April 12-18, 2002
Back Issues
IN THIS ISSUE
University sets stage for graduate student innovation
State cuts force hikes in tuition
Faculty Actions from the April BOV meeting
African-American women at increased risk for stroke
Commerce school cultivates innovation and creativity in wine industry

Reactions to Sept. 11 featured in annual ‘Muzzle’ Awards

Baseball field named in honor of the late Ted Davenport
Graduate students are lifeblood of research enterprise
Theater students ‘saw’ a solution for set construction
Lectures engage the mind
Design choices can affect the world environment
Students get one-stop financial services at new Cavalier Central
Feeding hungry ghosts
Whale of a sculpture on display at Fayerweather
After Hours -- Lori Derr
WFPA to honor Bunker, Toms and Black

Graduate students are lifeblood of research enterprise

U.Va.’s 2,400 graduate and professional school students are engaged in a wide range of research in the arts and sciences, medicine, engineering, nursing, education, architecture, law and business. The majority of these students, about 1,700, are with the College of Arts & Sciences, but many are engaged in interdisciplinary projects, drawing on the knowledge and resources of investigators and other students across Grounds.

Research is undertaken jointly by faculty and their students from engineering and medicine, environmental sciences, physics, biology and other fields. The schools of law and business cooperate with faculty and students in psychology. Interdisciplinary research provides opportunities for shared use of facilities and increased funding. External funding for fiscal year 2000 exceeded $209 million in support from federal and state agencies and private foundations.

“Graduate students are an essential part of the research enterprise,” said Gene Block, vice president and provost. “Their contribution and function includes education — learning the methodologies of research — and discovery, answering important questions that often form the springboard for their future research. These students play an important role in the creation of new understanding that ultimately informs the faculty research effort.”

This week, Inside UVA profiles graduate students in biomedical engineering, history, psychology and drama.

Magnet therapy: The power to heal?

Genetic factors may play role in teen pregnancy

Southern stories of American identity

 


Magnet therapy: The power to heal?

Cassandra Morris
Photo by Jenny Gerow
Cassandra Morris

By Charlotte Crystal

Healers have used magnets since the Middle Ages and skeptics have questioned their effectiveness ever since.

In 1784, King Louis XVI of France established a commission to investigate Franz Anton Mezmer’s “animal magnetism” treatments, using magnets and hypnosis. And according to the July 1998 issue of Skeptical Inquirer, Thomas Jefferson, who arrived in Paris shortly after the publication of the commission’s report, concluded that “[a]nimal magnetism is dead, ridiculed.”

Magnet therapy is still ridiculed, but far from dead.

Cassandra “Cassie” Morris, a master’s student in biomedical engineering, is one of several researchers at the University trying to determine whether there is a scientific basis for magnets’ supposed healing powers.

“It’s amazing how many people have wonderful anecdotes about how magnets have ‘saved their lives’ by reducing their pain,” Morris said. “But there is not much scientific evidence about what magnets actually do.”

The market for such treatments is not insubstantial — loosely estimated at $150 million to $500 million annually –- and the potential for abuse of desperate patients is high. s

Morris is investigating the effect of magnets on blood flow, a project funded by a $1.1 million grant by the National Institutes of Health’s National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, and supervised by Morris’ advisor, Thomas Skalak, chair of the department of biomedical engineering.

Increased blood flow brings oxygen and other nutrients to the site of injury, so therapies that increase blood flow to an area (such as the application of a heating pad to a muscle sprain) promote healing.

Actually, researchers already have found that applying static magnets — similar to those used by elementary school children to pick up paper clips — increases the blood flow through blood vessels, but no one can say by how much. So, Morris designed a project two years ago that would enable her to measure increases in blood flow generated by magnets.

“We’re making direct measures of diameter changes in blood vessels in response to localized field exposure to static magnets,” Morris said.

Morris spent the first year calibrating her magnets – measuring the power at their cores and on their surfaces – to obtain part of the baseline data needed for the study.

