Friday, February 3, 2023 Feb 3, 2023
47° F Dallas, TX
Publications

THE CUTTINGEDGE

NEUROSURGERY AND ASTROPHYSICS ARE THE OIL AND REAL ESTATE OF THE FUTURE. MEET THE MEN AND WOMEN WHO WORK ON...
By D Magazine |

FOR DECADES. THE BRAINS AND GUTS OF THE DALLAS ECON-omy were powerful, wealthy men holding court in sprawling downtown offices: the longtime bank presidents, fat-cat CEOs, wheeler-dealer developers. So it was natural, when times got tough, for us to turn to those same stalwarts for salvation.

Alas, the real estate and fossil-fuel moguls seem to be temporarily out of miracles, the victims of national and global forces even they cannot control. But don’t despair. Dallas has a new class of saviors. They’re quieter and not nearly as rich. They’re at home with equations and photosynthesis and gamma globulin. They’re Dallas’s new brain trust, building the city of tomorrow on a foundation of ideas and theories.

The University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas, for example, has three active Nobel Prize winners (Drs. Brown, Goldstein, and Deisenhofer) on its staff. And such men are not all chalk and talk. UT Southwestern, through its discoveries and their spinoff ventures, can pump upwards of a billion dollars a year into the fast-diversifying Dallas economy. Other institutions, from Baylor University Medical Center to Humana Hospital-Medical City to area universities, are lending mental support to the new Dallas.

We’ve omitted the wizards of local high-tech industries, who are notoriously unwilling to single out “star” researchers. And in making our picks, we were painfully aware that if the list had contained a hundred more names, it would still be incomplete. Let it serve as an introduction.

It’s premature to say that Dallas will be the Los Alamos or the Silicon Valley of the Nineties, but we’re accumulating a critical mass of top scientists, doctors, and thinkers. Their labors will have eminently practical-and profitable-results. In the gallery that follows, meet twenty of our world-class researchers.

DR. IVOR ROBINSON: AFTER EINSTEIN A mathematician and astrophysicist at The University of Texas at Dallas, Robinson is an intellectual descendant of Albert Einstein. He is a philosopher of sorts who uses higher mathematics to explain his esoteric thoughts about the physical world. Robinson began his career searching for exact solutions to Einstein’s equations. He came to UTD when it was the Southwest Center for Advanced Studies to build a mathematical-physics group. Reared in Liverpool, England. Robinson was a cofounder of The Texas Symposium on Relativistic Astrophysics, which meets every two years (the last meeting was in Dallas last December; the next is in England in 1990) to discuss such things as quasars (a term that was coined at one of these meetings) and black holes.

DR. CARL COLLINS: DIAMOND IS FOREVER Reagan is gone, but Star Wars lives on. Collins, director of the Center for Quantum Electronics and professor of physics at The University of Texas at Dallas, is working on basic Star Wars research to develop a gamma-ray laser. As a spinoff, he discovered a way to coat anything with a thin coating of diamond, like an enamel coating. The process could be used to keep soft plastic lenses from scratching easily, or to protect medical implant devices from being attacked by the body’s immune system. Collins, who came to UTD in 1964, says he knew he wanted to be a physicist as early as high school. “The real frontier today,” he says, “is in high technology. There is enormous opportunity to participate in the discovery, the research, and the application of science in Dallas today.”

DR. KENNETH SALYER: NEW FACE, NEW LIFE Salver came to Dallas in 1969 and established the plastic and reconstructive surgery department at Parkland Hospital’s Southwestern Medical School. Just two years later, he performed the first craniofacial surgery in the Southwest. Since 1986, when he formed The International Craniofacial Institute housed at Humana Hospital-Medical City, Salyer and his team of doctors have performed more than 5,000 craniofacial. cleft lip, and palate operations on people from all over the world, including an infant from the Soviet Union. As one form of treatment he originated a technique by which the bones of the face and skull are split in order to create a more favorable configuration.

According to Salyer, sonogram refinements within the next ten years will mean more reconstructive surgery performed in utero. “If a sonogram detects the formation of a cleft palate, we’ll be able to go in and correct the problem before the child is born. It’s an amazing fact that children don’t scar before they’re born.”

DR. PAUL PACKMAN: THE SCIENCE OF DISASTER Meet a modern-age Sherlock Holmes. As a professor of mechanical and materials engineering at SMU. Packman helps students determine why accidents occur, why things break. He has worked on investigations of disasters such as the space shuttle, the MGM Grand Hotel fire in Las Vegas, and numerous airplane crashes. And he is the “father” of fracture mechanics-nondestructive testing concepts, used commonly in the inspection of airplanes and other machines. “Fracture mechanics tells you how big a crack is and how fast a crack will grow, for example, when an airplane lands and takes off,” explains Packman. He is now working on a book of engineering disasters, trying to show the “sequencing” of historical and current disasters. For example, he finds “an almost one-to-one parallel” between the space shuttle disaster and the sinking of the Titanic. “There are very, very important degrees of similarity in major disasters,” Packman says. “If you can bring that to the attention of technical people and managers, you’re waving a flag and saying, ’Be careful. Are you following the path of disaster?’”

