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Spirit is published three times per year by the Texas A&M Foundation, which manages major gifts and endowments for the benefit of academic programs, scholarships and student activities at Texas A&M University.

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Also In This Issue

Lab Work: Research Developments

Happy Eyes, Happy Minds

Birds are the focus of two stories from the College of Veterinary Medicine & Biomedical Sciences.

Aggies Restore Jeep’s Peepers

Texas A&M ophthalmologists Erin Scott and Lucien Vallone performed an uncommon cataract surgery to restore vision to a blind chinstrap penguin from Galveston’s Moody Gardens.

Jeep, a 30-year-old penguin with cataracts, underwent the successful 45-minute procedure. A second penguin named Takota was also due to undergo surgery, but it was discovered that he was inoperable due to a detached retina.

The operation involved making a small incision into Jeep’s cornea and then using a machine with a needle that vibrates ultrasonically to break up his cataracts. Since Jeep had to remain cool, doctors covered him with cooling blankets and used fans to blow cold air from large ice buckets while monitoring his body temperature.

Due to the operation’s success, two more penguins from Moody Gardens have since received cataract surgery at the Small Animal Hospital, opening the way for this unique procedure to be performed regularly at the college.

 

Boosting Birds’ Brains

To combat the lack of stimulation many pet birds face in captivity, researchers at the Schubot Exotic Bird Health Center developed a video game similar to “whack-a-mole” that can be played by birds on a tablet or phone.

“Picture a pop-up on the screen, and if a bird uses vocalization or movement to ‘scare’ it away, the picture disappears,” said Constance Woodman ’18, a doctoral student who helped develop the game. “Then, the bird gets a treat from an accompanying dispenser.”

For birds like pet parrots, video games can provide much-needed mental and physical stimulation. Furthermore, games can be used as diagnostic tools to detect changes in birds’ brains, hearing and vision.

“Parrots are incredibly intelligent, but it is challenging to provide them with the mental stimulation they require,” said Donald Brightsmith, an assistant veterinary professor. “Physically, it’s not good for them to sit on a perch all day either. They can face some of the same health issues humans face: brittle bones, hardening of the arteries and weight grain. Getting birds to exercise through games like this is extremely beneficial.”

Pharmaceuticals On Demand

Researchers in the Texas A&M Irma Lerma Rangel College of Pharmacy are exploring drug production with a new twist—3-D printing. The concept could open the door to a method of production that would give virtually limitless dosage options when creating drugs.

3-D printing works by applying layer upon layer of a substance until the desired shape, thickness and volume is achieved. To create a pharmaceutical tablet, for example, each layer of a drug would be alternated with a layer of “glue” to hold it together, and each pill would have exactly the amount of drug required.

This type of precision medicine would allow health professionals to cater to patients, such as a child, who may not require the dosage of an average adult, while retaining a tablet’s ability to be released into the body over specific segments of time—something crushed or liquefied drugs cannot do. Finally, because 3-D-printed tablets are layered, they can be manufactured to dissolve easily in patients' mouths.

The 3-D printer is about the size of a large office printer and can be wheeled around to patients’ rooms. “Engineers already understand the technology,” said Mansoor Khan, vice dean of the College of Pharmacy. “We just have to combine that knowledge with pharmaceutical scientists’ familiarity with drug manufacturing.”

LaBelle’s Remains Restored

After 17 years and hundreds of hands, Texas A&M archaeologists restored the partial remains of the La Belle, a French ship that sank in stormy seas off of the Texas coast in 1686.

The restoration was led by Dr. Peter Fix under the direction of Dr. Donny Hamilton, director of Texas A&M’s Conservation Research Laboratory.

As one of four ships under the command of famed French explorer Robert de La Salle, the La Belle is one of the most important shipwrecks ever found in North America. The keel and other structural pieces of the 54-foot-long oak frigate were discovered in 1995 by the Texas Historical Commission.

The ship’s remains consisted of over 600 waterlogged pieces preserved for more than three centuries in up to 6 feet of sediment and 12 feet of water. These were delivered to Texas A&M in 1997, where the timber was cleaned by hand and freeze-dried at -40 degrees Celsius to remove moisture. Archaeologists also recovered approximately 1.6 million other items from the site of the ship’s sinking—everything from weaponry and pottery to clothing and jewelry—which give a glimpse of how French colonists planned to live and trade in the New World.

The restored remains of the La Belle are on display at the Bullock Texas State History Museum in Austin.

Test Results 

  • All the Buzz

    Entomology senior Shelby Kilpatrick ’17 left her mark—and her name—on a recent study abroad in Dominica. She discovered a new species of halictid bees, now named in her honor as Lasioglossum (Dialictus) kilpatrickae.
  • Building Better Batteries

    An international team led by Texas A&M chemist Sarbajit Banerjee is one step closer to building better batteries, thanks to new research that identifies one of their biggest problems—a “traffic jam” of ions that slows charging and discharging.
  • Visionary Vaccines

    A new anthrax vaccine with potential to provide protection against the disease through a single, intranasal dose is undergoing development at the Texas A&M Center for Innovation in Advanced Development and Manufacturing. Current anthrax vaccines require several injections and yearly boosters.
  • Give Me A Break

    A team of neuroscience researchers in the College of Medicine who specialize in understanding human circadian rhythms concluded that shift workers are prone to more severe strokes than workers with regular hours, since irregular meal times and sleep-wake patterns confuse internal clocks and make the body more susceptible to health hazards.