Before U.S. Rep. Dan Crenshaw’s mother died of breast cancer when he was only 10 years old, hope was planted in his heart as he watched her explore options to combat the disease. He gained a new belief in the power of science and research to improve people’s lives and find treatments and cures for life-threatening diseases.
On Thursday, less than two months after taking office as a freshman Republican from Houston, Crenshaw convened a Congressional Healthcare Innovation Summit at Rice’s Baker Institute for Public Policy. As part of the gathering attended by invited leaders from industry, academia and government, Crenshaw announced the first Susan Crenshaw Congressional Healthcare Award, which was given in memoriam to the late Houston Texans owner and philanthropist Bob McNair.
“Health care affects all of us,” Crenshaw said. “It does so in very serious ways. Often it is about life or death. And, of course, it stands to reason that if an issue is so vital and so existential to us, we want to continuously improve upon the ways in which we deliver it, and take great care in making sure that those improvements are encouraged and nurtured, not hindered or overregulated.
“That’s what today is about: innovation, better technology, better medicine, better tools, better ideas and making sure that those ideas have a place to thrive,” he said.
The award was presented by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, the honorary chair of the Baker Institute, and accepted on behalf of the McNair family by Dr. Charles Neblett, medical director of the McNair Medical Institute.
Baker highlighted his friend McNair’s philanthropy, particularly in advancing health care.
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Crenshaw, a former Navy SEAL, was introduced by Rice President David Leebron, who highlighted Rice and the Baker Institute’s role in hosting critical discussions and advancing collaborative efforts. Leebron commended the congressman for his approach to policymaking.
“He brings the patriotic dedication and compassion, civility and intelligence that we need in our political leaders,” Leebron said.
The two-hour event showcased major technological advancements and celebrated innovation in Houston, Texas and beyond – from finding a cure for Alzheimer’s disease to the applications of artificial intelligence in health care.
Among the profiled innovation successes was the Halas Research Group led by Rice’s Naomi Halas, the Stanley C. Moore Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering and professor of chemistry, bioengineering, physics and astronomy, and of materials science and nanoengineering and the director of Rice’s Smalley-Curl Institute.
Thanks to Halas’ research advancements, Houston-based Nanospectra is conducting a clinical trial of a nanoparticle-based cancer treatment. One of the recipients is KPRC-TV meteorologist Frank Billingsley, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer last year. Billingsley received a nanoparticle infusion Nov. 27 and underwent a laser ablation procedure Nov. 28 as a part of clinical trials at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston. An MRI taken the next week showed no signs of cancer.
“It’s just a theory … had I had a radical prostatectomy and had the prostate removed, it probably would not have gotten … (all of) the cancer, and I would still have that cancer with the most advised procedure that I was given,” Billingsley said at the summit.
Also speaking was Bill McKeon, president of the Texas Medical Center, who gave an overview of the health care and life sciences research, commercialization and entrepreneurship taking place there. He also highlighted the many opportunities for exchange and collaboration with The Ion, the centerpiece of the innovation district being developed by Rice and community partners in Midtown Houston.
The event was hosted by the Baker Institute’s Center for Health and Biosciences, which is led by Rice health economist Vivian Ho and employs comprehensive research analysis to develop health policy recommendations that promote health and well-being in the U.S. and globally.
“The relationships we are cultivating with the Texas Medical Center, the largest of its kind in the world, make our institute a prime place to propose policy solutions related to health care and other critical aspects of health policy,” Baker Institute Director Edward Djerejian said.