Yearly Archives: 2012

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Using nanotechnology he and other scientists hope to lessen our dependence on fossil fuels

When he was in secondary school, Alex Orlov and his family had to take an unusual device with them to shop. While his parents checked how ripe and fresh the fruits and vegetables were, they also put a Geiger counter near each item.

Orlov grew up in the Ukraine — only 60 miles from the site of the 1986 Chernobyl nuclear power plant explosion. In the first few weeks after the explosion, food and milk at farmer’s markets in Kiev, the capital of the Ukraine, wasn’t screened for radiation.

“If a potato had too much radiation, we didn’t want to buy it,” he said. Orlov’s mother, who was a doctor, went into the exclusion zone after the explosion to treat firefighters and police officers who, he remembered, sometimes fought radioactive flames with a hose and water.

Greatly affected by the dramatic events that caused his family to evacuate their home in Kiev for six months, Orlov went on to become a scientist, where he combines his interests in energy and the environment.

An assistant professor of Materials Science and Engineering at Stony Brook, he is working on a range of projects, including some that may one day reduce our dependence on fossil fuels and whose byproducts may include water, instead of greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide.

Orlov recently teamed up with colleagues from SBU, including Peichuan Shen and Shen Zhao from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and Dong Su from the Center for Functional Nanomaterials and computational scientist Yan Li from Brookhaven National Laboratories, on research with incredibly small amounts of gold.

As it turns out, the properties of the precious metal change when there are only a dozen or so atoms. For starters, instead of being shiny and yellow, the way it is when it adorns an ear or flashes from a finger, it can appear red, blue or other colors on that small scale. More importantly, though, the gold atoms are much more reactive. When exposed to light, they can help break apart water, which has two molecules of hydrogen and one molecule of oxygen, into its different elements.

The gold is 35 times more effective than ordinary materials, such as the naturally occurring mineral cadmium sulfide, at separating water.

Hydrogen, the lightest element in the periodic table, can be a clean-burning fuel, producing water as a final combustion product.

The results were “very unexpected,” he said. “People used nanotechnology before and they might get a single digit improvement.”

Orlov said there is considerable work ahead before this process has practical application, although he does keep that goal in mind when he approaches his research.

He is going in “about a dozen different directions” as he explores other possible materials that might generate fuel, he said.

The commercial world has already embraced nanotechnology in several other arenas and has figured out how to make these miniature reactions scalable.

Orlov has advised one company, called PURETi, that produces a coating for buildings that will make them self-cleaning and air purifying. Nanotechnology is also used in industries ranging from cosmetics to health care to car manufacturing.

Nanotechnology has had “an immediate impact in everyday products.”

While gold may prove prohibitively expensive to generate hydrogen fuel, these experiments may provide a footprint to find other materials that could be just as effective.

“The devil is in the details,” Orlov suggests.

Orlov, who earned a Ph.D. and one of his three master’s degrees at the University of Cambridge, has coupled his interest in energy and the environment to serve as a scientific advisor to world leaders. Prior to his taking office as prime minister in the United Kingdom in 2010, David Cameron asked Orlov to serve as policy advisor for science, engineering and technology policy development. Nowadays, he travels to the UK every three months, where he advises on hazardous substances and the environmental impact of nanotechnology.

A resident of Smithtown, Orlov has been at Stony Brook for about five years and has been inspired by the interdisciplinary opportunities at the university and the affiliations with nearby institutions.

“Researchers from the top 10 institutions in the country are coming to Stony Brook” in part because of the connection to BNL, he said. “We couldn’t wish for better facilities.”

As for his research, Orlov recognizes — after his experiences in the Ukraine — that there is an ongoing need to balance the energy benefit of any new technology with its potential environmental

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Sandy Feinberg has been at the library since 1971. File photo
Sandy Feinberg has been at the library since 1971. File photo

Visitors to the Middle Country Public Library may find it hard to imagine what the library would look like today if Sandra Feinberg had left her job as a children’s librarian to become an accountant decades ago.

Today, the library has one of the largest memberships on Long Island and is unique in its partnerships within the community and the programs it offers residents. Earlier this week, Feinberg, known to most as Sandy, and responsible for much of the library’s growth since she became director in 1991, announced her retirement.

“I always said I was fortunate to take a job in Middle Country because it’s the type of community that appreciates its library,” Feinberg said.

Feinberg began working at the MCPL in 1971 as a children’s librarian and went on to develop and found the Family Place Libraries initiative, an early childhood and family support program. In September, the library was awarded an Institute of Museum and Library Services National Leadership Grant of $450,000 to support the initiative, which is now offered in more than 300 libraries in 24 states across the country.

During an October interview, Feinberg said winning the award was an honor, as only a small number of public libraries receive grants like it.

“It’s really an acclamation of my work and our work here,” she said.

Feinberg said she would continue to work part time with Family Place Libraries and will volunteer for various functions after she leaves her position in April 2013.

“It’s a nice way for me to stay mentally attached to the library and the work we’ve done here,” Feinberg said.