Her current experiments measure the effect of 15 minutes of exposure to static magnets with a strength of 700 Gauss — the strength of the Earth’s magnetic field is about 1 Gauss — on the blood flow in the skeletal muscles of laboratory rats. Morris videotapes the diameter of the blood vessels before exposure, immediately after exposure and at 15- and 30-minute intervals after exposure.

Her results show that different-sized vessels react differently to the magnetic field, with the smallest vessels showing a more marked response than larger vessels, and possibly contributing to an overall increase in blood flow.

Morris is repeating her experiments to establish statistically significant results in the coming weeks and plans to present her findings in June at the Bioelectromagnetics Society Conference in Quebec City, Quebec.

After establishing that magnets do have an effect on blood flow with her master’s thesis this spring, Morris plans to pursue doctoral research, testing several hypotheses that might explain how it happens.

“What I want to do is to establish a scientific basis for the clinical use of magnets and determine the ideal strength and exposure combinations for the most therapeutically beneficial devices or treatments,” Morris said.

“I want to help people who have been injured and have not found relief from their pain through traditional medicine.”

Two other groups of University researchers have explored various aspects of magnets’ interaction with the human body.

A research team co-directed by Ann Taylor Gill, professor of nursing and director of the U.Va. Center for the Study of Complementary and Alternative Therapies, last winter published the results of its study of the effectiveness of magnetic mattress pads in treating the deep muscle pain suffered by fibromyalgia patients. The study was funded in part by a $1.3 million grant from the National Institutes of Health Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine.

The study looked at 94 patients, divided into four groups, over a six-month period. The first group was given mattress pads with embedded magnets of a uniform polarity; the second group got magnetic mattress pads of mixed polarities; the third group received sham mattress pads; and the fourth group acted as a control, with no mattress pads and no change in previous treatments.

Researchers found no statistical differences among the groups in most of the measures studied. However, for some of them – particularly, pain intensity, the number of tender points on body and functional status after six months – the two groups that received magnetic mattress pads reported more improvement than the other two groups.

Researchers hope to learn more about how to establish proper dosages and understand possible side effects, while learning which conditions benefit most from the use of magnets.

In other U.Va. research supported by the NIH, Jeremy B. Tuttle, professor of neuroscience and urology with the Health System, has been exploring the effect of static magnetic fields on gene expression in human neuroblastoma cells.

Tuttle’s research group conducted several tests on 12,600 genes and found that most were not affected by magnets. However, about 100 genes — “a surprisingly large number” — were affected, Tuttle said. Interestingly, he found that many of the affected genes have to do with cells’ mechanisms for responding to injury.

Tuttle is preparing to present his results to the Scientific Conference for Complementary, Alternative and Integrative Medicine Research in Boston in April and hopes to further develop his results.

Go to top


Genetic factors may play role in teen pregnancy

Mary Waldron
Photo by Rebecca Arrington
Mary Waldron

By Fariss Samarrai

Mary Waldron describes her mother as “a very expressive, typical first-generation Greek mother.” Her father is the strong, silent type, “a quiet Texan.” Her brother, Elliott, only 11 months older than she, is “sort of introverted and methodical, like my father. He’s also very outdoorsy, he climbs mountains.” Mary says she’s the very opposite, “extroverted and a little impulsive,” but, when not socializing, Mary would rather curl up on a comfortable couch with a book than take on a mountain.

“These differences have always intrigued me,” she said. “I’m interested in the way siblings can be so different, even when growing up in the same home.”

Mary, a native of Seattle, is earning her Ph.D. in psychology at U.Va., expecting to complete her dissertation this fall.

“As an undergrad at the University of Washington I started out as pre-med and took psychology classes for fun. But I discovered early that I was fascinated by psychology and that I could combine my interests in siblings and science better with psychology than with medicine.”

As a graduate student in clinical psychology, Waldron is using twin siblings to try to separate the environmental risks of teen pregnancy from heritable influences, such as early sexual maturity. She is using an Australian sample of female twins, 2,800 pairs, half of whom are fraternal twins and the other half identical.

“Although the statistical models can be complex, the rationale behind twin studies is pretty straightforward,” she said. “If a behavior is genetically influenced, then identical twins should resemble one another to a greater extent than fraternal twins, who share only about half of their segregating genes. If a behavior is not influenced by genes, identical twins should be no more similar than fraternal twins, despite greater genetic similarity.”