DR. CHARLES R. BAXTER: THE SKIN GAME “In research, one answer may generate ten new questions,” says Baxter, professor of surgery at The University of Texas Health Science Center and director of the UT Parkland Burn Center. “Staying on top in the field of research is like a country dog coming to town. You have to keep a-trottin’ along or they’ll nip at your tail every time.” Long considered a pioneer in the care of severely injured burn victims and in the development of tissue transplantation, Baxter was one of the first in the nation to use pigskin for temporary skin grafts; he’s also credited with founding the first skin bank in the country. “Currently we’ve been working on making test-tube-generated skin. Within three years we ought to have it down.” says Baxter.

DR. JOHANN DEISENHOFER: A NOBEL EFFORT “Winning the Nobel Prize in chemistry is more than I ever expected,” says one of last year’s winners. Deisenhofer was the first to unravel the structure of a protein molecule involved in photosynthesis, the single most important chemical reaction on earth and ultimately the means by which all of our food is produced. “I was never sure of the magnitude of my discovery. It had interested many, and the response from my colleagues was high, but you never know what a committee like that which selects Nobel Prize winners is going to be looking for. I was very fortunate that my work was selected and honored in such a short time. I know of several winners whose work was rewarded much later down the line, sometimes as much as twenty-five years later. Mine came after only three years.”

OR. EUGENE HERRIN: TESTING THE TEST BAN “Test ban negotiations are the longest-lasting set of negotiations in all of arms control.” says Herrin, professor of geological sciences at SMU. ’’A little progress has been made, but we think a lot more will be made in the next couple of years.” And Herrin, who has been working with various aspects of nuclear test ban treaties since 1960. is helping make that progress possible. He recently pulled in $4.9 million from a division of the Department of Defense-the largest grant ever received by SMU. The money will go toward development of an advanced seismometer that will be able to discriminate between natural tremors and nuclear explosions, thereby providing a means of detecting violations of present and future underground nuclear test ban treaties. “Modern equipment now makes it possible to tell the difference between a nuclear explosion and a very large earthquake.” Herrin says. “We couldn’t have done that fifteen years ago.”

DR. RAY NUNNALLY: FINE-TUNING THE PANCAKE UT Southwestern’s Nunnally is doing his part to make medical research picture perfect. His work in the mid-Eighties led to the development of magnetic resonance spectroscopy, which measures chemicals in various body tissues. By knowing these chemical amounts, doctors are able to monitor the health and growth of cells. Nunnally is also at work taking the tool one step further, fine-tuning surface coils that optimize the sensitivity of spectroscopy. “The surface coil is a better detector, like a more powerful lens on a microscope, making the measurements more accurate. It looks sort of like a wire pancake-it’s a loop of wire that rests directly on the spot we’re trying to examine. This will definitely have an impact on the amount of exploratory surgery done these days.”

DR. JAY COOK: THE YEAR OF THE CHILD The director of neurology at Texas Scottish Rite Hospital For Crippled Children, Cook was the first in the nation to use gamma globulin, that portion of the blood rich in antibodies, to successfully treat children afflicted with neuromuscular diseases like muscular dystrophy. Last year he received the largest research grant ($123,875) ever awarded by the Muscular Dystrophy Association to an area doctor. Cook is now serving as the lead investigator in a nationwide study of inherited spinal muscular dystrophies. A leading killer of children, the disease is almost always fatal within the first two years of life. In addition, for the past eleven years Cook has played camp physician at the MDA’s summer camp near Athens, Texas. “The greatest thrill of my life was seeing a group of kids with water pistols running after one of the camp counselors. Five of the ten in the group were on medical treatment at Scottish Rite, and those five were the ones running the longest, running the fastest. It was quite a moment.”

