Monthly Archives: November 2013

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Katherine Bachner speaks Russian, regularly spends a week in Kazakhstan and understands Russian culture. That is why she recently decided it was time someone worked on a project that would help her colleagues connect with their Russian counterparts without committing any cultural faux pas.

Back when she was starting to work with a Russian program, she went on a trip with an American team who attended an enormous banquet arranged by their hosts. The head of the American group didn’t give a toast.

“If you’re the leader of a delegation, it’s incredibly rude” not to give a toast, even if it’s through an interpreter, she said. “That’s Russia 101 and they weren’t doing it. I thought that was very strange.”

At Brookhaven National Laboratory, where she has worked since 2011, Bachner is a part of the Nonproliferation and National Security Department. That means she works with people in numerous countries to provide safeguards for their nuclear power plants and to help detect undeclared nuclear activities and procurement networks.

In Kazakhstan, for example, she’s been helping a nuclear facility upgrade its measurement procedures to improve the accuracy of data that the International Atomic Energy Agency collects when they conduct inspections. The BNL team works with executives at the plant, with the IAEA and with a national company in Kazakhstan.

It’s a multilateral effort to “assist a partner country to improve their safeguards,” she explained.

A cornerstone of her work is “helping the U.S. government develop policies that will make the Nonproliferation Treaty more effective and viable in the long term,” she said. Much of her work is with the IAEA, which “helps implement nuclear safeguards and creates a better regime of safeguards in [other] countries.”

A self-described idealist, Bachner got into the world of nuclear safeguards because she said she hopes some day that the world can be free of nuclear weapons. “I have a passion for trying to make the world a better place,” she said. “I think the field is doing that slowly and sometimes invisibly. We need more young people working on it. It needs to be demystified.”

Indeed, other experts in the nonproliferation world believe Bachner is among a key group of professionals who will ensure a world of nuclear accountability and safety. Bachner “is part of the next generation of nonproliferation experts,” said Susan Burk, a former special representative of the president for nuclear nonproliferation and currently a consultant who has worked with Bachner at BNL. Bachner can be “an important role model for other young people who can look at her and her accomplishments and appreciate how gratifying working on these issues can be.” Burk said she is confident Bachner is an “excellent U.S. representative who is sensitive to the unique cultures of those countries.”

Bachner, who has a master’s degree in cultural anthropology from Columbia as well as a master’s degree in international policy studies from Monterey Institute of International Studies, said the results of her work on enhancing an understanding for scientists and regulators of cultural differences is unlikely to be a simple checklist for each country.

“If you’re working in Russia, the first thing the person would need to do is take a class or course in basic concepts that there are these international differences,” she said. “You need to try to learn some specific things about the culture you’ll be a part of.”

She is hoping to produce a paper that will explain the need for intercultural empathy and training, even for people with expertise in traveling and foreign languages. “If you improve your relationships with your counterparts, you improve the likelihood that the project will be effective,” she said.

Bachner, who grew up in Washington, D.C., and upstate New York, said she loves being near the water. She and her husband Eric live in East Moriches, where she swims, kayaks and bikes. She’s working on a “hilarious, fantastical book” that is in its first draft. An animal lover, Bachner has experience on two continents milking goats. She worked in Hawaii and in Mongolia, where she was performing anthropological field work.

“Central Asian goat milking is really different,” she said. “Our goats give more milk and are better fed. They don’t have to range as far. It’s kind of shocking when I came back from Mongolia to notice how plentiful our lives are.”

As for her work on nuclear safety, Bachner said she is working toward disarmament in part because “there is little that could threaten so much of the world at once.”

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Carotenoids reduce risk for many chronic diseases

 

Many of us give thanks for our health on Thanksgiving. Well, let’s follow through with this theme. While eating healthy may be furthest from our minds during a holiday, it is so important.

Instead of making Thanksgiving a holiday of regret, eating foods that cause weight gain, fatigue and increase your risk for chronic diseases, you can reverse this trend while staying in the traditional theme of what it means to enjoy a festive meal.

