Virginia Tech Magazine

Volume 17, Number 2
Winter 1995


Medicinal tobacco?

Tobacco is under attack from all sides, as Congress tries to ban indoor smoking, the FDA considers regulating nicotine as a drug, and doctors continue to harangue against its use. But, in a sweltering Virginia Tech greenhouse, plant pathologist Carole Cramer is raising tobacco leaves which are incubating a vital human blood protein. Early tests at several research facilities indicate that tobacco can actually grow complex medicines, from blood thinner to a possible AIDS drug. Years of tests lie ahead. Tobacco contains about 4,000 chemicals, some dangerous, others with commercial use. Cramer took an aggressive tobacco-attacking bacteria and added it to the gene for a vital protein that prevents serious blood clots. She infected pieces of the leaf with the bacteria, sprouted the leaf bits, and in a matter of weeks grew dozens of genetically altered plants--with human blood protein growing inside their leaves. She's now extracting, purifying, and testing the protein to see whether the tobacco has processed it the way the body would. If it does, doctors could get human blood proteins much more easily and cheaply.

Heart surgery for dogs

When it comes to heart surgery, dogs have always been bypassed. In the past, it has been too expensive and too risky. Now, a veterinary surgeon in the Virginia-Maryland Regional College of Veterinary Medicine (VMRCVM) has adapted the procedure for canine cardiac surgery. Dr. Charles Kuntz's revision of a previously developed technique looks so promising that the "father of open heart surgery" himself, Dr. C. Walton Lillehei, joined six Virginia Tech professors for the evaluation of Kuntz' procedure. The relationship began when Kuntz, beginning his three-year internship at Tech, placed a "cold" call to Lillehei. When Lillehei returned the call (which came across the pager while Kuntz was in a hardware store), the two immediately connected. Upon Lillehei's invitation, Kuntz spent three weeks studying at the University of Minnesota's Cardiovascular Research Laboratory. "People usually do whatever they can to avoid doing open heart surgery in the dog because of the poor success rate and the cost," says Kuntz. In human open heart surgery, a heart-lung machine is used to oxygenate blood routed outside of the patient's body during the surgical procedure. But technical problems and the expense have prevented the widespread use of the machine with dogs. Cross circulation, a technique used by Lillehei in people prior to the perfection of the heart-lung machine, is based upon the use of a donor that temporarily performs the cardiac function for both the donor and the recipient patients. During the procedure, blood from the recipient dog's right atrium is temporarily rerouted to the femoral vein of the donor dog and blood from the femoral artery of the donor dog is routed to the femoral artery of the recipient dog. Once the procedure is completed, both dogs recover. The dogs in Kuntz's study had a 91-92 percent survival rate, suggesting a promising future for the technique. He would like to see a program develop similar to that used by California veterinarians performing kidney transplants in cats. In those cases, he says, a donor animal from the animal shelter is generally adopted by the owner of the recipient animal as well.

Toy guns

target of criticism

Children become more aggressive when they play with toy guns, according to a recent study by Tara Snyder (FCD '92). Snyder's study, conducted for her master's thesis at Virginia Tech, showed that boys, in particular, begin "pushing, shoving, and shouting" when they play with toy guns. Girls show more verbal aggression--threatening, bullying, name calling, and shouting. According to Snyder, now council coordinator for the New River Valley Early Intervention Council, research has not demonstrated any long-term effects of such behavior. Yet, she says, if she had a child she probably would not buy a toy gun "mainly because there are so many toys that are so much more creative." A block, broom, or stick makes a fine "pretend" gun, she says. "People say that since children will pretend a block is a gun, you might as well buy the gun. What they're forgetting is that the same block can be used as a telephone or a hammer or part of a building at another time--there are so many more opportunities for creative play," Snyder says. In comparison, she says, play with a toy gun is extremely limited. The results of Snyder's research were included in an Associated Press report on whether or not parents should buy toy guns for their children.

Virginia Tech Magazine Volume 17, Number 2 Winter 1995