In addition to the Family Place Libraries programs, Feinberg also established the 2-1-1 Long Island database, a free online health, human services and education directory, the Nature Explorium, the first outdoor learning area for children at the library, and the library’s Miller Business Resource Center, a resource center for businesses, not-for-profit organizations and independent entrepreneurs. For the past 12 years, the library has also held an annual Women’s Expo, a showcase of Long Island women artists, designers, importers and distributors, with the showcase’s proceeds going to help the Miller Business Resource Center.

Feinberg said it is simply time to leave her position and is looking forward to seeing her staff have the chance to lead. Sophia Serlis-McPhillips, the library’s assistant
director, will succeed Feinberg.

Serlis-McPhillips began her career as an adult services librarian and went on to work with the Miller Business Resource Center. She said Feinberg has always worked to make the library better and it has been wonderful to work with an “innovative leader” like Feinberg.

“I am really just going to work hard to continue and foster all that is in place here at Middle County,” Serlis-McPhillips said.

In addition to her work with the MCPL, Feinberg is also a founding member and former president of the Greater Middle Country Chamber of Commerce and was one of the first women to receive the Governor’s Award for Women of Distinction. In 2007, she received the Public Library Association’s Charlie Robinson Award and in 2008 she was inducted into the Suffolk County Women’s Hall of Fame.

Feinberg said she is looking forward to spending time with her husband, Richard, who has been retired for a couple of years, and with her family who live in seven different states.

She said she has always identified with the Middle Country community and remembers how supportive they have been since her first day as a children’s librarian.

“I don’t think I could have been in a better community,” she said.

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Distant clouds, light and shadows, black energy are all part of his research

Anze Slosar has his head in the clouds. No, not the ones that drop rain or that provide a welcome respite from the sun in July, but the ones at the edge of the universe, as many as 11 billion light years away.

An assistant professor at Brookhaven National Lab, Slosar is a cosmologist who looks at the way hydrogen clouds absorb light and change its color as it makes the long journey to Earth.

The way light from quasars — bright regions that can be a trillion times brighter than the sun — passes through hydrogen gas clouds helps paint a picture of the expanding universe.Slosar will be examining light from thousands of points of light to create a three dimensional map. He is currently analyzing 60,000 quasars and has another 100,000 in hand.

“I sometimes fool myself into thinking I’m like Christopher Columbus, discovering new structure in the world,” he offered.

He looks at the graphs that show statistical properties of those clouds. Slosar’s promising work in creating maps with the Lyman Alpha Forest — as this technique of using the shadows through hydrogen gas to recreate maps of the early universe is known — has earned him distinctions.

Last year, his proposal was one of only 65 chosen for funding from 1,150 submitted by researchers around the country. The funding will support five years of research.
He likens his efforts to put together a picture for a Chinese puppet show, where he sees traces of objects through the clouds.

He is participating in the Sloan Digital Sky Survey, which operates one of the world’s largest digital cameras, based in Apache Point, N.M. Slosar said he doesn’t look through the lens of the telescope at the images. Rather, he collects the digital data and uses computer programs to analyze, interpret and make sense of the nature of the universe.

The universe had a tremendous explosion of energy — the Big Bang — billions of years ago. After the Big Bang, the pieces of the universe would be expected to stop moving away from each other, and might even turn over and begin to collapse, he explained. Instead, they are expanding at an accelerated rate.

Physicists believe so-called dark energy is responsible.

Explaining dark energy using familiar objects, Slosar suggests “imagine throwing a stone in the air. You would expect it to slow down completely and start returning. You could also expect it to never return if you threw it so energetically that it would leave the Earth and travel in empty space. However, you wouldn’t expect it to suddenly start to speed up and this is what is happening with dark energy.”

“It’s undeniably there,” Slosar said. “You can’t touch it, but we can measure its effects on the expansion of the universe.”

While he feeds his scientific interests by looking back in time at a map of the universe, he said the pursuit itself includes challenges and frustrations.

More often than he’d like, he comes to his office and sits “at my computer and I swear, because the program doesn’t work the way it should,” he laughed.

Slosar recognizes the pursuit of basic science itself doesn’t improve the productivity of a crop, lower the cost of gasoline or create a sturdier structure that won’t collapse in a strong wind. It can and does provide other benefits, including feeding the minds of those curious enough to ask questions about the universe.

“There are always nice side effects from science,” he said. “The Internet came from fundamental research. The side effect of developing rocket science is going to the moon. Whenever you try to do something hard, you inevitably learn new things.”

A permanent resident of the United States, Slosar lives in Queens with his wife Maja Bovcon, who was his high school sweetheart when they grew up in Slovenia. Bovcon got her Ph.D. in political science from Oxford, while Slosar earned his doctorate from Cambridge “as if we were both British aristocrats, but instead we are from working-class families from Slovenia.”

Bovcon is at the end of a three-month-long study in Senegal.

Slosar explained that his work is “trying to make sense of how the universe behaves as a physical system. What is it made of, how did it begin and how will it end up?”