What can we do to turn Thanksgiving into a bonanza of good health? Phytochemicals (plant nutrients) called carotenoids have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity and are found mostly in fruits and vegetables. Carotenoids make up a family of greater than 600 different substances, such as beta-carotene, alpha-carotene, lutein, zeaxanthin, lycopene and beta-cryptoxanthin (Crit Rev Food Sci Nutr 2010;50(8):728–760).

Carotenoids help to prevent and potentially reverse diseases, such as breast cancer; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, also as Lou Gehrig’s disease; age-related macular degeneration, cardiovascular disease — heart disease and stroke. Foods that contain these substances are orange, yellow and red vegetables and fruits, and dark green leafy vegetables. Examples include sweet potato, acorn squash, summer squash, spaghetti squash, green beans, carrots, cooked pumpkin, spinach, kale, papayas, tangerines, tomatoes and brussels sprouts. Let’s look at the evidence.

Breast cancer effect

We know that breast cancer risk is high among women, especially on Long Island. The risk for a woman is 12.4 percent getting breast cancer in their lifetime (SEER Cancer Statistics Review, 1975–2009, National Cancer Institute). Therefore, we need to do everything within reason to reduce risk.

In a meta-analysis (a group of eight prospective or forward-looking studies), results show that women who were in the second to fifth quintile blood levels of carotenoids, such as alpha-carotene, beta-carotene, and lutein and zeaxanthin, had significantly reduced risk of developing breast cancer (J Natl Cancer Inst 2012;104(24):1905-1916).

Thus, there was an inverse relationship between carotenoid levels and breast cancer risk. Even modest amounts of carotenoids can have a resounding effect in potentially preventing breast cancer.

ALS: Lou Gehrig’s disease

ALS is a disabling and feared disease. Unfortunately, there are no effective treatments for reversing this disease. Therefore, we need to work double time in trying to prevent its occurrence.

In a meta-analysis of five prestigious observational studies, including The Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-Up Study, results showed that people with the greatest amount of carotenoids in their blood from foods such as spinach, kale and carrots had a decreased risk of developing ALS and/or delaying the onset of the disease (ANN NEUROL 2013;73:236–245). This study involved over 1 million people with more than 1,000 who developed ALS.

Those who were in the highest carotenoid level quintile had a 25 percent reduction in risk, compared to those in the lowest quintile. This difference was even greater for those who had high carotenoid levels and did not smoke, achieving a 35 percent reduction. According to the authors, the beneficial effects may be due to antioxidant activity and more efficient function of the power source of the cell: the mitochondrion. This is a good way to prevent a horrible disease while improving your overall health.

Positive effects of healthy eating

Despite the knowledge that healthy eating has long-term positive effects, there are several obstacles to healthy eating. Two critical factors are presentation and perception.

Presentation is glorious for traditional dishes, like turkey, gravy and stuffing with lots of butter and creamy sauces. However, vegetables are usually prepared in either an unappetizing way — steamed to the point of no return, so they cannot compete with the main course — or smothered in cheese, negating their benefits, but clearing our consciences.

Many consider Thanksgiving a time to indulge and not think about the repercussions. Plant-based foods like whole grains, leafy greens and fruits are relegated to side dishes or afterthoughts. Why is it so important to change our mindsets? Believe or not, there are significant short-term consequences of gorging ourselves.

Not surprisingly, people tend to gain weight from Thanksgiving to New Year. This is when most gain the predominant amount of weight for the entire year. However, according to a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine on March 23, 2000, people do not lose the weight they gain during this time. If you can fend off weight gain during the holidays, just think of the possibilities for the rest of the year.

Also, if you are obese and sedentary, you may already have heart disease. Overeating at a single meal increases your risk of heart attack over the near term, according to the American Heart Association (www.heart.org). However, with a little Thanksgiving planning, you can reap significant benefits. What strategies should you employ for the best outcomes?