DR. GORAN KLINTMALM: “A HAZE OF QUESTION MARKS” As Baylor’s director of transplantation services, Klintmalm has made the hospital the second busiest in the country for adult liver transplants, and he is internationally known for his contributions. Before working in Dallas. Klintmalm helped revolutionize the transplantation practice. “I was very much involved in the development of eyelosporine-with Dr. Thomas Starzl, my mentor-which enabled all of us to do transplants with a high success rate and a relatively high degree of safety.” says Klintmalm. “In Baylor, overall, 15 percent of our patients die. That is a significant portion. But you have to realize that these patients would be dead within six to twelve months if they had not received transplants, and only five years ago 70 percent to 80 percent of the patients died.” Klintmalm is currently researching the applications of a new solution that keeps organs healthy and alive longer outside the body. “Transplantation is to me a field where there are so many questions still unanswered,” he says. “It’s a big revelation when.. .out of a haze of question marks, you suddenly find a key clue that allows you to unwrap a tied problem. We were able to show that this new preservation solution is better. That gives you a high for a day or two.”

DR. EDWARD G. MILLER: SEEDS OF A CURE Researchers have already learned that green coffee beans can prevent cancer, so why not orange seeds? Miller, professor and chairman of the department of biochemistry at Baylor College of Dentistry, was among the first to note that the cancer-inhibiting chemical found in coffee beans was similiar in structure to limonin, the bitter-tasting chemical found in orange seeds. When applied topically, limonin produced a 60 percent reduction in chemically induced masses in hamsters and was found effective in preventing cancers in rats and mice. “We’re trying to find cancer-inhibiting sources that haven’t already been studied.” says Miller. Like any good researcher, he’s already looking down the road. “There’s got to be something to Chinese herbal medicines. I hope to start documenting its chemical makeup soon.”

DR. WILLIAM MILTON GOSNEY: THE CHIPS ARE DOWN So you think computers have evolved as far as they can? Think again. “If you look at what has been happening in the last twenty years,” Gosney says, “people have been learning to pack more and more stuff into less and less space [on a computer chip]. We’re trying to make that 100 million times greater.” Gosney. a professor of electrical engineering at SMU, and his graduate students believe that they are among the first to use a scanning electron tunneling microscope to study how to squeeze more information onto a computer chip. Gosney spent most of his career working for private industry in research and development departments, but was lured into the academic life when SMU offered to let him use the souped-up new microscope. He says that Dallas is one of the most exciting places to work in this field right now, and that high-tech graduates are “immediately absorbed” into the Dallas economy.

DR. LESTER MATTHEWS: GUARDING THE BLOOD Despite strict precautions, one in 40,000 blood transfusions is infected with the HIV virus, and 1 percent of the AIDS patients in Dallas County were infected through blood transfusions. As executive director of the Baylor Research Foundation. Matthews is trying to solve these problems. His group is developing a process of photo-inactivation that kills AIDS and other “enveloped” viruses-including herpes, measles, and hepatitis B-in blood. By adding to blood a photoactive dye that selectively binds to the envelope of viruses, then exposing the mixture to a laser light, the dye is photoactivated. This kills the infected cells and thereby “inactivates” the virus. “As far as we can see, it’s 100 percent effective.” says Matthews. But more testing must be done before the FDA will approve the process. “We’re very encouraged that we have not seen any damage whatsoever’” in three years of testing, he says, adding that guarding the blood supply is not the only use for the process. It is already used to kill light-accessible tumors, and in the future it could be used in vaccines or other biological fluids, sperm banks, or corneal transplants.

BRIAN BERRY: BEYOND GEOGRAPHY Not all geographers are obsessed with the names and locations of mountain ranges and rivers and valleys. Berry, The University of Texas at Dallas professor who last year won the Royal Geographical Society’s Victoria Medal (the Nobel Prize of geography), is more a planner of commercial and civic development than a geographer in the where-is-Khartoum sense.

“Geography is the science of which planning is the art,” he says. Geographers study the physical lay of the land, the use and abuse of the environment, and the structuring of human activities on the land. Berry takes the inquiry several steps further by analyzing future alternatives and even attempting to control (with the help of city, state, and federal governments) what the human distribution and use will be. He helped rezone Chicago, and his research was instrumental in the development of the Appalachian region highway system. In his newest research, he is marrying geography and economics to answer a perplexing question: why do clusters of new technologies emerge every forty or fifty years, thus sparking new rounds of growth? That’s a long way from naming the capital of South Dakota.

DR. ELLEN VITETTA: “RESEARCH IS A DAMN HARD ROAD” A team of researchers led by Vitetta, professor of microbiology at UT Southwestern, has successfully combined a natural poison with a man-made protein; in lab tests, the combination kills cells infected with the HIV virus while leaving healthy normal cells unharmed. “We are trying to prevent carriers of the HIV virus from becoming actual manifestors of AIDS,” says Vitetta. “We are creating a Mexican standoff between the two in an attempt to delay the onset of the disease in hopes that a cure will come along. Within a year, we will know if we can move beyond the test tube.” Adds Vitetta. who has spent almost ten years on the project, “Research is a damn hard road. Nothing ever stays the same. It’s an ever-changing obstacle course, and you’ve got to be clever enough and persistent enough to keep up with it.”