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Treatments including CPAP and diet can reduce the risk of many complications

Most of us have experienced a difficult night’s sleep. However, those with obstructive sleep apnea may experience a lack of restful sleep much more frequently. OSA is an abnormal pause in breathing, while sleeping, that occurs at least five times an hour There are a surprising number of people in the United States who have this disorder. The prevalence may be as high as 20 percent of the population, and 26 percent are at high risk for the disorder (WMJ. 2009;108(5):246).There are three levels of OSA: mild, moderate and severe.

The risk factors for OSA are numerous and include chronic nasal congestion, large neck circumference, being overweight or obese, alcohol use, smoking and a family history. Not surprisingly, about two-thirds of OSA patients are overweight or obese. Smoking increases risk threefold, while nasal congestion increases risk twofold (JAMA. 2004;291(16):2013). Fortunately, as you can see from this list, many of the risk factors are modifiable.

The symptoms of OSA are significant: daytime fatigue, loud snoring, breathing cessation observed by another, impaired concentration and morning headaches. These symptoms, while serious, are not the worst problems. OSA is also associated with a list of serious complications, such as cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure and cancer.

There are several treatments for OSA. Among them are continuous positive airway pressure — known as CPAP — devices; lifestyle modifications, including diet, exercise, smoking cessation and reduced alcohol intake; oral appliances; and some medications.

Cardiovascular disease

In a recent observational study, the risk of cardiovascular mortality increased in a linear fashion to the severity of OSA (Ann Intern Med. 2012 Jan 17;156(2):115-22). In other words, in those with mild-to-moderate untreated sleep apnea, there was a 60 percent increased risk of death, and in the severe group, this risk jumped considerably to 250 percent. However, the good news is that treating patients with CPAP considerably decreased their risk by 81 percent for mild-to-moderate patients and 45 percent for severe OSA patients. This study involved 1,116 women over a duration of six years.

Not to leave out men, another observational study showed similar risks of cardiovascular disease with sleep apnea and benefits of CPAP treatment (Lancet. 2005 Mar 19-25;365(9464):1046-53).There were more than 1,500 men in this study with a follow up of 10 years. The authors concluded that severe sleep apnea increases the risk of nonfatal and fatal cardiovascular events, and CPAP was effective in stemming these occurrences.

In a third study, this time involving the elderly, OSA increased the risk of cardiovascular death in mild-to-moderate patients and in those with severe OSA, 38 percent and 125 percent respectively (Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2012;186(9):909-16). But, just like in the previous studies, CPAP decreased the risk in both groups significantly. In the elderly, an increased risk of falls, cognitive decline and difficult-to-control high blood pressure may be signs of OSA.

Though all three studies were observational, it seems that OSA affects both genders and all ages when it comes to increased risk of cardiovascular disease and death, and CPAP may be effective in reducing these risks.

Cancer association

In sleep apnea patients under 65 years old, a recent study showed an increased risk of cancer (Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2012 Nov. 15). The authors believe that intermittent low levels of oxygen, which are caused by the many frequent short bouts of breathing cessation during sleep, may be responsible for the development of tumors and their subsequent growth. The greater the percentage of time patients spend in hypoxia (low oxygen) at night, the greater the risk of cancer. So, for those patients with more than 12 percent low-oxygen levels at night, there is a twofold increased risk of cancer development, compared to those with less than 1.2 percent low-oxygen levels.

Sexual function

It appears that erectile dysfunction may also be associated with OSA. CPAP may decrease the incidence of ED in these men. This was demonstrated in a small study involving 92 men with ED (APSS annual meeting: abstract No. 0574). The surprising aspect of this study was that, at baseline, the participants were overweight — not obese — on average and were young, at 45 years old. In those with mild OSA, the CPAP had a beneficial effect in over half of the men. For those with moderate and severe OSA, the effect was still significant, though not as robust, at 29 percent and 27 percent respectively.

Dietary effect

Although CPAP can be quite effective, as shown in some of the studies above, it may not be well tolerated by everyone. In some of my patients, their goal is to discontinue their CPAP. Diet may be an alternative to CPAP, or may be used in combination with CPAP.

In a small study, a low-energy diet showed positive results in potentially treating OSA. It makes sense, since weight loss is important. But even more impressively, almost 50 percent of those who followed this type of diet were able to discontinue CPAP (BMJ. 2011;342:d3017).The results endured for at least one year. Patients studied were those who suffered from moderate-to-severe levels of sleep apnea. Low-energy diet implies a low-calorie approach. A diet that is a plant based and nutrient rich would fall into this category. Recently, one of my patients who suffered from innumerable problems was able to discontinue his CPAP machine after following this type of diet.

The bottom line is that if you think you or someone else is suffering from sleep apnea, it is very important to go to a sleep lab to be evaluated, and then go to your doctor for a follow-up. Don’t suffer from sleep apnea and, more importantly, don’t let obstructive sleep apnea cause severe complications, possibly robbing you of more than sleep. There are effective treatments for this disorder, including diet and/or CPAP.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, go to the website and/or consult your personal physician.