  • Make healthy, plant-based dishes part of the main course. I am not suggesting that you forgo signature dishes, but add to tradition by making mouthwatering vegetable-based dishes for the holiday.
  • Improve the presentation of vegetable dishes. Most people don’t like grilled chicken without any seasoning. Why should vegetables be different? In my family, we make sauces for vegetables, like a peanut sauce using mostly rice vinegar and infusing a teaspoon of toasted sesame oil. Good resources for appealing dishes can be found at www.pcrm.org, EatingWell magazine, www.wholefoodsmarket.com and many other resources.
  • Replace refined grains with whole grains. A study in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition on Sept. 29, 2010, showed that replacing wheat or refined grains with whole wheat and whole grains significantly reduced central fat, or fat around the belly (Am J Clin Nutr 2010 Nov;92(5):1165-71). Not only did participants lose subcutaneous fat found just below the skin, but also visceral adipose tissue, the fat that lines organs and causes chronic diseases such as cancer.
  • Create a healthy environment. Instead of putting out creamy dips, processed crackers and candies as snacks prior to the meal, put out whole grain brown rice crackers, baby carrots, cherry tomatoes and healthy dips like hummus and salsa. Help people choose wisely.
  • Offer more healthy dessert options, like pumpkin pudding and fruit salad.

The goal should be to increase your nutrient-dense foods and decrease your empty-calorie ones.

You don’t have to be perfect, but improvements during this time period have a tremendous impact — they set the tone for the new year and put you on a path to success. Why not turn this holiday into an opportunity to de-stress, rest, and reverse and/or prevent chronic disease by consuming plenty of carotenoid-containing foods.

 

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 www.medicalcompassmd.com and/or consult your personal physician.

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Doreen Ware brings her work home with her. Then again, her work is everywhere. An adjunct associate professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Ware studies large sections of plant genes and the way those genes affect what a plant becomes.

With the world’s population continuing to increase and the type of land for farming crops that will provide food under various conditions of stress, the urgency to find and harness the best combination of plant genes is building. “In the U.S. right now,” she said, “more than 50% of the agricultural land has been under drought conditions.”

Ware, a computational biologist in the Department of Agriculture, is involved in her own experiments with plants and helps create tools to understand the wealth of information coming from other people’s basic genetic research.

Her group is focused on understanding regulatory networks, or the genes that control the level of expression of other genes. Specifically, she studies microRNAs and transcription factors, which are protein-coding genes that bind to DNA to promote or repress gene expression. She described part of her work as “setting up resources that other people can use to do their own work. I’m a firm believer that supporting many people will bring out more product than my group can do.”

Ware is a co-principal investigator on iPlant, which is as an entity that is by, for and of the community, according to its website. She is also the administrative lead for the Cold Spring Harbor effort on iPlant.

Part of the original iPlant Collaborative grant that started in 2008, Ware and her lab members “provide scientific support for several of our collaborations in genome-wide studies,” said Steve Goff, the project director and principal investigator for iPlant.Ware said comparing genes across different plants helps scientists understand which code is responsible for a plant’s responses to changes in its environment.

Ware likened the process of understanding how to optimize different genes in her work to designing a bicycle. Bikes all use the same underlying parts, although some work better in mountains while others, like tricycles, are designed for stability.

“My group is focused on understanding which sets of parts might be important in developmental outcomes, which parts are important to environmental outcomes and which contribute to both,” she said. The conditions she examines range from less potable water to limited supplies of nitrogen and phosphorus. Unlike mammals, plants make their parts as they go through their lifestyle, in response to sunlight or other cues, signaling cells to flower or to go into dormancy or die.

In her lab, Ware has seen some results that surprised her. She was looking at two maize plants that looked identical. The regions in between the genes didn’t look similar when she looked at their exact location. “The DNA between the genes in many cases are different,” she explained. “This DNA may be regulatory” and will introduce “flexibility” differences in how and when the genes will be expressed. “When you see that they are this different, it’s pretty amazing,” she said.

Her colleagues have offered a similar adjective to describe Ware herself. “Understanding both computational analysis and plant biology is a rare combination that [Ware] and her team bring to the iPlant Collaborative,” Goff explained. “Many people in the agricultural research fields, both applied and academic, seek to benefit from [her] knowledge and reputation.”

Ware and her husband, Joseph Lanzone, a software quality engineer, live in Melville. She has a 21-year-old son, William, and an 8-year-old son, Marc. Long Island appeals to her because she likes “all water activity,” which includes sailing and heading to beaches.

