funds granted

University of Houston researcher receives grant for first-of-its-kind breast cancer drug

A UH researcher has fresh funding to support her life-saving, cancer-fighting drug. Photo via UH.edu

A University of Houston researcher was awarded a $2 million grant from the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas to develop a new drug that will initially target breast cancer, the university announced this month.

The drug is intended to impact a type of traditionally "undraggable" target of cancer, known as intrinsically disordered proteins (IDPs), which researchers have yet to gain fundamental understanding of. According to the release, approximately 70 percent of proteins impacted by cancer are considered IDPs.

Gül Zerze, an assistant professor in the William A. Brookshire Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering at the UH Cullen College of Engineering, has specialized in research on the computational modeling and simulations of these IDPs, and is one of the 12 cancer researchers awarded such a grant by the CPRIT.

Candidates for Zerze's drug will be rapidly tested through collaborations within UH and MD Anderson, according to the statement.

Gül Zerze is an assistant professor in the William A. Brookshire Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering. Photo via UH.edu

"One out of nearly six Texas women diagnosed with breast cancer will die of the disease. Importantly, Texan women of color are disproportionately impacted by the high mortality rate compared to white Texan women (41 percent higher mortality rate reported for Black Texan women in 2016)," Zerze said in a statement. "This high mortality rate, despite the substantial efforts made for early diagnosis, calls for better therapeutics urgently.”

Zerze was recruited by the CPRIT to come to UH from Princeton last November. She was part of the latest class of recruitment grants from the organization, totaling $38 million to “form a critical ecosystem of distinguished cancer-fighting talent” in Texas.

According to the CPRIT website, the organization has recruited 263 cancer researchers and their labs to Texas over the years. First launched in 2007, the CPRIT is now a $6 billion, 20-year initiative that's allowing institutions in Houston compete against the likes of Harvard and Stanford universities, and the Cleveland and Mayo clinics.

“The ideas proposed here will save lives," Zerze said in the statement. "And the products that will come out of this project have a great potential for commercialization and founding companies to contribute to the Texas economy.”

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Building Houston

 
 

This week's roundup of Houston innovators includes Asma Mirza of Steradian Technologies, Sahar Paz of Own Your Voice, and Emily Cisek of The Postage. Photos courtesy

Editor's note: In this week's roundup of Houston innovators to know, I'm introducing you to three local innovators across industries — from health tech to software — recently making headlines in Houston innovation.

Asma Mirza, founder and CEO of Steradian Technologies

Asma Mirza joins the Houston Innovators Podcast to explain how a pandemic pivot turned into a global health opportunity. Photo courtesy

It took a global pandemic for Asma Mirza to see a gaping hole in modern health care: Quick and affordable diagnostics tools. She founded Steradian Technologies in 2018, originally to create human super-sight via proprietary optics. In early 2020, the company was getting ready to start testing the device and fundraising. Then, the pandemic hit, knocking the company completely off course.

Co-founder and CEO of the company, Mirza, says on last week's Houston Innovators Podcast that the Steradian co-founders discussed how their optic technology could detect diseases. Something just clicked, and the RUMI device was born.

"We are from Houston, Texas, which is one of the most diverse and accessible cities in the country, and we were having trouble with basic diagnostic accessibility. It was taking too long, it was complicated, and people were getting sick and didn't know if they were positive or negative," Mirza says on the show. "That's when we pivoted the company and decided we were going to pivot the company and use optics to detect diseases in breath." Click here to read more.

Sahar Paz, CEO of Own Your Voice Strategy Firm

A Houston expert shares how to improve on communication in the health care setting. Photo courtesy

Emotional intelligence is a major part of running a business — but its crucially more important in the health care space, according to Sahar Paz. She writes in a guest column for InnovationMap how to improve on communication in the health care setting — and why it is necessary to provide a high level standard of care.

"Health care sets up an environment for a tornado of emotions, and the rules and regulations centered around patient-provider interactions are often complex to navigate," she writes. "This leaves many on the brink of emotional exhaustion, and for survival’s sake, depersonalization with patients becomes the status quo. Feeling a disconnect with their patients is another added weight, as few get into this industry for just the paycheck – it’s the impact of helping people get healthy and stay healthy that motivates them." Click here to read more.

Emily Cisek, founder and CEO of The Postage

A Houston founder shares an analysis of relationship banking, the pros and cons of digital banking competition, and an outlook of digital banking inroads to develop relationship banking. Photo courtesy

Emily Cisek is the founder and CEO of The Postage, a tech-enabled, easy-to-use estate planning tool, and she is helping simplify estate management — something that includes working with banks. She writes in a guest column for InnovationMap how ripe for innovation the industry is.

"Digital banking firms that want to thrive in the upcoming decades are going to need to innovate in long-term financial planning products that bring their customers into a closer, more personal relationship with them," she writes. "The finance world will continue to change and develop, but the hopes, fears, and dreams of people trying to build and secure a better future for themselves and their children will remain the same for tomorrow’s customers as they were for their parents and grandparents. It is up to the digital finance industry to adapt and develop to provide the customers of today—and tomorrow— with these invaluable services and securities." Click here to read more.

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