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Not only treatment, but early diagnosis is a challenge in dealing with this tumor

It’s an all-too-familiar pattern. Someone he’s never met reaches out to David Tuveson for his opinion. After exchanging emails or talking on the phone, Tuveson gets an update from a friend or family member: they buried the person who sought his help. He or she died from pancreatic cancer.

“It’s gut-wrenching,” he declared.

A scientist and doctor at Cold Spring Harbor Lab, Tuveson is leading a team of researchers to tackle pancreatic cancer, the most lethal form of cancer.

A world-renowned expert in pancreatic cancer, Tuveson recently opened the Lustgarten Foundation Pancreatic Research Laboratory, where he will direct research on ways to improve medical knowledge of a cancer that kills 250,000 people worldwide each year, including 37,000 Americans.

While that number is smaller than lung cancer, it also carries a more daunting prognosis. Using current treatments, only 6 percent of people with pancreatic cancer survive five years after their diagnosis.

The pancreas is an organ below the stomach that produces hormones including insulin and makes digestive enzymes.

Pancreatic cancer presents several challenges. For starters, it’s difficult to diagnose. The symptoms, which can include abdominal pain, diarrhea, jaundice or weight loss, often appear at a point when the cancer has already progressed.

Scientists at the lab are looking for ways to spot the presence of pancreatic cancer early through blood or urine samples, in much the same way doctors check for cholesterol levels, blood sugar and blood pressure to look for signs of heart diseases.
Pancreatic tumors themselves are also difficult to penetrate.

“The tumor is hard, like a rock,” explained Tuveson. “Other tumors are soft, like a grape.”
Pancreatic tumors have a type of cement between the cancer cells called stroma. That makes it difficult for vessels to pump blood. Even the most effective medicine would need some way to loosen the stroma to deliver targeted tumor toxins. Tuveson and others have shown that drug delivery is limited in pancreatic cancer.

Indeed, one recent study tested the hypothesis that drugs aren’t getting into the tumor.
This was “the first clinical evidence” in an early-phase trial that drugs aren’t reaching their targets, Tuveson offered. The study should be completed within a year. “This is giving us hope that the science we’re doing is correct. Now, there are a variety of ways to increase the delivery of our therapy.”

Tuveson and his colleagues are looking for ways to develop new drugs.

“We are taking novel platforms and novel payloads that can bind to and inactivate the root causes of cancer,” Tuveson explained.

He is inspired by the opportunity to work with people throughout Cold Spring Harbor, including professors Gregory Hannon, who has done innovative work with RNA, the cousin to DNA, and Adrian Krainer, who has worked with antisense therapies.

Asked to compare the task of diagnosing and treating pancreatic cancer to climbing a mountain, Tuveson suggested that researchers don’t know how far or high they have to climb to understand and conquer this cancer.

“We are scaling this mountain, but no one has ever climbed it,” he suggested.

Tuveson recognizes it’s likely to be a steep ascent.

“Some would say what we’re attempting is not possible,” he said. Many have tried and failed to solve pancreatic cancer, he explained. Tuveson, however, said he ignores the naysayers and feels fortunate for the support of Cold Spring Harbor and the Lustgarten Foundation.

He is inspired by the resources, the energy, and the talent in a lab that includes postdoctoral students, Ph.D.s, and technical staff. If these approaches are effective, they might help in treating other forms of cancer.

Tuveson, who lives on the Cold Spring Harbor campus with his wife Michelle, explained that his early training in medicine prepared him for the interactions with patients and their families when they face the daunting challenge of a pancreatic cancer diagnosis.

“When I was training as a physician in East Baltimore in the late 1980s, a lot of my patients were dying from this new disease no one knew much about, which became known as HIV,” he recalled. “When that happened, I convinced myself I would be an HIV doctor.”

By the time he started his residency in Boston, medicine had come up with treatments for HIV.

“When I went through that very young, I became interested in being a healer,” he said. “I learned how to talk to the families of patients. I became a doctor for the family, equally or more so, than a doctor for the patient.”

As for his pancreatic cancer team, he said he is eager to make progress in understanding and conquering this lethal form of cancer.

“I am the most excited I’ve been in my career,” he explained.

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Statins may reduce some cancer risks but contribute to fatigue

Statins are one of the most commonly prescribed medications in the United States. Yet, some in the medical community believe that more patients should be on this class of drugs while others think it is one of the most overprescribed medications. Suffice to say, this is one of the most polarizing topics in medicine — probably rightfully so.

The debate is over primary prevention with statins. Primary prevention is treating people with high cholesterol and/or inflammation who may be at risk for a cardiovascular event, such as a stroke or heart attack. Fortunately, most physicians would agree that statins have their place in secondary prevention — treating patients who have had a stroke or heart attack already or have coronary artery disease.

We are going to look at benefits and risks for the patient population that could take statins for primary prevention. On one side, we have the statin as Rocky Balboa, coming out to fight off cancer risk, both overall and esophageal, as well as improving quality of life and eye disease (glaucoma). On the other, we have the statin as Evel Knievel, demonstrating that being reckless doesn’t provide longevity, promotes fatigue and increases eye disease (cataracts). Let’s look at some of the evidence.