At home, she has trees and flowers that bloom all year-round, giving her “something beautiful to look at” during each season. Ware also regularly attends services at her church, St. Elizabeth of Hungary.

As for her work, she turns to an old saying: You can give people a fish and feed them for a day or you can teach people to catch fish and feed them for a lifetime.

“From my perspective, I want to teach them to farm the fish,” she said.

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Calculator for risk factors may be flawed

We need cholesterol for our cells to function properly, but when we have too much it can have deleterious effects on our hearts. We know that higher LDL “bad” levels and total cholesterol levels may be dangerous and that higher HDL cholesterol levels are good. I am not telling you anything new. However, new guidelines for cholesterol were just released through a joint effort by the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology (J Am Coll Cardiol. 2013, online Nov. 15; Circulation. 2013, online Nov. 12).

The new guidelines call into question the targets physicians have been using to treat patients with elevated LDL levels. We had been treating patients to a target LDL of either <100 mg/dl or <70 mg/dl, depending on the patient’s status. Instead of focusing on cholesterol targets, these new guidelines suggest that physicians use a risk calculator to assess a patient’s chance of having a cardiovascular event, such as a stroke or a heart attack, except when LDL >190 mg/dl. For these patients, you treat based on the high number.

There are four groups that should be treated, according to the new guidelines. In the most debatable category, healthy patients with a calculated 10-year cardiovascular risk of >7.5% should receive moderate- to high-intensity treatment with cholesterol-lowering medications, such as statins. In patients with cardiovascular disease, higher levels of medication should be used to reduce LDL by 50% or more.

The idea is to treat the patient overall, not to aim for a specific target. To this end, the guidelines suggest that, once statins are prescribed, LDL levels should not be monitored on a regular basis. Without monitoring, though, how will you know whether the treatment is having an effect?

One of the study authors gives an example: if a patient is on cholesterol-lowering medication and is following appropriate lifestyle modifications, but has an LDL that is slightly above the goal, then treatment should not be intensified (medpagetoday.com). The guidelines help to prevent the use of nonstatin drugs that reduce levels of LDL, but that have not shown clinical benefit.

The guidelines also suggest that someone who only has mildly elevated cholesterol levels and no other risk factors, including age, does not warrant medication. This sounds reasonable so far, right? Unfortunately, it is not as clear-cut as it sounds. This approach dramatically changes the paradigm in which physicians have been operating for years.

 

Medical community reactions

Cholesterol — whether to treat and when — suddenly has become a highly controversial issue. There are two camps within the medical community: one believes these guidelines will help define the patients who are prime subjects to be treated either for primary prevention (prior to a cardiovascular episode) and secondary prevention (those who have had cardiovascular events); the other worries this may result in overtreatment.

The risk factors in the new calculator include age, sex, systolic blood pressure, total cholesterol levels, LDL levels, smoking status, high blood pressure treatment and diabetic status. This seems simple enough, but like most things in medicine, whenever something is significantly overhauled, there are potential problems. I have to be forthright and say after reading the commentary, I am leaning toward the camp that is skeptical of the guidelines. Let’s look at the potential problems.

 

Potential overuse of statins

The cardiovascular risk of >7.5% for treatment is significantly lower than what it has been in the past, 10% to 20%. According to an editorial written in a prominent journal, two physicians calculate that it may increase the number of healthy patients treated with statins by 70%. They point out that statins are ineffective in death reduction if cardiovascular risk is less than 20% (BMJ. 2013;347:f6123). Also they note that it takes 140 patients treated with statins to prevent one heart attack or stroke.

In addition, using the calculator, someone can have normal cholesterol levels and be put on statins based on other factors, such as age, race and sex. Therefore, many more patients could be treated with medications, most likely statins, than in the past.

 

Flawed calculator

In a New York Times article published Nov. 18, entitled “Flawed Gauge for Cholesterol Risk Poses a New Challenge for Cardiologists,” the authors note that the online calculator may overestimate the risk percentages. Paul Ridker, M.D., and Nancy Cook, M.D., both Harvard Medical School physicians, tested the calculator by using large trials, such as the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, determining that risk is inflated by a mean of 100%. This is because the calculator’s design is based on studies that are over a decade old, many of them from the 1990s.

