Also In This Issue

Lab Work: Research at Texas A&M

Making a Splash at SeaWorld

Nick Jeffery, a professor in the Department of Small Animal Clinical Sciences in the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences at Texas A&M University, joined a team at SeaWorld San Antonio to perform the first-ever cerebrospinal fluid tap on a live bottlenose dolphin.  

The groundbreaking procedure was completed on Rimmy, who was found stranded in 2017 when she was approximately 3 years old. She was rescued and treated for 14 months for ailments, including pneumonia and nasal parasites. Ultimately, it was determined that Rimmy could not be rehomed until doctors confirmed that she did not have a bacterial infection of the central nervous system or brain. Now, thanks to Jeffery’s procedure—which identified that she was free from infection—Rimmy has a better chance at finding a permanent home living with other dolphins.

“We do spinal taps commonly in dogs, and while I initially thought it would be very different in dolphins—because of the shape of the skull and because the relationship of the brain to the spinal cord is completely different—I realize after completing the procedure that it is relatively straightforward,” Jeffery said. During the procedure, blood samples were also collected to examine how the anesthetic drug was metabolized, which could make future anesthetic procedures more routine at other facilities caring for dolphins and whales.

Spearheading a Historic Discovery

In a joint venture with colleagues from Baylor University and The University of Texas at Austin, Texas A&M University researchers discovered what are believed to be the oldest weapons ever found in North America: ancient spear points that are 15,500 years old. The findings raise new questions about the settlement of early peoples on the continent.

The 3 to 4-inch-long spear points were dug up at the Debra L. Friedkin site, named for the family who owns the Central Texas land. The tools pre-date the Clovis culture, who for decades were believed to be the oldest ancestors of indigenous Americans.

“The discovery is significant because almost all pre-Clovis sites have stone tools, but spear points had yet to be found,” said Michael Waters, distinguished professor of anthropology and director of the Center for the Study of the First Americans at Texas A&M. “The dream has always been to find diagnostic artifacts, such as projectile points, that can be recognized as older than Clovis. The populating of the Americas during the end of the last Ice Age was a complex process, and this complexity is seen in the genetic record. Now, we are starting to see this complexity mirrored in the archaeological record.”

Spinal Solutions

A team of researchers at Texas A&M University became the first to use dynamic X-ray technology to successfully map the lumbar spine. The project, led by Dr. Xudong Zhang, seeks to investigate lower spine-related disorders. The computerized visuals produced in the study will provide a stepping stone for further research on the treatment of lower back pain and other spinal injuries.

In contrast to the static X-ray images that allow doctors to diagnose broken bones, Zhang’s team used multiple X-ray sources and high-speed cameras to track and record bones in motion. The recorded sequences were then converted into pinpoint-accurate, fully interactable 3D models.

Zhang explained that these models can be used to conduct research previously impossible with human subjects. “We can only ask our human subjects to perform safe tasks. We can’t ask them to push limits,” he said. “But once we build the subject-specific computer models, we can virtually push their limits and create simulated injury scenarios.”

Conclusions drawn from such research could create promising new treatment options for spinal injuries and disorders, such as exoskeleton devices and new surgical approaches.

Why does it hurt when you hit your funny bone?

Surprisingly, the funny bone isn’t really a bone at all. It’s actually a cluster of nerves called the ulnar nerve—a bundle of sensitive fibers that run behind your elbow joint. The ulnar nerve starts in the spine and offshoots through the shoulder and down the arm, ending in both the pinky finger and ring finger. It then follows a delicate pathway that is unprotected as it passes behind the knob of the elbow.

“The ulnar nerve is wedged between the bone and the skin near the elbow joint with little to no cushion or protection,” said Cody Bruce, clinical assistant professor in the College of Nursing. “When your elbow is extended, this area is protected; but if the elbow is bent, it opens up this sensitive area. When you hit that groove, you’re actually pinching the nerve, which is why you experience moderate discomfort and a tingling feeling down the arm.”

  • Historical Hues

    For more than a decade, Texas A&M’s Center for Heritage Conservation has led projects to preserve historic buildings and environments. Associate Director Brent Fortenberry is taking the center’s mission to Bermuda, where he and a team are determining the original colors of the island’s historic homes. Using high-powered microscopes, researchers are creating a palette of historically accurate colors that will assist in preserving the island’s oldest structures, some of which are more than 300 years old.
  • New Designs Advance Wind Energy

    Texas A&M aerospace engineers Raktim Bhattacharya and Robert Skelton are developing designs for larger, lighter wind turbines. Wind power is one of the fastest-growing sources of new electricity supply and the largest source of new renewable power generation. The new turbines will maximize energy absorbed from the wind and be easier to transport, thus increasing access to this affordable, reliable and sustainable energy source.
  • New Cuff Monitors Blood Pressure

    Texas A&M and Yale University researchers are collaborating to develop a wrist-worn, cuffless blood pressure monitoring system that can be used to diagnose and manage patients with high blood pressure. Current methods of measuring blood pressure involve periodically inflating a cuff, which is bothersome during the day and interrupts sleep at night for those suffering from hypertension.

Dunae Reader '15

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