moving around Hou

3D-printing startup to move into rising Houston innovation and maker hub

Volumetric Biotechnologies has announced its moving its HQ to the East End Maker Hub. Image courtesy of East End Maker Hub

The East End Maker Hub has landed perhaps its most intriguing tenant thus far — a Houston startup that makes 3D-printed human organs.

Volumetric Biotechnologies Inc. has leased 11,200 square feet at the East End Maker Hub to serve as its headquarters and manufacturing center. Jordan Miller, co-founder of Volumetric, says one of the benefits of being located at the hub will be access to a cleanroom operated by Alchemy Industrial, a 3D manufacturer of medical devices. Earlier this year, Houston-based Alchemy leased more than 5,400 square feet at the East End hub.

Volumetric will occupy space in the first phase of the 307,000-square-foot project East End Maker Hub. That phase of the $37 million project is set to open soon. The startup's current 5,000-square-foot headquarters is at 7505 Fannin St., near the Woman's Hospital of Texas and south of the Texas Medical Center.

Miller says Volumetric's new home will help it "maintain and accelerate our already breakneck progress." Volumetric's 12 biological, chemical, mechanical, and electrical engineers focus on producing human organs and tissues like the liver, kidney, pancreas, lung, and heart using a mix of medical-grade plastics and human cells.

"We're straining to scale our company as fast as our team is inventing and progressing our technologies. It's an absolutely wonderful problem to have," Miller says.

Volumetric hopes to commercialize its 3D-printed organs in 2021. Founded in 2018, Volumetric is a privately held spin-out of Rice University's Department of Bioengineering. It has received $1.8 million in funding, according to Crunchbase. Investors include Silicon Valley-based Sand Hill Angels, and the Springfield, Virginia-based Methuselah Foundation and Methuselah Fund.

Local Realtor Mike Pittman, a development associate with Pearland-based project partner Urban Partnerships Community Development Corp., recruited Volumetric to the hub. He says he's also working with a distillery, a coffee roaster, and a medical gown manufacturer on leasing space there.

The first phase of the East End Maker Hub is set to open soon. Image courtesy of East End Maker Hub

Once the East End Maker Hub opens, Houston's East End District will be home to the largest maker hub in Texas and one of the largest such facilities in the U.S. Being built in three phases on a 21-acre site at 6501 Navigation Blvd., the East End Maker Hub aims to create an environment that gives members of the community access to trade skills and career opportunities, and to provide businesses a place for innovation and manufacturing. The hub's second and third phases are on track to be finished in 2021.

The soon-to-open first phase will feature "white box" suites, ranging in size from 420 square feet to 20,000 square feet, that cater to three sectors:

  • Innovation (robotics, 3D printing, and R&D)
  • Crafting (ceramics, fine woodworking, and screen printing)
  • Light fabrication (food production).

Aside from Alchemy, tenants recently lined up for the hub include Houston-based Waste Management Inc., whose R&D team will occupy more than 3,500 square feet, and Houston-based construction technology company Rugged Robotics Inc., which is renting 1,700 square feet.

"We're not the place for software companies, but our innovation area is the place for hardware companies — those that are into drones, robotics, 3D printing," Pittman says.

The project's hardware innovation element could boost Houston's manufacturing economy, he says. A recent analysis by the Smartest Dollar website found that 7.5 percent of the Houston metro area's workforce is employed in manufacturing. From 1999 to 2019, the number of manufacturing jobs in Houston grew by just 1.9 percent.

So far, the nonprofit TXRX Labs makerspace is the hub's largest tenant, having signed a lease for 65,000 square feet in the first phase. TXRX Labs and Urban Partnerships Community Development teamed up to develop the hub. TXRX contributed $1.25 million in equity, and Urban Partnerships Community Development raised $35.75 million in capital.

Houston-based Stewart Builders is the general contractor for the East End Maker Hub, and Houston-based Method Architecture is the architect of record.

Aside from supplying room for businesses and nonprofits to grow, the hub seeks to provide training and jobs for local residents. Pittman says the hub — located within a tax-advantaged Opportunity Zone — encourages its tenants to hire people who live within a three-mile radius.

"You don't have to go and get a Ph.D. in nuclear science for these jobs to be able to attain really good wages for your family," he says.

Phases two and three of the hub are expected in 2021. Image courtesy of East End Maker Hub

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A Rice research team is tapping into materials science to better understand Alzheimer’s disease, a UH professor is developing a treatment for hereditary vision loss, and a BCM researcher is looking at stress and brain cancer. Photo by Gustavo Raskosky/Rice University

Research, perhaps now more than ever, is crucial to expanding and growing innovation in Houston — and it's happening across the city right under our noses.

In InnovationMap's latest roundup of research news, three Houston institutions are working on life-saving health care research thanks to new technologies.