Demographics have changed since then: we have fewer smokers; heart attack and stroke risk has become similar in men and women, whereas men were at higher risk in the past; and cardiovascular disease incidence has decreased. The calculator also assumes that risk moves in a linear fashion, so as the blood pressure is elevated, risk increases in direct proportion, but it is not that simple.

 

Statin dosing

The suggested treatment with statins is moderate or high intensity. The problem with this approach is that the higher the intensity, the greater the risk of side effects, such as increased risk of diabetes (Arch Intern Med. 2012;172:144-152), fatigue (Arch Intern Med. 2012;172:1180-1182), muscle cramps and pain (Pharmacotherapy. 2010;30:541-553), as well as cataracts (Optom Vis Sci. 2012;89:1165-1171). The FDA recently warned about using high statin doses and muscle pain (fda.gov).

 

Lifestyle and anthropometrics

The risk calculator does not incorporate lifestyle, whether positive or negative, or anthropometrics, such as waist circumference and BMI.

To boot, there are no clinical trials that show the risk calculator is beneficial. It has never been examined in this way, and there have been no new trials that require altering the guidelines in this way.

Guidelines, of course, are just that; they are at the discretion of the physician to follow and discuss with the patient, but ultimately treatment decisions should be made by the patient and physician in partnership. To their credit, the authors of the guidelines acknowledge this very same point.

If you do take statins, don’t become complacent about lifestyle changes — nutrient dense diet, exercise, stress management and quit smoking — and think statins are a silver bullet. On the positive side, giving statins for risk reduction may be more beneficial than just lowering cholesterol numbers. Also, the new guidelines may make physicians hesitant to give drugs that just lower numbers, but that have never shown any clinical benefit.

 

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 www.medicalcompassmd.com and/or consult your personal physician.

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Hugh Campbell in his plane, The Swoose. Photo from the veteran

One served in the Naval Air Force in the Pacific, a second on the ground in Europe and another in its skies, but all three put their lives on the line during World War II to protect their country. Several decades later, the Rotary Club of Port Jefferson honored the three village residents for their service at their meeting Tuesday for Veterans Day, to show them that their sacrifices would not be forgotten.

From left, Hugh Campbell, Fred Gumbus and Walter Baldelli a few years ago on an Honor Flight, in which veterans are brought on a free trip to Washington, D.C. Photo from Fred Gumbus
From left, Hugh Campbell, Fred Gumbus and Walter Baldelli a few years ago on an Honor Flight, in which veterans are brought on a free trip to Washington, D.C. Photo from Fred Gumbus

The three men, Walter Baldelli, Hugh Campbell and Fred Gumbus, are all still active in their community, as they are three of the longest-serving members of the Port Jefferson Fire Department.

Baldelli, 95, was a tech sergeant in the Army’s 29th Infantry Division. He recalled in a phone interview “the one that damn near got me”: He was standing guard in a city in Belgium and the Germans sent bombs over “every night so we couldn’t sleep.” When one came close one night, he ran for cover on one side of a church, and the bomb went off on the other side.

“I lost my hat, my coat went over my head; I dropped my rifle.”

When Baldelli walked around the building, “there was a mess of dead people.” He said that was the closest he came to being really hurt.

Fred Gumbus, bottom row, second from right, was a tail gunner in the Naval Air Force. Photo from the veteran
Fred Gumbus, bottom row, second from right, was a tail gunner in the Naval Air Force. Photo from the veteran

The tech sergeant also spent time during the war in Iceland, England, France — in Paris, he walked underneath the Eiffel Tower — and Germany. His last stop before returning stateside was Frankfurt.

Baldelli said, “It was quite an experience,” and when he finally arrived home one day at 3 am, he woke up his parents and “we started drinking wine till daybreak.”

Campbell also served in Europe, as a tech sergeant in the Army’s Ninth Air Force from 1942 to 1945. The 89-year-old former flight engineer said he remembers most of it like it was yesterday, and there was one point when he was going into battle every day.

