Clust-ER Health in Houston: the regional delegation for space economy and life science

A long-awaited mission by the Emilia-Romagna Region, organized to promote the meeting between the protagonists of the innovation ecosystems, took place at the end of March with a large regional delegation. The President Stefano Bonaccini participated together with the Councilor for economic development and green economy, work, training and international relations Vincenzo Colla; the Director-General for Knowledge, Research, Labour, Enterprises Morena Diazzi and officials of the Attractiveness, Internationalization and Research sector; the representatives of Confindustria Emilia-Romagna, ART-ER, the Universities of Bologna and Parma, the CNR, and the companies of the aerospace supply chain and of the other regional Clust-ER Innovate and Mech. Dr. Paola Burioli and Dr. Alessandro De Vita participated as representatives of our member IRCCS Istituto Romagnolo per lo Studio dei Tumori (IRST) and Prof. Mara Mirasoli as representative of CIRI Aerospace.

The first day began with an institutional meeting at the Greater Houston Partnership, the government agency for the promotion of the city of Houston with greetings from Susan Davenport, Chief Economic Development Officer, the Consul General of Italy in Houston and the President of the Emilia-Romagna region. After the presentation by the Director of the Europe section, Jeffrey Blair, who illustrated the economic and attractiveness parameters of the city and the territory, the ICE delegate gave an overview of the sectors most involved in the collaboration between Italy and Texas.

In the afternoon followed an unmissable visit to HPE – Hewlett Packard Enterprise where the strategy and vision on aerospace were presented and the laboratories for artificial intelligence were visited, with a particular focus on Life Sciences and Earth Observation. Finally, the plans for High Performance Computing and the Nasa\Axiom case studies were illustrated.

A fundamental stop was also the one at the NASA Space Center Houston, with a visit to the main facilities, including the control center and the area where the astronauts exercise. During the lunch, a networking moment with local companies and venture capitals was organized, followed by greetings from Daniel Jacobs, International Relations Manager for NASA’s Gateway Program and International Space Station; from the Consul General of Italy in Houston; from Councilor Colla; and a final pitch from all the representatives of the participating Italian companies and organizations.

Later in the day, the Health delegation, made up of President Bonaccini, Councilor Colla, Director-General Diazzi, the Scientific Attachée of the Consulate, the Rector of UniBo Molari, the Cluster Manager Vicini, representatives of IRST and of the University of Parma traveled to the Texas Medical Center (TMC), the largest hospital complex in the world where there was a mutual introduction between the regional delegation and the activities of TMC, presented by William F. McKeon, CEO and President of TMC. It is a complex that receives funding of 850 million dollars each year (year 2020) from the National Institute of Health, for its scientific research activity, annually carrying out over 2,000 clinical trials and incubating over 220 start-ups in the life science sector .

To close the day, a visit to the MD Anderson Cancer Center, where the delegation met Hagop Kantarjian, Director of the Department of Leukemia at the University of Texas and MD Anderson Cancer Center, who was recently awarded the highest honor by the American Society of Clinical Oncology. Together with Prof. Kantarjian, the delegation met some important Italian researchers belonging to the same department, Drs Alessandra Ferrajoli and Simona Colla, active in the treatment of chronic lymphocytic leukemia who already have several ongoing collaborations with the Oncological Institute of Romagna, in particular way with Prof. Giovanni Martinelli.

On the occasion, the Cluster Manager and the IRST representatives presented the intense regional activity in the oncological sector, with references to innovative treatments such as those based on CAR-T cells, which are being studied in the main Emilia-Romagna reference centers for oncological therapies such as the Sant’Orsola Polyclinic, the IRST itself and the Institute for advanced technologies and care models in oncology of the Local Health Authority of Reggio Emilia.

Finally, the activity carried out on the subject of radiopharmaceuticals and radioligands was introduced, deriving from the collaboration of the various regional bodies which have received funding from the PNRR ,such as the infrastructure for innovation NCIR (National Consortium for Innovation and development of Radiopharmaceuticals) and from the Region itself, such as the Sorgentina project developed at the ENEA center in Brasimone.

New day, new meetings: on Wednesday the delegation met the Deputy Minister of Enterprises and Made in Italy, Valentino Valentini, and Lieutenant Colonel Gaetanofabrizio Tavano from the Minister’s Cabinet – Operational Affairs Office representing the Ministry of Defence. Upon arrival at Houston Spaceport, after greetings from the authorities, the relative development plan, the training activities in progress at San Jacinto College and the activities of the Intuitive Machines company were presented. Afterwards, DG Morena Diazzi presented the Region and its innovation ecosystem.

In the afternoon, a small delegation from the Health group, made up of the Director-General, the Cluster Manager, the representatives De Vita and Burioli of the IRCCS IRST and Masina and Stopazzolo from the company GVM assistance, went to the Houston Methodist Research Institute (HMRI) where they met Dr. Alessandro Grattoni, Director of the nanomedicine center.

Dr. Grattoni illustrated the activities of the centre, relating in particular to:

  • nanofluidic systems for the treatment and prevention of chronic diseases (nDS) and for intratumoral drug delivery;
  • 3D-printed cell encapsulation devices for endocrine cell transplantation;
  • remote controlled tunable drug delivery devices;

in addition to the activities connected to the “core” theme of the “Health and Aerospace” mission, such as research in microgravity conditions carried out on the International Space Station. The visit ended with a tour of the centre’s laboratories with the presentation of some of the technologies illustrated in the presentation.

The last day of the Clust-ER Health mission included a visit to Axiom Space, which is working on the design and construction of the first Commercial Space Station, where, among the many topics, there was talk of monitoring the vital parameters of astronauts and telemedicine into space, as components integrated directly into next-generation spacesuits.

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The Clust-ERs are financed by the European Funds of the Emilia-Romagna Region - ERDF ROP 2014-2020