Effect on cancer

A recent study published in The New England Journal of Medicine involved 300,000 Danish participants and investigated 13 cancers. It showed that statin users may have a 15 percent decreased risk of death from cancer (N Engl J Med 2012;367:1792-1802). This is exciting news.

However, there were major limitations with the study. First, the researchers did not control for smoking, which we know is a large contributor to cancer. Secondly, it was unknown which of the statin-using population might have received conventional cancer treatments, such as radiation and chemotherapy. Thirdly, the dose of statins did not correlate to risk reduction. In fact, those who took 1 percent to 75 percent of prescribed statin levels showed more benefit in terms of cancer-mortality risk than those who took more. There needs to be a better-designed trial that is prospective (forward looking) to determine whether there really is an effect. I would say that Rocky Balboa came out of this fight pretty banged up.

Another study showed that statins may play a role in reducing the risk of esophageal cancer. This is important, since esophageal cancer, especially adenocarcinoma that develops from Barrett’s esophagus, is on the rise. The results showed a 30 percent risk reduction in this type of cancer. The authors of the study surmise that statins may have a protective effect. This was meta-analysis of 13 observational studies. The study abstract was presented at the American College of Gastroenterology 2012 Annual Scientific Meeting (Abstract 1 May 22, 2012).

Although there is an association, these results need to be confirmed with randomized controlled trials. Remember, aspirin has about the same 30 percent reduction in colorectal cancer, yet is not recommended solely for this use because of side effects.

Eye diseases: mixed results

In two common eye diseases, glaucoma and cataracts, statins have vastly different results. In one new study, statins were shown to decrease the risk of glaucoma by 5 percent over one year and 9 percent over two years (Ophthalmology 2012;119(10):2074-2081). It is encouraging that the longer the duration of statin use, the greater the positive effect on preventing glaucoma.

Statins also help to slow glaucoma progression in patients suspected of having early-stage disease at about the same rate. This was a retrospective study (backward-looking) analyzing statin use with patients at risk for open-angle glaucoma. There is a need for prospective (forward-looking) studies. With cataracts, it is a completely different story. Statins increase the risk of cataracts by over 50 percent, as shown in the Waterloo Eye Study (Optom Vis Sci 2012;89:1165-1171). Statins exacerbate the risk of cataracts in an already high-risk group: diabetes patients. For more details on this topic, see my Oct. 18 article, “Taking cataracts seriously to maintain good health.”

Quality of life and longevity: a mixed bag again

In a meta-analysis involving 11 randomized controlled trials, considered the gold standard of studies, statins did not reduce the risk of all-cause mortality in moderate to high-risk primary prevention participants (Arch Intern Med 2010;170(12):1024-31). This study analysis involved over 65,000 participants with high cholesterol and at significant risk for heart disease.

However, in this same study in Archives of Internal Medicine, participants at high risk of coronary heart disease saw a substantial improvement in their quality of life with statins. In other words, the risk of a nonfatal heart attack was reduced by more than half and nonfatal strokes by almost half, avoiding the potentially disabling effects of these cardiovascular events.

Fatigue effect

Some of my patients who are on statins ask if statins can cause fatigue. The answer is “maybe,” but now there is a randomized controlled trial that reinforces the idea that statins increase the possibility of fatigue (Arch Intern Med 2012;172(15):1180-1182).

Women, especially, complained of lower energy levels, both overall and on exertion, when they were blindly assigned to a statin-taking group. The trial was composed of three groups: two that took statins, simvastatin 20 mg and pravastatin 40 mg; and a placebo group. The participants were at least 20 years old and had LDL (bad) cholesterol of 115 to 190 mg/dl, with less than 100 mg/dl considered ideal.

In conclusion, some individuals who are at high risk for cardiovascular disease may need a statin, but with the evidence presented it is more likely that statins are overprescribed in primary prevention. As points out, evidence of the best results points to lifestyle modification, with or without statins, and all patients with elevated LDL (bad) cholesterol should make changes that include a nutrient-dense diet and exercise.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, go to the website and/or consult your personal physician.

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Decreased sardine yield and rising water temperatures are part of global warming trend

As if the southern Caribbean weren’t already hot enough, the water temperature has climbed in the last 14 years at the same time that trade winds have weakened. While this may sound encouraging to scuba divers, it’s not such good news for plankton, the sardines that feed on them and the Venezuelan fishermen who depend on these small fish for their livelihood.

Above the Cariaco Basin, an ocean trench a few miles offshore from Venezuela, a local decline in trade winds has limited the movement of nutrient rich waters, contributing to a reduction in plankton production and, in part, to a collapse in local sardine fisheries, according to research by Gordon Taylor, a professor of microbiology at Stony Brook’s School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.

Working in collaboration with Mary Scranton, a Stony Brook professor, as well as researchers at several other U.S. and Venezuelan institutions, Taylor has traveled from Stony Brook to Venezuela every six months, monitoring oxygen, carbon, sulfur, nitrogen and other metals in the water, as well as the abundance and growth of microorganisms from the surface to the sea floor.

