Also In This Issue

Lab Work: Research Developments

Bandage Heals from the Inside Out

A team of researchers at Texas A&M University has successfully fabricated an injectable hydrogel bandage that can curb internal bleeding and activate the healing process.

The technology joins kappa-carrageenan, a thickening agent found in seaweed and commonly used in preparing pastries, with ceramic molecules. The combination results in hydrogels (3-D water swollen polymer networks, similar to Jell-O) that solidify after injection in the wound area to quickly promote blood clotting. Once bleeding is controlled, the hydrogel bandage works to heal the wound by releasing therapeutics and regenerating the surrounding tissue.

Existing approaches to healing wounds—such as regular bandages, tourniquets and applying pressure—can already slow a deadly bleed, but they all come with problems, including that the force used in these techniques may aggravate internal injuries acquired during trauma.

Additionally, current drug delivery technologies face many limitations, including short therapeutic windows and the need for multiple injections or doses. “Injectable hydrogels are ideal because they're minimally invasive,” said Dr. Akhilesh Gaharwar, lead researcher and assistant professor in the Department of Biomedical Engineering. “We believe our formulation has great potential to save lives in critical situations.”

Breathing for Two

The air we breathe can have a profound impact on our health, especially for expectant mothers.  That’s why Natalie Johnson ’06, assistant professor in the School of Public Health, is studying pregnant women’s exposure to air contaminants in South Texas, where asthma rates are high.

With the help of pregnant women in McAllen, who wear backpack-style air sampling equipment for three separate 24-hour periods, Johnson is monitoring levels and types of air pollutant exposure.

“We’re especially interested in small particulate matter that can penetrate the lungs deeply and cause oxidative stress,” said Johnson. Oxidative stress can cause tissue damage and potentially harm fetal development. Direct exposure (when contaminants cross the placenta) and indirect damage through maternal oxidative stress have been linked with lower birth weights, premature births and an increased risk of developing asthma later in life.

In addition to her work in McAllen, Johnson is examining exposure to benzene, a risk factor for childhood leukemia, among women in Houston who delivered babies in the months following Hurricane Harvey. “Ultimately, I hope my research findings can influence policy or inform interventions for exposed populations,” she said. “If we can protect women and their babies, we can make a huge public health impact.”

Whiskey Wonders

Texas A&M researchers hope to transform the flavor palate of modern whiskey. Dr. Seth Murray, an associate professor and corn breeding specialist at Texas A&M, and Rob Arnold, a Fort Worth whiskey distiller and Ph.D. plant breeding student under Murray, are trying to develop commercially viable strains of corn with identifiable flavors. Most American distillers today make whiskey from similar types of yellow corn grown in the Midwest because of its high-yield potential and wide availability.

Their hope is that American whiskeys will one day be recognized by their local identities, the same way grapes from specific regions define the taste of wine. While many bourbon brands obtain their distinct flavors from aging barrels and yeasts used in fermentation rather than the corn itself, early results show that radically different whiskeys can be made by changing the specific corn variety or the environment where the corn is grown.

“Different strains of corn have different proteins, oils, antioxidants and chemicals that can lead to a variety of aromas and tastes,” Murray said. After evaluating 50 of the 7,000 corn varieties developed by Texas A&M’s corn breeding program, the pair has identified three that will undergo further farm and distillery trials in 2019.

Making Hypersonic Headway

Supersonic flight, or flight exceeding the speed of sound, was thought to be science fiction until pilot Charles “Chuck” Yeager broke the sound barrier in 1947. Today, the United States Air Force is looking to Texas A&M researchers to investigate the challenges of flight at hypersonic speeds, or speeds exceeding Mach 5 (3,836 mph), five times the speed of sound.

Air Force officials visited Texas A&M’s National Aerothermochemistry Laboratory in June, where students have constructed a wind tunnel simulating speeds up to Mach 15 (11,127 mph) to understand what it would take to build vehicles and defense systems that can withstand speeds that melt most metals and change the chemistry of surrounding air. As competing countries develop their own hypersonic technology, this kind of research has become a pressing matter of national security.

Secretary of the U.S. Air Force Heather Wilson was one of the officials present. “Texas A&M has a long history of producing talented graduates who go on to distinguished careers in the Air Force and our other military branches,” she said. “We look forward to engaging with the university on the basic and applied research that will shape the future of our Air Force.”

  • Diagnostic Drones

    Texas A&M scientists are using drones enabled with advanced sensor technology to identify weeds in crop fields sooner than is possible with the naked eye. The data will produce geotagged maps, allowing coordinates to be fed to a ground vehicle or an aerial applicator to treat specific areas. The process is more economical and uses fewer chemicals, which benefits the environment.
  • Women Warriors

    Researchers in the College of Education and Human Development found that not enough women incorporate strength training into their exercise routines. Wary of bulking up, many women focus solely on cardio. However, balancing cardio with strength training increases metabolism, allowing the body to efficiently burn calories throughout the day.
  • Harvesting Body Heat

    It may one day be possible to power portable, wearable electronics—such as cell phones—using your body heat, based on research from a team that includes mechanical engineering professor Jaime Grunlan. The group is seeking new ways to harvest and convert waste heat generated by engines, air conditioners and even humans into consumable voltage that could power personal devices and critical equipment in remote, off-grid locations.

Dunae Reader '15

Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications/Spirit Editor/Maroon Co-Editor