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INVESTIGATIVE MEDICINE IN THE SPOTLIGHT

Medicine in Motion

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The generosity of Nicole and Evan H. Katz drives medical breakthroughs at Houston Methodist
Jerold B. Katz Foundation Support Elevates Research to New Heights
Science is full of vexing unknowns. Remarkable advances in medical imaging allow neurologists to diagnose dementia earlier than ever, but there is still no cure for neuro-degenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The root cause of artery-clogging plaque may affect how a doctor decides to clear it, but best practice in the case of patients with diabetes remains a mystery. And why do people living in certain parts of Texas get cancer at higher rates than others? A tangle of contributing factors is difficult to unravel and even harder to address. Houston Methodist physicians and scientists appointed to the Jerold B. Katz Academy of Translational Research search for answers to these and other medical mysteries to make life longer — and healthier — for us all.
Translational Research on the Rise
The Katz Academy was established in 2016 with a significant gift from the Jerold B. Katz Foundation to recruit and retain the world’s most promising scientists in health care. Although such philanthropic support often is directed toward research in a specific field, funding from the Katz Academy strategically empowers eligible researchers from any medical specialty to be nominated for consideration. The group of multidisciplinary physician-researchers selected to serve as Katz Investigators receives five years of support to develop groundbreaking studies and trials for a wide variety of biomedical challenges. Each researcher retains the Investigator title throughout his or her career.
Fundamental to translational research is delivering important discoveries to patients as quickly and as cost-effectively as possible — a major goal for all Katz Investigators. In 2023, the Jerold B. Katz Foundation recommitted to this aim and expanded the Katz Academy from eight to a total of 12 awardees. The Foundation’s generous contribution to this endowment not only ensures the Katz Academy’s longevity but also increases the steady and flexible funding provided to current awardees.
As Katz Investigators, Drs. Matthew D. Cykowski and Trisha Roy delve into research that could improve and save lives
When asked about the inspiration for their generosity, Evan H. Katz, president of the Jerold B. Katz Foundation and an officer of the Houston Methodist Academic Institute Board, explains, “Research is a journey of discovery, an uncertain voyage of successes and failures — Katz Investigators are our modern-day explorers, fueled by a passion to find clues hidden, complex and unique.”
Katz adds, “Medical breakthroughs are a part of the heritage at Houston Methodist.” The kind of targeted investment made by the Jerold B. Katz Foundation is what fuels those breakthroughs.
“The Katz family has been the largest benefactor to the Houston Methodist Academic Institute in its history,” says Dr. H. Dirk Sostman, the Ernest Cockrell, Jr. Presidential Distinguished Chair and president and CEO of the Academic Institute. “They have helped Houston Methodist bring innovative treatments and pathbreaking medical devices to patients as quickly as possible. This is the very essence of what translational medicine means.”
Reaching New Heights in Health and Longevity
On any given day, you might find Katz Investigator Dr. Trisha Roy in an operating theater at The Bookout Center for Medical Innovation, Technology, Research and Education testing how commercial lasers clear peripheral arterial blockages (mostly in the legs), some as tough as a copper penny. Dr. Roy’s challenge lies in the precision needed to break up this plaque — without also breaking the delicate blood vessel wall. As a materials engineer, vascular surgeon, imaging specialist and wound care physician, she is clearly the right person for the job.
Though 1 million procedures are performed each year to open up blood vessels, 70% of patients are back within a year for further peripheral artery disease treatment, in part because the devices used the first time were either inappropriate or inefficient. With support from the Katz Academy, Dr. Roy partners with commercial entities to better understand how available devices can be improved while also developing gentler balloons and precision catheters in her own lab.
Jerold B. Katz Academy of Translational Research Investigators
2018 | Nestor F. Esnaola, MD, MPH, MBA, FACS 2019 | Khurram Nasir, MD, MPH 2020 | Trisha Roy, MD, PhD, FRCSC 2021 | Rodney J. Folz, MD, PhD, ATSF 2022 | Tariq Shafi, MD, MHS 2023 | Sadeer G. Al-Kindi, MD, FACC 2023 | Jimmy D. Gollihar, PhD 2023 | Matthew D. Cykowski, MD
Since her appointment to the Katz Academy in 2020, Dr. Roy’s and her team’s transformative findings have had an immediate impact on the medical community and in patients with advanced peripheral arterial disease. In fact, their development of a novel method for using advanced MRI technology means that they can view details otherwise missed with conventional approaches. This safe, radiation-free technique not only enables more personalized care and helps mitigate the risks inherent in invasive procedures but also puts Houston Methodist at the forefront of the vascular surgery field.
Like Dr. Roy, Katz Investigator Dr. Matthew D. Cykowski is a triple threat in medicine: an excellent clinician, superb educator and talented scientist. Dr. Cykowski rose to prominence through the prestigious Houston Methodist Academic Institute Clinical Scholars program after completing his neuropathology fellowship at Houston Methodist Hospital. He now conducts cutting-edge research on degenerative brain diseases in the Academic Institute.
With a special interest in dementia and ALS, Dr. Cykowski studies diseases that are at epidemic levels in our country and globally — and which are bound to increase in frequency and prominence due to the aging population. During his research and clinical fellowships, he investigated a molecule that becomes dysfunctional at the early stages of multiple neurodegenerative diseases. Thanks to his appointment as a Katz Investigator in 2023, Dr. Cykowski can build on his discovery and pursue implications of his research findings. Understanding and potentially targeting this protein in patients could be a transformational treatment for many.
Spotlight on the Science
Katz Investigator Jimmy D. Gollihar, PhD, is head of the Antibody Discovery and Accelerated Protein Therapeutics (ADAPT) laboratory, which played a pivotal role in Houston Methodist’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Specifically, his group contributed to screening convalescent plasma, identifying neutralizing monoclonal antibodies from patient samples and uncovering mechanisms of immune escape by the virus. Gollihar recognized early in the pandemic that a lack of SARS-CoV-2 antigen created an international bottleneck for the development of diagnostics and therapeutics for COVID-19. To mitigate these concerns, his group created stable cell lines and led the mass production of the “spike” antigen, which was used to screen convalescent plasma for treatment of critically ill patients at Houston Methodist, enabling lifesaving treatment.
Funding the Next Steps for Patients and Their Physicians
The Katz Academy promotes solutions to pressing problems in health care across fields and enables Investigators to focus their research efforts on potentially lifesaving discoveries without the continuous stress of applying for external funding. In addition, through their ongoing work and support from the Katz Academy, the first two Katz Investigators appointed are today full professors who have been awarded endowed chair positions.

These positions not only confer prestige but also protect research time for Dr. Nestor F. Esnaola, the Diane Harkins Modesett Chair at the Dr. Mary and Ron Neal Cancer Center, and Dr. Khurram Nasir, the William A. Zoghbi, MD Centennial Chair in Cardiovascular Health.
After being selected as a Katz Investigator, Dr. Nasir began building a dynamic Cardio-vascular Prevention and Wellness Program that has succeeded in attracting top-tier talent and allowing for pursuit of detailed studies aimed at intercepting cardiovascular events at their inception. His work extends beyond traditional boundaries — shedding light on the deep impact of social and environmental inequities on health risks — and includes use of digital health programs that leverage big data analytics and foster cross-discipline partnership.
By focusing on translation instead of a specific disease area, the Katz Academy supports experts across fields and impacts multiple areas of medicine at Houston Methodist and beyond.
“It was important to our family to lay a foundation that would provide a lasting resource to find better treatments, improve quality of life and, ultimately, give hope to patients who previously had none.”
EVAN H. KATZ