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University of Houston gets $2M to launch innovative transportation-focused cybersecurity center

This tiny “smart car” is a lot more powerful than you might think. Photo by Jon Burke/UH

The University of Houston is now leading a national consortium focused on cybersecurity in the transportation sector.

Known as the Transportation Cybersecurity Center for Advanced Research and Education, or CYBER-CARE, it's backed by a $2 million grant from U.S. Department of Transportation for its first year, with anticipated total federal funding of $10 million over five years, as part of the department's University Transportation Centers program that aims to address a number of topics in the field.

UH's center aims to "establish a fundamental knowledge base and explore advanced theories of how to best mitigate impacts of potential large-scale cyberattacks on transportation infrastructure," according to a release from the university. This includes protecting vehicle control systems, developing industry-wide best practices, responding to potential cyber incidents and introducing ways to recover quickly from cyber incidents in traffic networks.

CYBER-CARE is led by Yunpeng “Jack” Zhang, associate professor in the Department of Information Science Technology at the UH and director of the center.

"Our goal to make our intelligent transportation system (ITS) safer for all road users. That aligns well with the USDOT’s strategic goal of improving safety,” Zhang explained in a statement. “We also will promote interdisciplinary research and education across the transportation and cybersecurity domains.”

The center opened earlier this year within UH's Cullen College of Engineering’s Division of Technology. Houston and Texas colleges Rice University and Texas A&M University-Corpus Christi have joined the consortium with UH, along with Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, University of Cincinnati and University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa.

The DOT's University Transportation Centers first launched in 1988 to conduct research. Support has ebbed and flowed over the years, but has seen some uptick recently. The Biden Administration's 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law authorized 35 UTCs to receive a total of $90 million in funding from 2022 to 2026 to address issues like traffic congestion, safety, infrastructure durability and cybersecurity risks.

According to the DOT's website there are other Texas UTCs at University of Texas at Austin, University of Texas Arlington, Texas A&M University College Station, Prairie View A&M University and Texas State University.

Last year, Texas A&M also launched a new institute for research and education regarding cybersecurity. The Global Cyber Research Institute was funded by $10 million in gifts from former Texas A&M student Ray Rothrock, a venture capitalist and cybersecurity expert, and other donors.

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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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