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Frank C. Gwazdauskas and William H. Velander

By Susan Trulove

Spectrum Volume 17 Issue 27 - April 6, 1995

Frank Gwazdauskas' and Bill Velander's research and leadership of a multi-disciplinary project has resulted in widely applicable techniques for development of therapeutic protein products to alleviate human and animal suffering.

In recognition of their work, they will receive the 1995 Alumni Award for Excellence in Research for "exceptional research conducted toward transgenic animal production of biological compounds to benefit human kind."

Dairy science professor Gwazdauskas and chemical engineering associate professor Velander are principal investigators for the Transgenic Animal Project, which involves the faculty, staff, and students in dairy science, chemical engineering, biochemistry and anaerobic microbiology, and animal and poultry sciences.

Gwazdauskas and colleagues injected genetic information into mice, pigs, goats, and cattle as single-cell embryos. The information signals the mammary glands to produce critically important proteins in abundance in their milk.

Velander and colleagues in chemical engineering have characterized the biosynthesis and developed purification technology for the protein-based products from the milk. Velander's research was the first to address large-scale production of these complex blood proteins.

The Virginia Tech group was the first at a land-grant university to produce transgenic pigs capable of synthesizing and secreting a clinically important therapeutic protein, human Protein C, in milk. The protein may be used pharmacologically to maintain blood homeostasis. This prevents excessive clotting in individuals following heart attacks, hip- and knee-replacement surgery, or in individuals born with a genetic deficiency.

The interdisciplinary research was funded by the NSF, American Red Cross, and Virginia Center for Innovative Technology, PPL-Therapeutics, and the Virginia Agriculture Council.

In announcing the award, Fred C. Lee, chair of the award committee, said "They have shown exceptional vision and innovation in their research program through exhaustive inquiry and have provided a truly beneficial service to humankind."

"We had a group on campus that could work together to solve a problem," Gwazdauskas said. "It took a collaborative effort to make progress. We capitalized on the expertise of a number of people."

The researchers also teach undergraduate and graduate courses and work closely with graduate students, who have benefited by learning new technologies as they've been developed, and have been partners in the research effort. Velander also teaches undergraduate students, including interdisciplinary courses, and has appeared on the College of Engineer's Teaching Excellence Roll.

Gwazdauskas has consulted on environmentally related livestock reproductive problems at the University of Peradenya in Sri Lanka, in Tampico, Mexico, in Columbia, South America, and with TEAGASC (an agricultural research institute) in Ireland, where he was a Fulbright Fellow.

Gwazdauskas has numerous publications to his credit, and is a member of the American Dairy Science Association, American Society of Animal Science, Society for the Study of Reproduction, Society for Experimental Medicine and Biology, Virginia Academy of Science, and Dairy Shrine Club.

His undergraduate degree is from the University of Connecticut. His master's and doctoral degrees are from the University of Florida. He has been at Virginia Tech since 1974.

Velander is corresponding author for patent applications involving cellulose matrices for purifying proteins, synthetic and recombinant antigens which increase the capacity of immunosorbents for purifying proteins from complex mixtures, and transgenic pigs which produce Human Protein C in their milk.

His work in plasma-protein research has resulted in many publications and invitations to lecture at international meetings and workshops, as well as other professional meetings. He has received about $1 million from the NSF to research the biosynthesis and purification of plasma proteins. He has co-authored a chapter on transgenic animals in the Encyclopedia of Food Science and Technology (March 1991, John Wiley & Sons, Inc., New York.), was lead author of an article in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences about the first expression of a recombinant human protein in the milk of a genetically engineered pig.

Science reviewed his presentation at the Ninth International Biotechnology Symposium & Exposition. Velander has been consultant for the Plasma Derivatives Laboratory of the American Red Cross and has just returned from a six-month sabbatical with Pharmacia in Sweden.

He received his undergraduate degree in biochemistry from Illinois Benedictine College, his masters in chemical engineering from Illinois Institute of Technology, and his Ph.D. in chemical engineering from Penn State. He joined the Virginia Tech faculty in 1987 and became associate professor in 1992.