Houston Group eHRI Forms to Promote HealthTech Collaboration

Houston is home to one of the world’s most innovative medical clusters, but the institutions within still have work to do in using technology to reach more patients more efficiently.

That’s the view, at least, of the eHealth Research Institute, a newly formed consortium aimed at finding and commercializing overlaps in information systems and medical technology in order to improve distance delivery of medicine.

“Houston is primed to become the high-tech healthcare hub,” says Jan Odegard, executive director of the Ken Kennedy Institute for Information Technology at Rice University and one of the consortium’s leaders. “This is what energy did 40 years ago; they had the layering of companies growing [together] and creating an ecosystem. We don’t want our innovators to move out to the Bay Area or Boston and sell it back to Houston.”

The group, also known as eHRI, was founded in April and is a collaborative research initiative of the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, the Center for Space Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, and Rice’s Kennedy Institute.

On Tuesday, the group held a debut meeting aimed at introducing itself and also recruiting new members of Houston’s medical, tech, and finance communities. To get the conversation going, eHRI hosted researchers who gave presentations that illustrated the types of therapies they are working on that use IT to deploy healthcare more widely—including more precise microsurgery, smartphone ophthalmological cameras, and one-step cervical cancer screenings that can bring lifesaving treatment to underserved populations.

These kinds of collaborations between engineering and medical departments is what eHRI wants to promote, says Cindy Farach-Carson, head of eHRI’s development committee and the scientific director at the BioScience Research Collaborative at Rice. Later this year, the new institute will kick off a capital campaign to raise between $500,000 and $750,000 in government research grants in order to invest in collaborative projects like those above.

At first, the institute will work through the existing institutions’ licensing offices to help commercialize the research. But Farach-Carson hopes to develop new licensing models tailored to such interdisciplinary projects coming out of multiple institutions.

“I think we can really take advantage of the fact that we have 54 institutions here in this entity called the Texas Medical Center, and we can develop new ways for us to get things out of the laboratory and into the clinic,” she says.

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