The decline in sardines, as measured by some of Taylor’s colleagues, has been dramatic. Sardine fishery landings were 40,000 tons in the last year, down dramatically from 200,000 tons in 2004. Overfishing also contributed to the steep drop.

Slower trade winds are a problem for the region because they interfere with a process called nutrient upwelling. The deeper, cooler regions of the ocean have more nutrients because that’s where plants and animals decompose. As this living matter sinks, it releases “the Miracle-Gro of the ocean,” Taylor explained.

The chemicals involved in water cycling through the ocean include nitrogen, phosphorous, silica and trace metals — some similar components people put on their lawns or potted plants.

The nutrients in the colder water typically cycle towards the surface. In upwelling, friction from winds pushes surface water away from the coast. That brings deeper, nutrient-rich water to the surface to replace it. With the change in the winds, the nutrients don’t reach the basin.

At the same time, the temperature of the water has increased by about 1.1 Celsius degree. While Taylor acknowledged that “1 degree doesn’t sound like a lot,” he urged people to “keep in mind that 1 degree represents a tremendous amount of heat being stored in the ocean.”

Global warming is causing both the higher water temperatures and the change in the trade winds, Gordon asserted.

“All indications from the International Panel on Climate Change is that the heat budget for the planet is on a one-way track at the moment because of fossil fuel combustion,” he said. “We continue to add more carbon dioxide to the atmosphere much faster than it’s being consumed.”

The Stony Brook professor said he has been aware of climate change for four decades, but his research has helped him understand the pace of that change.

“I was aware of the Greenhouse Effect back in my college days in the 1970s,” he indicated. “However, I remained skeptical about how fast it may be occurring, its dangers and didn’t appreciate the many ramifications of climate change until about 15 to 20 years ago.”

His studies, however, suggested “how fast the effects can be detected in the Tropics.” He cautioned that once the planet crosses a tipping point, the ecosystem can enter a “new state in a very short amount in time.”

Taylor lives in East Setauket with his wife, Janice, and their Rhodesian ridgeback dog, which is all of 113 pounds and is still not fully grown.

Their daughter Olivia just completed a program in fine arts. She lives in Manhattan, where she paints and sculpts, and works in a clothing boutique in SoHo.

Taylor has also studied the western part of the Long Island Sound, where he has examined the physical, chemical and biological causes of low oxygen levels, or hypoxia.
Taylor enjoys traveling to Venezuela, where he can continue to gather information, visit with colleagues, and study an area that he’s gotten to know well over the more than a decade since he started collecting water samples.

He has a “terrific set of friends” that he started this project with and, because he’s been doing this for so long, they’re all “growing old together.”

The microbes that are the subject of his work and his teaching at Stony Brook “are underappreciated,” he suggests. “We all owe our existence to them.”

In the Power of Tree column that ran last week (Nov. 22), the caption for Esther Takeuchi incorrectly indicated her location. She was in her lab at Stony Brook University. She has a joint appointment from SBU and Brookhaven National Laboratory. The photo was provided by SBU. We regret the errors.

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Roller derby gets the adrenaline pumping

When asked to describe roller derby in one word, the girls of Strong Island Derby Revolution kept saying the same thing: “Awesome.”

It isn’t surprising though, as there isn’t any sport that really compares to roller derby — the derby names, the high energy, the cringe-worthy wipeouts, the makeup and uniforms — whose leagues have taken roller rinks by storm over the past few years. Strong Island Derby Revolution is no exception, as its players and fans took over the Sports Arena rink in St. James for their last bout of the season on Saturday night.

“It’s amazing just to see how many people we have,” Marie “Jett Bruise” Letourneau, said at the game, known as a bout, on Saturday, which also marked the league’s one-year anniversary. SIDR has grown from about 12 people to more than 50.

Strong Island Derby Revolution battles it out against Shoreline Roller Derby. Photo by Erika Karp
Strong Island Derby Revolution battles it out against Shoreline Roller Derby. Photo by Erika Karp

According to Jennifer “Jenny from the block” Dutton, SIDR was established by a group of local women skaters and debuted Nov. 19, 2011 with a sold-out bout. Last March, SIDR began its first full season with another sold-out bout.

“It is unusual for a team to be formed and to have their first bout only four months later,” Dutton said. “Most teams don’t sell out like we have with over 600 tickets sold in our season opener last November.”

Each bout consists of two 30-minute periods with an unlimited number of jams, where a skater known as the jammer tries to get through a pack of skaters known as blockers. The first jammer to make their way through the blockers becomes the lead jammer. Blockers work to block an opposing jammer, while also helping their jammer get through. A jammer scores points for every blocker she passes after making the first pass.

Lindsay “Vixen Bone Breaker” Estes, one of SIDR’s coaches, said she loves the strategy involved in the game and how different it is from other sports.

“It’s the only sport that plays offense and defense at the same time,” she said.
Estes also said the sport is really empowering for women, as there aren’t many full-contact sports for women.