“After a while, you begin to wonder, how many times can I do this, you know?” he said. There were “people shooting at you every darn day with everything they got.”

Hugh Campbell served in the Army’s Ninth Air Force. Photo from the veteran
Hugh Campbell served in the Army’s Ninth Air Force. Photo from the veteran

Campbell also shared that one day after a raid, so many men had been lost that he was sent out on a second raid in the afternoon. The commanding officer had said, “I hate to send you out again but we don’t have anyone else,” Campbell said.

He described the feeling of not knowing if he was alive or dead.

“Everybody you had breakfast with before you went wasn’t there, they’re gone.”

One interesting experience that Campbell had came after the war, when a longtime friend asked if he remembered any of his 44 missions against the Germans. Campbell told the story of a small city where a bridge went diagonally across the Rhine — which was unusual — and “they wanted to bomb and take the bridge out to cripple the German supply system.” He was about 19 years old at the time.

The friend replied that it was his village, that he had been there on the ground with his brother when it happened and saw the whole thing. The man recalled seeing big yellow triangles on the rudders of the bomber representing the insignia of Campbell’s group.

Campbell said his friend would not have known about the triangles unless he had, indeed, been there: “Here is a guy that was an enemy and now he and I are friends.”

Fred Gumbus was a tail gunner in the Naval Air Force. Photo from the veteran
Fred Gumbus was a tail gunner in the Naval Air Force. Photo from the veteran

Gumbus was an aviation ordnanceman in the Naval Air Force from 1943 to 1946, with Patrol Bomber Squadron VPB-118. The 89-year-old former tail gunner, who goes by “Pop” in the PJFD because he is the most senior Gumbus in the department, served on the Pacific front.

While returning from one mission, Gumbus said, he called the pilot from the tail to warn that there were five Japanese fighters following theirs and another American plane. Though Gumbus’ plane made it out of the skirmish, the Japanese had taken out one of their engines and another one was in flames. He said they put out the fire but were losing altitude, and had to get rid of any weight they could. He tossed out toolboxes, parachutes and the insides of the guns.

The pilot released a bomb bay tank, but it tipped and got caught, and was hanging partly out of the bottom of the plane. Gumbus said he had to get rid of it, because if the plane were to land like that, the gas tank would have scraped the ground and exploded.

“Here I am trying to kick this thing” out of the plane, he said, and he was hanging over the plane’s open bottom above the Sea of Japan without a rope or harness.

Eventually the tank was loosened and fell out — and the plane, though sputtering, landed safely on Okinawa.

When he found out the Rotary was planning to honor him, Gumbus said, he thought, “Well that’s wonderful … because lots of times you’re forgotten.”

A modest Campbell said about being honored for his service, “I guess I appreciate it and it never occurred to me that anyone would ever say anything about it.”

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John Tranquada, the great grandson of a Portuguese stowaway on a ship to Honolulu, was in junior high school in California when the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” came out. The iconic cover image, with John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, walking over a crosswalk stayed with him over four decades later.

In recent months, when a group of scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory were preparing to announce the results of their latest finding, Tranquada suggested that the image of the four Beatles walking across that striped crosswalk all those years ago and thousands of miles from the original location might be worth copying. Their recent experiments, after all, detected through an indirect method the fluctuating stripes in a model compound designed to study superconducting materials.

They readily agreed and the stage was set to borrow an iconic musical image to illustrate their research.

Superconductivity holds promise for future technology and innovation because superconductors allow the transfer of energy without any resistance. The cost of manufacturing superconducting cable has been prohibitive.

Tranquada has been studying the magnetic stripes in superconductors for over 18 years.

The electrons, or negatively charged particles, tend to spread out uniformly in space in a superconductor. An analogy, Tranquada offered, is water in a flat bottomed pan. It will spread out to uniform depth. If the water formed a ripple pattern that stayed in the same place, “We would be shocked,” he said. This, however, is just the sort of thing that happens to the electrons in certain superconducting materials.

While copper-oxides are superconductors, the scientists replaced the copper with nickel to create a model compound that could be easier to study. Tranquada knew from previous work that stripes form in nickel-oxide when cooled.