DR. GUENTER GROSS: OF MICE AND MIND This University of North Texas neurophysiologist is a mouse brain surgeon-sort of. Gross says that knowledge of the brain has progressed in the whole-brain studies {dealing with which parts of the brain do what and how the brain is affected by its environment), and much is known about the single-cell neurons of the brain. But the real cutting edge in brain science these days is “in between, in the network level where neurons work together.” To explore this new area. Gross grows as many as 400 mouse brain cells on a glass plate with sixty-four photo-etched microelectrodes, where they stay alive for up to 120 days. Gross measures patterns of electrical impulses from the neurons. His research could lead to new ways to treat spinal cord and brain injuries through a better understanding of cellular and network responses to injury. “The greatest excitement is dealing with things that have never been seen before,” he says. “It’s ego-pleasing to be the first one.”

DR. SCOTT GRUNDY: GOOD FATS AND BAD Steaks and candy bars are good for the heart? Well, yes-in moderation. As director of the Center for Human Nutrition at UT Southwestern, Grundy is quickly revolutionizing the way America eats. His discovery last May of a safe, heart-healthy fat landed on the cover of Time magazine. The Surgeon General lauded it as a major breakthrough, and Grundy was honored with a Merit Award from the National Institutes of Health providing $3.5 million over the next ten years for research into the causes and treatment of high cholesterol. For years, experts had assumed that all kinds of saturated fats were bad news for the heart, clogging arteries and resulting in heart attacks and strokes. Grundy showed that stearic acid, one type of saturated fat found in both beef and chocolate, did not raise cholesterol levels. On the contrary, it actually lowered cholesterol levels because it was changed into healthier monounsaturated fats by the body.

“Doctors are always telling you what you can’t eat- what’s bad for you. We’re attempting to give you a variety of foods-good foods-that are palatable yet heart-conscious.”

OR. KIMBLE JETT: THE HEART OF THE MATTER “It’s important to be an innovator, not an imitator” says Jett, heart surgeon extraordinaire at Baylor University Medical Center. While working at the National Heart Institute, he was instrumental in the manufacture and design of the Abiomed artificial heart pump. He brought an updated version of the pump to the Southwest, making Baylor one of only six centers in the U.S. approved for its use. According to Jett, the pump has two functions: to bridge the gap between heart attack and recovery and between heart attack and transplant. And Jett sees his own work as one step in a remarkable journey. “You’ve got to understand that there are 100,000 people a year looking for a new heart, and each year there are only 1,500 eligible donors. By the year 2000, expect total mechanical heart replacement.”

BILL MCANALLEY: NATURE VS. AIDS Using a very old source, McAnalley, vice president of research at Carrington Laboratories Inc., has developed a new drug to treat AIDS and other diseases. The drug, Carrisyn, is based on an extract of the aloe plant. It stimulates the immune system in humans and animals, making it work faster and more efficiently. McAnalley calls aloe vera the “potted physician,” and says it has been used for thousands of years in several countries. “When I was six or seven and came home with a bad sunburn, my mom would put aloe vera on it, and it would stop hurting. So I knew that something was there. And then I got into the history. I don’t think any scientist works in something that he doesn’t believe in.” McAnalley is optimistic about the drug’s effectiveness against AIDS, herpes, breast cancer, arthritis, and even the common cold. But more testing is required before the FDA will approve it for sale. “We now have a product that could be effective; it’s just not approved,” McAnalley says.

DR. GOLDER WILSON: THE SECRET IN THE GENES Even more than many researchers. Wilson, the division director of the Pediatric Metabolic and Genetic Disease Center at the Children’s Medical Center of Dallas, deals with the unknown. He has created the first pediatric DNA bank in North Texas-a valuable resource in the diagnosis and research of children’s diseases. “Our overall focus is to have a comprehensive service for children of genetic disorders and their families. Since you’re dealing with more than 4,000 different genetic diseases, it involves research and storing of materials, so that the patient’s disorder can be studied.” When children have an illness that defies explanation, Wilson preserves their DNA samples for future studies. The DNA bank currently aids in the development of DNA testing, which enables doctors to predict whether a patient will have a genetic disease later in life and determine the possibility that a patient’s children will have birth defects or inherit a genetic disease such as diabetes or muscular dystrophy. “All of us have a genetic individuality.” says Wilson. “Sometimes that individuality causes problems.”

Related Articles

Image
Publications

The Dallas Dozen

We salute the city's most important players in 2011. They made a difference and inspired others to do the same.
By Jeanne Prejean
Publications

Souvenir of Dallas

"The Mighty, Mighty Hands of Mayor Tom Leppert"