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Exclusive: Out-of-state venture firm specializing in research-based startups expands into Houston

A new venture development company has expanded into Houston with a Texas Medical Center office. Photo by Dwight C. Andrews/Greater Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau

For an Arkansas-based technology venture development firm that focuses on research-based companies coming out of universities, the Lone Star State was a tempting spot for expansion.

VIC Technology Venture Development has appointed James Y. Lancaster as the Texas branch manager. Lancaster, who lives in College Station, will oversee business there, in Dallas, and in Houston. Locally, he will work out of a TMC Innovation Institute office.

"I am excited to be working to TMC member institutions to provide a new avenue for commercializing their technologies, expanding on our fast start in Texas with an exciting opportunity in the Houston innovation ecosystem," Lancaster says in a release.

VIC specializes in taking university-founded research innovations to the marketplace by partnering with technology and business experts at every stage of the process.

The company already has a presence in Dallas with Dr. Ralph Henry, who is an entrepreneur in residence at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and also serves as VIC's vice president of life science and medical technology. VIC's first Texas portfolio company was Solenic Medical, which was brought on in February of this year.

According to the release, the company's presence in Houston might be similar to that of its arrangement in Dallas, focusing on leveraging the resources of the TMC.

"Our local presence will include new technology assessment and licensing, along with expanding our national investor network. Of course, the end goal is to have a string of startup company successes based on TMC inventions, as well as the potential to license technology from across the country into new companies located in Texas," Lancaster continues in the release.

Lancaster has over 25 years of experience across industries. Prior to VIC, he was the founder and managing director of the Innovate Family of Companies including Innovate CXO Services, Innovate Angel Funds, and Innovate BCS Development in College Station. He's also worked with and advised companies coming out of the Texas A&M University System for 12 years.

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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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