In recent research, he warmed up a nickel-oxide compound, causing the ordered stripes to disappear. The measurements of the team, however, indicated that the stripes still had to be present. Since they knew the stripes weren’t present in a static fashion, they inferred the stripes had to be fluctuating dynamically — or moving.

“This model system teaches us what diffraction-scattering signature to look for in copper-based semiconductors to see if these fluctuations exist,” Emil Bozin, a co-author on the study and member of the X-Ray Scattering Group at BNL, said in a statement.

That search, the researchers suggested, should lead to a better understanding of the role of stripes in superconductivity and, down the road, to new approaches to create superconductors in the energy arena.

Tranquada said his role in the band of scientists was to provide a history and understanding of the materials. “I’ve been studying these nickel oxides for 20 years,” he said.

Tranquada’s colleagues at BNL praised his contribution to the department. He is “a great colleague to have around,” said Peter Johnson, the chair of BNL’s Condensed Matter Physics & Materials Science Department. “He has a really deep and wide-ranging understanding of the field of superconductivity. He’s the guy I go to when I want to get insight into newly published results.”

Tranquada’s discoveries have “provided inspiration to the larger community for more than two decades,” Johnson said. Tranquada said scientists are looking for a convincing explanation for what makes materials superconducting.

Tranquada is excited to be a part of a team that is providing evidence that these stripes can coexist with superconductors. The experiments on superconductors “often reveal behavior that theorists have not anticipated, so it’s like exploring an unknown world,” he said.

Tranquada lives in Stony Brook with his wife Lisa, who is retired after a career that included working at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle and doing administrative work at BNL for 20 years. Their daughter Jessica, 23, graduated from Cornell last year and is revitalizing a riding stable as a “one-person design and construction team,” Tranquada said.

Their son Matthew, 27, is in Washington, D.C., where he has cleared the first few hurdles in the process of applying for a job in the State Department.

Tranquada enjoys jogging in the area and sea kayaking. His family bought a couple of kayaks last summer.

As for the picture of the stripes from Abbey Road, Tranquada said he proposed the idea initially almost as a joke, but his collaborators, which include lead author and BNL X-Ray Scattering Group member Milinda Abeykoon, liked it. They even asked the facilities and operations staff to park a red cart where the Volkswagen car was in the original album.

In the 1970s, Tranquada said he knew he wanted to be a scientist and, for about “two seconds” thought about becoming an astronaut, but realized that probably wouldn’t fly because he gets “sick on the tea cup ride in Disneyland.”

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John Tranquada, the great grandson of a Portuguese stowaway on a ship to Honolulu, was in junior high school in California when the Beatles’ “Abbey Road” came out. The iconic cover image, with John Lennon, Ringo Starr, Paul McCartney and George Harrison, walking over a crosswalk stayed with him over four decades later.

In recent months, when a group of scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory were preparing to announce the results of their latest finding, Tranquada suggested that the image of the four Beatles walking across that striped crosswalk all those years ago and thousands of miles from the original location might be worth copying. Their recent experiments, after all, detected through an indirect method the fluctuating stripes in a model compound designed to study superconducting materials.

They readily agreed and the stage was set to borrow an iconic musical image to illustrate their research.

Superconductivity holds promise for future technology and innovation because superconductors allow the transfer of energy without any resistance. The cost of manufacturing superconducting cable has been prohibitive.

Tranquada has been studying the magnetic stripes in superconductors for over 18 years.

The electrons, or negatively charged particles, tend to spread out uniformly in space in a superconductor. An analogy, Tranquada offered, is water in a flat bottomed pan. It will spread out to uniform depth. If the water formed a ripple pattern that stayed in the same place, “We would be shocked,” he said. This, however, is just the sort of thing that happens to the electrons in certain superconducting materials.

While copper-oxides are superconductors, the scientists replaced the copper with nickel to create a model compound that could be easier to study. Tranquada knew from previous work that stripes form in nickel-oxide when cooled.