According to Dutton, the league is owned, managed and operated by skaters and volunteers, with skaters paying monthly dues. Even so, the team still finds time to give back to the community, such as having a fundraiser for Long Island Cares and supporting the Wounded Warrior Project.

Stephanie “Trinity” Finochio, a jammer on the team, said the amazing thing about roller derby is you don’t have to be an athlete — everyone fits in.

“This is something that everyone can do,” she said.
Veronica “Queen Benzene” Bickmeyer, one of the team’s newer members, said she had no experience when she first joined.

“I got started and now I am obsessed,” she said.

Strong Island Derby Revolution players huddle. Photo by Erika Karp
Strong Island Derby Revolution players huddle. Photo by Erika Karp

She called the game addicting and added with a laugh that while she played soccer in high school, in roller derby you’re actually allowed to hit.

“It’s a good way to get out some aggression,” she said. “But in a friendly way.”

Even though SIDR lost Saturday’s game to Shoreline Roller Derby, a Connecticut-based team, Dutton said the team will spend the offseason practicing and working harder for next season, which will begin in late March or early April.

While each skater seemed to enjoy different things about the game, they all agree they love the new friends it has given them.

“I love playing, but I’ve made so many friends,” Letourneau said. “The camaraderie and the community; the feeling of family. I have a lot of friends now and its really good!”

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Calorie restriction alone may not reduce cardiovascular events

Diabetes seems to be getting more and more unclear in terms of the appropriate path to treat and prevent the disease. The Accord trial, a large, randomized controlled trial, which I wrote about in my Jan. 25, 2011 article, showed that intensive lowering of glucose (sugars) with medications disappointingly showed no improvement in cardiovascular disease. Even worse, there was an increase in fatalities in the treatment group, compared to the placebo group (NEJM 2008;358:2560-2572).

So what about intensive lifestyle modification? We are constantly told that diet and exercise are very important for preventing and treating Type 2 diabetes. Many of us can relate to being told we need to lose 10 or 20 pounds. But the problem is that we are not given a road map as to how to best go about this process. Are all diets the same? How about exercise — does it matter how much and what we do? What does the evidence tell us?

Diet’s impact

We know that not all diets are equal and that diets fail patients all the time. In fact, there was a recent randomized clinical trial, the gold standard of studies, called the Look Ahead study, that looked at Type 2 diabetes patients and dietary effects. This trial involved intensive lifestyle modifications — dietary changes and increased fitness for one group were compared to a group given only diabetes support and education. The trial was halted because of its failure to impact cardiovascular disease.

We expect dietary trials to fail, but not one that is large, following 5,000 overweight or obese patients over 11 years, and funded by the National Institutes of Health. Part of the problem was that the amount of weight loss was less than 5 percent. The goal had been 7 percent, which should not be difficult to achieve when the patients’ mean starting weight was high. We know that the impact is greater with the more weight lost.

Worse still is that the interim analysis at year four of this study, published in 2010, showed encouraging results for reducing cardiovascular risk. There were significant improvements in parameters such as HbA1c (a three-month history of sugar levels), blood pressure, weight, HDL (“good cholesterol”), triglycerides, and number of medications. This is because patients had lost more weight at this point (Diabetes Care. 2010 Jun;33(6):1153-58; Arch Intern Med. 2010;170(17):1565-75).

At year one, analysis of the Look Ahead trial showed substantially more effect on reducing cardiovascular risk factors in Type 2 diabetes patients, with greater weight loss in the intensive treatment group. Those who lost 5 percent to 10 percent of their body weight saw results similar to the year four analysis above. And those who had a 10 to percent 15 percent loss of body weight experienced even greater risk reduction (Diabetes Care. 2011;34(7):1481-6).

However, there was good news with the trial: according to the authors, patients had lost weight and their physical conditioning had improved. The authors note that there was a low incidence of cardiovascular events (nonfatal heart attacks, nonfatal strokes, hospitalization from angina (chest pain), and death) for both groups, which made it difficult to observe a difference between the groups. Thus, this trial may have not been large enough to show an effective difference. I would argue that the weight difference may not have been great enough.

The treatment group with intensive lifestyle changes was following a calorie-restricted diet. This is not the same as a nutrient-rich, plant-based diet. Calorie restriction may help you lose modest amounts of weight, but trials have shown it does not necessarily add to longevity nor reduce risk factors for cardiovascular disease in Type 2 diabetes patients.

What is the message that this study is conveying? Does this mean that all diets are ineffective? Should we, to quote Marie Antoinette, “Let them eat cake”? I know some patients would like to be told that, but diet can play a significant role in Type 2 diabetes and its cardiovascular risk.

What is more important is diet composition. It appears to have more of an impact than just calorie restriction. In my Sept. 11, 2012 article, I go into much more detail on diet composition and an example of a nutrient-rich diet, with its beneficial impact on cardiovascular disease (Arch Intern Med. 2008;168:713-720).

