In Her Words

Single-Page View

Virginia Minnich — Oral History Transcription (Cont.)

Brodman: When you came here, what were the topics you were working on?

Minnich: I worked on iron. We worked on iron absorption and iron utilization. Those were the two main problems I remember.

Brodman: Had Dr. Moore been working on this at Ohio State? I noticed that the first article you wrote with him seems to have been number three in a series of studies in iron transportation and metabolism. Had he done number one and two somewhere else?

Minnich: Yes, he had done one and two at Ohio State. That was before I started. He was the one who really worked out the method for serum iron and the first one who said that serum iron was a transport iron.

Brodman: What is a transport iron?

Minnich: A transport iron means that it is going from one place to another . . .

Brodman: It takes with it something?

Minnich: It takes the iron, the iron is in the serum and so it goes . . .

Brodman: It is transported?

Minnich: It is transported. It is transported from the intestinal tract into the blood stream and then finally it is deposited in the bone marrow to make blood cells.

Brodman: I noticed in a number of your first articles you worked on the difference between the absorption of ferrous iron and ferric iron. What is that all about?

Minnich: Well, ferric iron is not absorbed well and Dr. Moore was actually the first who said ferrous sulfate was better absorbed than the ferric chloride. We then tried iron with Vitamin C and that was absorbed much better. You could take Vitamin C and ferric chloride and absorb as much as you did with ferrous sulfate.

Brodman: The importance of this is in the anemia?

Minnich: The importance of this is that all the drug companies now make a ferrous compound in their iron tablets rather than a ferric. When we were first working on this we found [that] dogs absorbed ferric as well as they did ferrous iron, but not humans.

Brodman: I noticed in one of your 1944 papers you said humans absorb ferrous iron better than ferric iron, but animals are different. Dogs absorb both equally?

Minnich: That is correct. We also worked on fortification of bread with iron.

Brodman: Yes, I noticed that. I want to know if that was the only nutrition study in your whole bibliography?

Minnich: Iron absorption is actually nutrition. So it really was not such a bad jump from home economics to hematology because, after all, nutrition is reflected in the blood counts.

Brodman: Yes, except whenever we think of dieticians we think of the food rather than the blood.

Minnich: When I went to Ohio State I was told really that I should not be a dietician because I would have to meet too many people.

Brodman: Why is that bad?

Minnich: Well, because my face was scarred from the burn I had at age four. You can’t disassociate my career from the burn at four. This is why I came to St. Louis to see Dr. Vilray Blair.

Brodman: Do you think they would have thought that today or was that just a condition of the 1920s?

Minnich: I think it was a condition of the 1920s. I don’t think it would mean so much today.

Brodman: Has it bothered you since, or have you gotten over it?

Minnich: I hardly think about it now. Of course when I was young, I did. Also, they told me I should not be a dietician. This is really why I went into research. But goodness, I met as many people in hematology.

Brodman: I am amazed at the number of people with whom you wrote articles.

Minnich: No patient ever questioned me. So I don’t think it would have made any difference; even if I had been a nurse, I think it would have been all right.

Brodman: It probably would have helped you in understanding the traumas that other people have with illness.

Minnich: Yes, but at that time it was better than being hidden at home.

Brodman: I should say. This is one of the reasons they often think people ought to go into libraries – because they are not good with people.

Minnich: I have always been pretty good with people. It really has made a difference. I think it made me more ambitious.

Brodman: It took more courage after everybody said it couldn’t be done, to do it. You certainly have been very successful, so looking back on it you can take great pride in how you overcame what other people thought was going to happen.

Minnich: I think my family were very good about this. They never treated me differently from the other children in the family. There are six children and I was always just treated as one of them.

Brodman: Were all your siblings sisters, or did you have any brothers?

Minnich: There were five girls and one boy.

Brodman: The boy was the youngest?

Minnich: No, he was next to youngest. He is an airplane engineer and worked with Curtiss-Wright and then he moved to Indiana and worked with Allison [and] General Motors.

Brodman: Well you have certainly overcome whatever difficulties you had. In looking over your publications I get the feeling that anemia was the next thing you went to from the iron metabolism – to anemia and various kinds of anemia. Could you tell us a little bit about that?

Minnich: Well I really began this study in 1945 when Ms. Bierbaum got married. I decided I wanted her job and Dr. Moore told me if I took her job I would never get back into research, but I took it because she always told me it was better than my job.

Brodman: What was her job?

Minnich: Chief Technician. She did all the blood counts and the differentials.

Brodman: There would be no research attached to that?

Minnich: Well, no, there wasn’t really. I still thought the grass was greener on the other side of the fence.

Brodman: In fact, it paid $10.00 a month more.

Minnich: So I took over her job. I stayed in it until 1949 and I saw it was a dead end. I really got very restless and then Dr. Harrington came. He was the one who really started immuno-hematology research here, by giving serum. Actually he gave himself one unit of blood from a patient with idiopathic thrombocytopenia. His platelets went to zero. He didn’t die from it, but it is really a wonder that he didn’t. At that time we could do things on each other which we can’t do now. He thought it was an immunological reaction and this is why we did it, so from 1949 to 1951 I worked on platelets. Dr. Moore told me I could go back into research and help Dr. Harrington on this platelet project. I worked with platelets for about two years. Then, Dr. Harrington went to the U.S. Public Health Service.

Brodman: Before we forget Dr. Harrington, that paper which you published with him in the Annals of Internal Medicine on immunologic mechanisms in idiopathic and neonatal thrombocytopenic purpura (Annals of Internal Medicine 38:433-469 [1953]), is one of the most-used articles in this library. When I went to read it, I found that it had been underlined, comments had been scribbled in the edges of the pages, and some pages had to be photocopied to be bound in. Is this an extremely important article or classic article that sets forth something new?

Minnich: This is a classic article. The work has stood up under everything.

Brodman: Would you tell us a little bit about that?

Minnich: As I said, Dr. Harrington took a unit of blood from a patient with idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura and his platelets went to zero and he had petechia after he had taken it. He took it at midnight one night, he and the other hematology fellow. I was in South America, but I got a return to St. Louis and he was in the hospital.

Brodman: He had done what, he had injected himself?

Minnich: He had injected himself with one unit of blood from the patient with thrombocytopenic purpura.

Brodman: He thought it was agglutination?

Minnich: He thought it was an agglutination reaction.

Brodman: In the article he concluded that there was more than one cause for idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura. Is that right?

Minnich: That is right.

Brodman: He listed at least three possibilities: the deficiency of the factor for platelet formation, the suppression of formation of platelets already there by the spleen or metabolic dysfunctions, and excessively rapid platelet destruction. These were his suggestions. Did he ever follow up on these?

Minnich: Well, these are really platelet destruction, really the agglutination of the platelets. Platelets agglutinate, form thrombi, and then are destroyed. They are taken up by macrophages. Now platelet production, can be decreased, as in aplastic anemia and the platelet production is just cut down, or they can be destroyed once they are made. These are pretty well documented. These are the reasons for thrombocytopenia.


<< Previous | 1 | 2 | 3 | 4 | 5 | 6 | Next >>

Return to Oral Histories

Return to In Her Words