Waldron is finding that identical twins are more likely to report similar ages at first pregnancy than fraternal twins, suggesting that risk for early motherhood may be explained at least in part by genetic factors. She also is finding that much of the genetic risk for teen pregnancy can be explained by heritable differences in early puberty.

“I’m discovering that early menses often leads to early sexual activity, which in turn increases risk for teen pregnancy and motherhood, and a resulting increase in the likelihood of school dropout and a higher risk of poverty,” she said. “While most studies focus on social factors, genetic factors are also important. And it’s interesting to find that heritable aspects of early menses seems to be a big factor.”

Waldron emphasizes that risky behavior cannot be completely explained by something in the genes, however. “Though certain genetic characteristics may put some people at risk, environment is still important. For example, several interventions have been successful in reducing the likelihood of teenage pregnancy, especially among girls who were enrolled in these programs because they were thought to be at high risk.”

After earning her degree, Waldron hopes to serve a one-year clinical psychology residency at the University of Washington Medical Center, where she could be close to her family. She is planning an academic career, and would like to conduct cross-cultural comparative studies of teen pregnancy using both Australian and U.S. twins.

Go to top


Susanna Michele Lee
Photo by Jenny Gerow
Susanna Michele Lee

Southern stories of American identity

By Robert Brickhouse

What does it mean to be an American? That is a question that has been on many people’s minds around the world since last fall’s terrorist attacks, and it is the complex question that drew Susanna Michele Lee deep into the study of history.

Lee, a doctoral candidate in U.Va.’s highly rated Southern history program and herself a highly rated teacher, is currently examining the question from this angle: how did Southerners become Americans again after the Civil War?

To do this, she is poring over such sources as popular novels, song lyrics, artwork and newspaper accounts. She is also methodically reading thousands of stories told to the Southern Claims Commission, a federal agency set up to award compensation for wartime losses if Southerners could prove they had been “loyal” to the Union. In these often-contradictory testimonies by claimants and their neighbors, she says, “you can see people trying to comprehend the meaning of the war and their position in postwar America. You see them trying to set forth their vision of the nation.”

Her innovative findings, laid out in her dissertation and presentations at scholarly conferences, present a more complicated picture than the familiar one that most Southerners thought of the war as a noble “lost cause.”

Rather than focusing exclusively on the accounts of Confederate veterans and their families, memories that have long fueled the popular imagination, she is looking closely at the stories of those who had little leisure or stature to write memoirs or speeches. These include non-slaveholding whites, who formed the majority of Southerners; free blacks and slaves, many of whom owned some property or livestock; and women, who were allowed little role in politics.

The Northern commissioners were trying to determine who expressed opposition to secession, either by voting against it or serving in the Union army. Along the way they heard many other descriptions of loyalty and visions of America, Lee says.

Former slaves emphasized the role of slavery as a cause of the war and appealed to the government to give meaning to their freedom with some rights and compensation. White Southern women often condemned the cost of the war and the suffering it caused. And many non-slaveholding whites said they had viewed the purpose of the war as ending the domination of the slaveholding class.

To capture these stories Lee takes a laptop computer to the National Archives, where the original documents are, and to other libraries including Alderman that have some copies, to make notes and transcribe page after page of handwritten commission testimony. She enjoys her research. “There’s something about working with original handwriting that brings you closer to the subject,” she says.

Lee attributes part of her curiosity about history to her Asian-American heritage, which has made her think closely about issues of identity. “History seemed to be asking some of the same questions I was interested in,” she says.

Her scholarship, which also includes extensive work for the Virginia Center for Digital History and the award-winning Civil War project, “Valley of the Shadow,” is already reaching many others. This fall she is scheduled to teach a thesis-writing course for history majors, on the topic of Civil War memory and how Americans think of themselves as belonging culturally and politically.

Go to top


CURRENT ISSUE

© Copyright 2002 by the Rector and Visitors
of the University of Virginia

UVa Home Page UVa Events Calendar Top News UVa Home Page