In another recent trial, a meta-analysis (a group of 24 studies) with a dietary approach that involved a high-protein group compared to standard-protein group, the results disappointed (Am J Clin Nutr. online Oct 24, 2012). Though a high-protein diet showed a very modest reduction in weight, 1.8 extra pounds over three months, there was not a corresponding change in cardiovascular risk parameters, such as blood pressure, cholesterol and insulin levels. This analysis involved over 1,000 patients.
Again, it goes to the composition of the diet. In this case, the focus was on macronutrients, such as protein and carbohydrates, rather than micronutrients, including phytochemicals (plant nutrients).

Sedentary lifestyle

Though we are encouraged to exercise for 150 minutes per week — or five days a week for 30 minutes each — this does not take into account what we do the other 23.5 hours on the days that we are exercising.

In a meta-analysis (a group of 18 trials), there was a greater than two-fold increased risk of developing Type 2 diabetes in those who were most sedentary, compared to those who were least sedentary (Diabetologia. 2012;55:2895-2905). If that is not enough, there was also a greater than two-times risk of having a cardiovascular event, such as a heart attack or stroke, in those most sedentary. It is a good idea to at least stand up, but also to walk around, for a few minutes every hour if possible during your waking hours.

Therefore, if there is one message I could hammer home, it would be that diet and movement do play significant roles in treating, preventing and reversing Type 2 diabetes and reducing its risk for complications. Weight and diet composition are very important to achieving these goals. Even very little exercise can have a substantial effect on diabetes risk reduction.

Dr. Dunaief is a speaker, author and local lifestyle-medicine physician focusing on the integration of medicine, nutrition, fitness and stress management. For further information, go to the website or consult your personal physician.

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Work leads to understanding how viruses infect cells; has potential for correcting genetic disorders

With their miniature parallel tracks twisting and turning and their connections in the middle, the structure looks like a winding ride. As it turns out, it is, although not for humans.

Using an 11-amino acid sled, viruses shuttle proteases along the double helical structure of DNA, enabling them to infect other cells.

Leading an international team of researchers, Walter Mangel, a biophysicist at Brookhaven National Laboratories, recently found the sled that slides along the phosphate spine of DNA. It carries a protease important in the activation of a virus to its destination.

When the protease and another protein collide on DNA, it begins a reaction that leads to the removal of clumps of proteins that support the construction of viral DNA.
Mangel likens the proteins that are cut away to the scaffolding builders use when they put together a cathedral. With the scaffolding in place, the viral DNA can’t become an effective invading genetic force.

“We took a model virus, one that was not dangerous to work with, and we wanted to understand how this protein functions,” Mangel said. “If we do, we can inhibit that protein.”

The researchers chose the adenovirus, which causes common colds, pink eye, blindness, weight gain and diarrhea.

The molecular sled moves by thermal (i.e. heat) energy and doesn’t use miniature wheels to move along the track, but rather has electrical charges that keep it stuck to the DNA. The sled has four positive charges that interact with the negatively charged phosphates in the major groove of the DNA.

“The sled enables the molecule to collide with another molecule on DNA,” he explained.

Once the protease removes the scaffolding, the virus can infect other cells. Mangel said the concept of a molecular sled came together in his mind when he was visiting a museum in Vermont that had farm equipment. He saw a large sled and realized this was likely how these proteins were navigating through the nucleus to their destination.

“Once we saw the 11-amino acid peptide slide by itself, we thought it might be a sled,” he said. This molecular sled not only could transport molecules to the right destination in the DNA, but could also ensure that they collided in a way that ensured a reaction would take place.

In a solution, molecules typically only bind to each other when they collide at a specific speed at particular sites on their surfaces. In most collisions, even those molecules with complementary functions recoil. If both molecules are stuck to DNA and one or both slide on the sled, the speed of the collisions is set by the speed of the sled.

“This could give rise to chemistry that is far more efficient, in which almost all collisions by sliding lead to binding,” Mangel said.

While researchers will try to disable or deactivate the sled — perhaps by attaching other blocker molecules to keep the protease from navigating down to its spot on the viral DNA — they may also find ways to use the sled.

“The sled is capable of carrying anything attached to it,” Mangel said. That means it could be used in transgenic therapy, where doctors and scientists may want to replace one genetic sequence for another, potentially correcting a genetic disorder.

Mangel explained that the experiments with the molecular sled took considerable collaborative coaxing. He wrote to 10 labs that had equipment that would allow him to do single molecule experiments. When he spoke to Sunney Xie at Harvard, a partnership began.

The first set of experiments in Massachusetts failed.

He had planned to return to Long Island the next day, but wanted to try one last experiment, in which he increased the acidity of the solution. Immediately, he saw considerable sliding.

Mangel lives in Shoreham with his wife Anne. They enjoy running together and visiting the beaches and parks in the area, especially along the east end.

Mangel is a fan of opera and classical music and has conducted his work while listening to classical music from a BBC station. He also is an avid artist and has sketched his colleagues in the lab.

The direction of his work and his artistic interested collided when he discovered the use of this molecular sled.

“What comes out of the work is rather simple,” he said, alluding to the sled. “The experiments are sophisticated to support that theory.”