Rice University scientists' groundbreaking alzheimer's study

Angel Martí (right) and his co-authors (from left) Utana Umezaki and Zhi Mei Sonia He have published their latest findings on Alzheimer’s disease. Photo by Gustavo Raskosky/Rice University

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Alzheimer’s disease will affect nearly 14 million people in the U.S. by 2060. A group of scientists from Rice University are looking into a peptide associated with the disease, and their study was published in Chemical Science.

Angel Martí — a professor of chemistry, bioengineering, and materials science and nanoengineering and faculty director of the Rice Emerging Scholars Program — and his team have developed a new approach using time-resolved spectroscopy and computational chemistry, according to a news release from Rice. The scientists "found experimental evidence of an alternative binding site on amyloid-beta aggregates, opening the door to the development of new therapies for Alzheimer’s and other diseases associated with amyloid deposits."

Amyloid plaque deposits in the brain are a main feature of Alzheimer’s, per Rice.

“Amyloid-beta is a peptide that aggregates in the brains of people that suffer from Alzheimer’s disease, forming these supramolecular nanoscale fibers, or fibrils” says Martí in the release. “Once they grow sufficiently, these fibrils precipitate and form what we call amyloid plaques.

“Understanding how molecules in general bind to amyloid-beta is particularly important not only for developing drugs that will bind with better affinity to its aggregates, but also for figuring out who the other players are that contribute to cerebral tissue toxicity,” he adds.

The National Science Foundation and the family of the late Professor Donald DuPré, a Houston-born Rice alumnus and former professor of chemistry at the University of Louisville, supported the research, which is explained more thoroughly on Rice's website.

University of Houston professor granted $1.6M for gene therapy treatment for rare eye disease

Muna Naash, a professor at UH, is hoping her research can result in treatment for a rare genetic disease that causes vision loss. Photo via UH.edu

A University of Houston researcher is working on a way to restore sight to those suffering from a rare genetic eye disease.

Muna Naash, the John S. Dunn Endowed Professor of biomedical engineering at UH, is expanding a method of gene therapy to potentially treat vision loss in patients with Usher Syndrome Type 2A, or USH2A, a rare genetic disease.

Naash has received a $1.6 million grant from the National Eye Institute to support her work. Mutations of the USH2A gene can include hearing loss from birth and progressive loss of vision, according to a news release from UH. Naash's work is looking at applying gene therapy — the introduction of a normal gene into cells to correct genetic disorders — to treat this genetic disease. There is not currently another treatment for USH2A.

“Our goal is to advance our current intravitreal gene therapy platform consisting of DNA nanoparticles/hyaluronic acid nanospheres to deliver large genes in order to develop safe and effective therapies for visual loss in Usher Syndrome Type 2A,” says Naash. “Developing an effective treatment for USH2A has been challenging due to its large coding sequence (15.8 kb) that has precluded its delivery using standard approaches and the presence of multiple isoforms with functions that are not fully understood."

BCM researcher on the impact of stress

This Baylor researcher is looking at the relationship between stress and brain cancer thanks to a new grant. Photo via Andriy Onufriyenko/Getty Images

Stress can impact the human body in a number of ways — from high blood pressure to hair loss — but one Houston scientist is looking into what happens to bodies in the long term, from age-related neurodegeneration to cancer.

Dr. Steven Boeynaems is assistant professor of molecular and human genetics at Baylor College of Medicine. His lab is located at the Jan and Dan Duncan Neurological Research Institute at Texas Children’s Hospital, and he also is a part of the Therapeutic Innovation Center, the Center for Alzheimer’s and Neurodegenerative Diseases, and the Dan L Duncan Comprehensive Cancer Center at Baylor.

Recently, the Cancer Prevention and Research Institute of Texas, or CPRIT, awarded Boeynaems a grant to continue his work studying how cells and organisms respond to stress.

“Any cell, in nature or in our bodies, during its existence, will have to deal with some conditions that deviate from its ideal environment,” Boeynaems says in a BCM press release. “The key issue that all cells face in such conditions is that they can no longer properly fold their proteins, and that leads to the abnormal clumping of proteins into aggregates. We have seen such aggregates occur in many species and under a variety of stress-related conditions, whether it is in a plant dealing with drought or in a human patient with aging-related Alzheimer’s disease."

Now, thanks to the CPRIT funding, he says his lab will now also venture into studying the role of cellular stress in brain cancer.

“A tumor is a very stressful environment for cells, and cancer cells need to continuously adapt to this stress to survive and/or metastasize,” he says in the release.

“Moreover, the same principles of toxic protein aggregation and protection through protein droplets seem to be at play here as well,” he continues. “We have studied protein droplets not only in humans but also in stress-tolerant organisms such as plants and bacteria for years now. We propose to build and leverage on that knowledge to come up with innovative new treatments for cancer patients.”

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