Thursday, July 19, 2007

Animal farm

Working through the faculty files from News & Pubs, I just answered another lingering question of mine: what were the Metcalfe goats?

Earlier this year, I had processed some negatives housed in a glassine sleeve marked "Metcalfe goats." Being negatives, they weren't easy to browse through, and anyway I was in a bit of a hurry, so I classed them into the Historical Image Collection as "Cardiology Research" (noting the animal nature of the images on the negative folder) and had done with it.

Today, I reached the file on Metcalfe in the unprocessed faculty files. James Metcalfe was chair of cardiovascular research here at the Medical School, and worked on heart research from the 1930s through the 1970s. Included in his file was an article from the Paso Robles Press, dated June 23, 1981, entitled "Goat discovered in medical research." I love newspaper headlines: one could almost believe that upon autopsy, a man was found to have died with a goat trapped in his intestines. Of course, that's not quite what they meant.

The article begins: "In the 1930s, a University of Oregon chemistry professor, Dr. James Metcalfe, searched for ways to study the cause of blood diseases in man. His search was thorough. So thorough, in fact, that it was in Africa that his source of study was found." "Metcalfe's discovery," as the article put it, was the African pygmy goat which, because of the nature of its blood system, was ideal for use as a lab animal for Metcalfe's research. While there seems to be some disagreement about when these goats were originally introduced to the United States (anyone out there looking for a research project? Was Metcalfe the first to bring these animals to our shores?) it is clear that shortly after their introduction for use as lab animals, the goats jumped to the domestic and pet markets. The rest of the Paso Robles article, in fact, records at length the experiences of a Mr. and Mrs. George and Mary Shreve with their beloved African pygmy goat, Abraham.

Metcalfe's goats, of course, were not pampered pets, but valuable research animals. Having obtained a pair of goats with funding from the Oregon Heart Association, Metcalfe had increased his herd to 49 individuals by 1975 and was using them to learn more about heart function, blood circulation, and oxygen transfer from mother to fetus.

Friday fun fact: I know, it's not Friday, but I won't be here tomorrow, and since we're on the topic of animals I thought I'd alert readers to the latest animal-based therapy to hit the medical scene: ichthyotherapy. Seriously. I have blogged previously about our therapeutic friends the leeches and the parasites; now the doctor fish, Garra rufa, is getting in on the act. New research, reported in the July 14 issue of the journal New Scientist (p. 52), indicates that the gentle nibbling of the fish, along with exposure to UV light, can remove the dead, damaged skin of psoriasis sufferers and prevent recurrence of symptoms for as long as eight months. I bet it feels good too--so keep your eyes peeled for the new spa treatment fad. We'll probably see celebrities appearing in public with fish attached to their faces soon...

No comments: