- no handouts needed here. Our city is home to innovation in many industrial sectors, and also in the veteran services market. Combined Arms is the premier technology partner for accelerating the connection of veterans to resources like employment.

Headquartered in Houston, the agency operates in a dozen states nationally with a co-working space of over 30 veteran serving nonprofits on site and 120 services online. The top employment organization for veteran employment in the country, NextOp, is also headquartered in Houston. NextOp is focused on developing a pipeline of talent directly from military installations to industrial craft trades. They have the best numbers for placement of veterans and speed to employment, perfect for accelerating the energy transition as companies are looking for talent to fill new industry roles. Click here to read more.

Cancer-fighting company based in Houston emerges from stealth and snags $74M in its latest round

Tvardi Therapeutics Inc. has fresh funds to support its drug's advancement in clinical trials. Photo via Getty Images

A Houston-based clinical-stage biopharmaceutical company has raised millions in its latest round.

Tvardi Therapeutics Inc. closed its $74 million series B funding round led by new investors New York-based Slate Path Capital, Florida-based Palkon Capital, Denver-based ArrowMark Partners, and New York-based 683 Capital, with continued support and participation by existing investors, including Houston-based Sporos Bioventures.

"We are thrilled to move out of stealth mode and partner with this lineup of long-term institutional investors," says Imran Alibhai, CEO at Tvardi. "With this financing we are positioned to advance the clinical development of our small molecule inhibitors of STAT3 into mid-stage trials as well as grow our team." Click here to read more.

Houston-based research grant program doles out $23M to Texas scientists

The Welch Foundation has announced millions in Texas research funding. Photo via Getty Images

One of the nation's largest private funders for health care research has announced $23 million in fresh funds — and about a third of that is going into the hands of Houstonians.

The Welch Foundation, based in Houston, announced its 2021 research grant funding last week. Over the next three years, the funds will be be distributed in $7,520,000 payouts annually across the state of Texas. Since its founding in 1954, the foundation has doled out almost $1.1 billion to the advancement of chemistry.

"Ongoing basic chemical research is critical and provides the building blocks to help solve current and future problems," says Adam Kuspa, president of The Welch Foundation, in a news release. "Funding from The Welch Foundation is a valuable resource to Texas institutions. It helps set our state's researchers apart from others and we look forward to seeing what invaluable scientific contributions come from this year's grant recipients." Click here to read more.

Houston-area suburb claims top spot for business-savvy cities list from Verizon

The city of Sugar Land has been named a business-savvy city. Photo by Matthew T. Carroll/Getty Images

Sugar Land has landed some sweet recognition for its business-friendly atmosphere.

A new ranking from Go.Verizon.com puts Sugar Land first among what it calls "the most business-savvy cities in America." The study looked only at cities with at least 100,000 residents.

"Landing the coveted top position on our list, business owners in this suburb outside of Houston know a thing or two about doing it bigger," Go.Verizon.com says. "With a mean household income of $157,923 and an unemployment rate of only 3 percent, Sugar Land lives up to its statue of the strong-willed Stephen Austin, the 'Father of Texas.'" Click here to read more.

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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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