There is a saying that “everything is bigger than Texas” and healthcare is no exception. Located just south of downtown Houston, between historic Hermann Park and Rice University, the Texas Medical Center (TMC) consists of 54 medical facilities spread across its sprawling campus, making it the largest complex medical and the 8th largest business district in the world. It’s practically a medical city.
Medgadget had the opportunity to spend a few days last month visiting TMC as well as a few universities in Houston. We were well aware that TMC was the pioneer of many medical innovations, such as one of the first total artificial heart implants. But because our Houston tour came just as the coronavirus was starting to spread across the United States, we got a somewhat changed and surreal outlook on the region’s medtech landscape, as well as a more respect. deep for the work that is done there.
Our first stops were actually outside the TMC complex, but were two notable examples of the collaborative partnerships that TMC institutions have with some of the 40 academic institutions in the greater Houston area.
The first was the University of Houston Technology Bridge, a facility that houses not only the university’s technology transfer offices and technology incubator, but also offices and laboratories that non-UH companies can rent. According to UH, about 40% of the 48 companies housed in the bridge are working on a healthcare-related business.
Our next stop was Rice University. Although Rice does not have a medical school, its proximity to TMC and the variety of its partnerships make it a sort of de facto medical school for the university. We visited their NEST360 ° desks. NEST (Newborn Essential Solutions and Technologies) is a global partnership between institutions in six countries aiming to reduce neonatal mortality in hospitals in sub-Saharan Africa by 50% through the development of sustainable and affordable medical devices. Many NEST360 ° devices have been developed in the Oshman Engineering Design Cuisine (OEDK), a 20,000 square foot design studio and manufacturing space exclusively for undergraduate engineers. Our campus tour also included a stop at Rice’s Bioscience research collaboration building to meet a Research Team who is developing a portable device capable of generating high-resolution images of anatomical features below the skin’s surface using light.
We returned to the Texas Medical Center campus to find out how some of its world-class hospitals go beyond just treating patients. At the MD Anderson Cancer Center at the University of Texas, we spoke with Dr Susan Peterson, researcher from the Behavioral Sciences Department, about CYCORE, an experimental telemedicine platform that uses mobile technology and sensors to remotely monitor symptoms and improve patient care and quality of life. Down the street at the Houston Methodist Hospital, they converted an entire wing of the building into Technology hub. The recently opened hub is an interactive showroom, test environment and training center for innovative technologies. Each room in the hub is furnished like a typical room visited by patients, such as a waiting room, an inpatient and outpatient room, and even a patient’s living room / “home hospital”. . The rooms are designed to show how medical devices, along with consumer technologies such as smart TVs, Alexa, and virtual reality, can work together to improve patient and clinician health care.
Our latest round of shutdowns focused on Texas Medical Center’s efforts to attract medical tech startups to Houston. Down the street in a former Nabisco cookie factory, TMC has set up the Institute of Innovation which houses their TMCx programs. TMCx is a 6-month acceleration program where healthcare startups attend workshops, hands-on events and strategy sessions. They receive advice from over 200 industry advisors and all TMC member institutions, but pay no membership fees or equity sharing. When we visited, 19 promising startups had just completed the last day of their two-week bootcamp and were eagerly awaiting to see if they were among the nine companies selected for the 2020 cohort. We are delighted to hear what these companies did during their Demo Day in September!
The “cookie factory” building also housed a number of partner companies venturing into the health sector. AT&T has opened its Foundry innovation center in 2016 to develop connected health technologies, and the Swiss multinational ABB opened a new installation last year to study how their industrial robots could be used in clinical settings. Johnson & Johnson has two centers: the Center for Appliance Innovation and the Houston location of their JLABS innovation program.
In the weeks following our visit to Houston, COVID-19 continued to wreak havoc around the world in almost every area of our society. Still, we weren’t at all surprised to find encouraging stories in the fight against the coronavirus from many TMC member institutions. Medgadget salutes the more than 106,000 TMC employees who put their health at risk to care for patients and save lives. We applaud the work of researchers in the Houston area to find a cure for COVID-19 and the efforts of engineers to design new ventilators, telemedicine platforms and medical devices to help manage the disease. When it comes to healthcare, the 4th largest city in the country seems well positioned to help us get through this coronavirus time and far beyond.
Medgadget would like to thank the Greater Houston Partnership for organizing our trip!