research roundup

3 innovative research projects coming out of the University of Houston

From a new solar energy capturing and storing device to stem cell-based pacemakers, here are three game-changing technologies coming out of UH. Getty Images

Across the University of Houston campus, professors and researchers are creating solutions for various problems in several different industries.

From information technology benefiting police officers to stem cell-based pacemakers, here are three game-changing technologies coming out of UH.

A stem cell-based biological pacemaker

Photo via of UH.edu

A University of Houston associate professor of pharmacology is contributing to research that's taking stem cells found in fat and transforming them into heart cells to act as biologic pacemaker cells.

"We are reprogramming the cardiac progenitor cell and guiding it to become a conducting cell of the heart to conduct electrical current," says Bradley McConnell in a UH news release. McConnell's work can be found in the Journal of Molecular and Cellular Cardiology.

The treatment could replace the more than 600,000 electronic pacemakers implanted annually, These devices require regular doctors visits and aren't a permanent solution.

"Batteries will die. Just look at your smartphone," says McConnell. "This biologic pacemaker is better able to adapt to the body and would not have to be maintained by a physician. It is not a foreign object. It would be able to grow with the body and become much more responsive to what the body is doing."

Suchi Raghunathan, doctoral student in the UH Department of Pharmacological and Pharmaceutical Sciences in the College of Pharmacy, is the paper's first author, and Robert J. Schwartz, Hugh Roy and Lillian Cranz Cullen Distinguished Professor of biology and biochemistry, is another one of McConnell's collaborator.

The use of information technology to protect law enforcement

Photo via of UH.edu

A tech-optimized police force is a safe police force, according to new UH research that shows that the use of information technology can cut down on the number of police officers killed or injured in the line of duty by as much as 50 percent.

"The use of IT by police increases the occupational safety of police officers in the field and reduces deaths and assaults against police officers," says C.T. Bauer College of Business Dean Paul A. Pavlou in a news release. Pavlou co-authored a paper on the research that was published in the journal Decision Support Systems.

Pavlou, along with his colleague, Min-Seok Pang of Temple University used FBI, the federal Bureau of Justice Statistics, and U.S. Census data to build a dataset, which tracked IT use and violence against law enforcement from 4,325 U.S. police departments over a six-year period, according to the release.

The study focused on crime intelligence, prediction, and investigation. The potential for IT in the police force had yet to be realized because there hadn't been much research on the subject.

A new solar energy capture and storage technology

Image via of UH.edu

New research coming out of UH has created a new and more efficient way to capture and store solar energy. Rather than using panels that store solar energy through photovoltaic technology, the new method, which is a bit of a hybrid, captures heat from the sun and stores it as thermal energy

The research, which was described in a paper in Joule, reports "a harvesting efficiency of 73% at small-scale operation and as high as 90% at large-scale operation," according to a news release.

The author of the paper, Hadi Ghasemi, is a Bill D. Cook Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering at UH. He says the potential is greater due to the technology being able to harvest the full spectrum of sunlight. T. Randall Lee, Cullen Distinguished University Chair professor of chemistry, is also a corresponding author.

"During the day, the solar thermal energy can be harvested at temperatures as high as 120 degrees centigrade (about 248 Fahrenheit)," says Lee, who also is a principle investigator for the Texas Center for Superconductivity at UH. "At night, when there is low or no solar irradiation, the stored energy is harvested by the molecular storage material, which can convert it from a lower energy molecule to a higher energy molecule."

The University of Houston College of Medicine can now enroll its inaugural class. Photo courtesy of University of Houston

The University of Houston has received the green light to move forward with its recruiting and enrolling its first class of 30 medical students for the first new medical school in Houston in over 50 years.

The University of Houston College of Medicine has received its preliminary accreditation from the Liaison Committee on Medical Education, the authority on medical education in the United States and Canada that is sponsored by the American Medical Association and the American Association of Medical Colleges.

This accreditation means the school can begin enrolling its inaugural class of 30 students and begin classes on July 20. Each of these new students will receive a $100,000 four-year scholarship thanks to an anonymous donor.

"Today is a historic day for the University of Houston, city of Houston, and the state of Texas because we are building this dream together," says Renu Khator, president and chancellor of the university, in a news release. "By training the next generation of compassionate physicians who understand how to provide quality health care at a reasonable cost, we are expanding our capabilities to serve the people and neighborhoods too often left behind."

Khator announced her plans to create the new school in 2014, with the goal being to address the shortage of 4,800-plus primary care physicians in Texas, according to the release.

For now, the school will operate out of UH's Health 2 Building, but the university plans to break ground this summer a new $80 million College of Medicine building. Completion is expected in 2022.

The school will focus its curriculum on primary care, behavioral and mental health, and preventive care, per the release, and create a household-centered care program that involves connecting a student with a family in an underserved community. According to the release, UH med students will be required to spend four weeks in a clinic in a rural part of the state.

"At full staffing we will have 65 full-time faculty teaching on campus, but there will be also be a large number of community-based faculty teaching in the outpatient and inpatient clinical settings," says Dr. Stephen Spann, founding dean of the medical school, in the release. "It is imperative that we place our medical students and faculty directly in the communities with the most need."

The school will still need fill accreditation from LCME, and, according to the release, this level of approval is usually granted within the fourth year of operation as long as the school meets the standards set by the organization.

"We are extremely grateful to receive LCME accreditation, but now the real work begins because we want to be accountable for improving the overall health and health care of the region," Spann says in the release.