In recent research, he warmed up a nickel-oxide compound, causing the ordered stripes to disappear. The measurements of the team, however, indicated that the stripes still had to be present. Since they knew the stripes weren’t present in a static fashion, they inferred the stripes had to be fluctuating dynamically — or moving.

“This model system teaches us what diffraction-scattering signature to look for in copper-based semiconductors to see if these fluctuations exist,” Emil Bozin, a co-author on the study and member of the X-Ray Scattering Group at BNL, said in a statement.

That search, the researchers suggested, should lead to a better understanding of the role of stripes in superconductivity and, down the road, to new approaches to create superconductors in the energy arena.

Tranquada said his role in the band of scientists was to provide a history and understanding of the materials. “I’ve been studying these nickel oxides for 20 years,” he said.

Tranquada’s colleagues at BNL praised his contribution to the department. He is “a great colleague to have around,” said Peter Johnson, the chair of BNL’s Condensed Matter Physics & Materials Science Department. “He has a really deep and wide-ranging understanding of the field of superconductivity. He’s the guy I go to when I want to get insight into newly published results.”

Tranquada’s discoveries have “provided inspiration to the larger community for more than two decades,” Johnson said. Tranquada said scientists are looking for a convincing explanation for what makes materials superconducting.

Tranquada is excited to be a part of a team that is providing evidence that these stripes can coexist with superconductors. The experiments on superconductors “often reveal behavior that theorists have not anticipated, so it’s like exploring an unknown world,” he said.

Tranquada lives in Stony Brook with his wife Lisa, who is retired after a career that included working at the Pacific Science Center in Seattle and doing administrative work at BNL for 20 years. Their daughter Jessica, 23, graduated from Cornell last year and is revitalizing a riding stable as a “one-person design and construction team,” Tranquada said.

Their son Matthew, 27, is in Washington, D.C., where he has cleared the first few hurdles in the process of applying for a job in the State Department.

Tranquada enjoys jogging in the area and sea kayaking. His family bought a couple of kayaks last summer.

As for the picture of the stripes from Abbey Road, Tranquada said he proposed the idea initially almost as a joke, but his collaborators, which include lead author and BNL X-Ray Scattering Group member Milinda Abeykoon, liked it. They even asked the facilities and operations staff to park a red cart where the Volkswagen car was in the original album.

In the 1970s, Tranquada said he knew he wanted to be a scientist and, for about “two seconds” thought about becoming an astronaut, but realized that probably wouldn’t fly because he gets “sick on the tea cup ride in Disneyland.”

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Banning trans fats may decrease the risk of death and heart attacks

We all need fat in our diets, but what fats do we really need and what can we do without? There are several types of fats that have differing impacts on our health, including trans fats, saturated and unsaturated fats.

Trans fats are fats that we can definitely do without. The Food and Drug Administration has taken one of its most aggressive stances in years regarding trans fats. The agency announced recently they are in the preliminary stages of potentially banning artificial trans fats, based on findings from expert panels and scientific studies.

Trans fats are found in processed foods, baked goods and fried foods, as well as margarine, frozen pizzas, coffee creamers and microwave popcorn. To determine whether a food has trans fats, check the label for partially hydrogenated oils. Some restaurants may also use trans fats.

Why is the FDA’s potential banning of trans fats important? According to the agency, just by eliminating this one type of fat, it could reduce annual incidences of heart attacks by 20,000 and deaths due to heart disease by 7,000 (federalregister.gov). The Institute of Medicine’s position is that there is no benefit to trans fats, only potential harm from consuming any amount.

However, it is still unclear how far the FDA will go to eliminate trans fats. Will they force food manufacturers to eliminate trans fats if they are less than 0.5 g per serving? Products with low levels per serving, such as Skippy peanut butter, are allowed to say they are free of trans fats. There are some foods that contain small amounts of natural trans fats, but not the ones mentioned above.

Does this mean that bakery goods and fast foods are going to be healthy for us? Hardly! Many food establishment have already eliminated trans fats. We consume significantly less than we once did. In 2003, we consumed 4.6 g per day, but in 2012, we consumed 1 gram daily, according to the FDA. However, consuming any trans fats may be too much.

Mayor Bloomberg may be remembered for his impact on dietary composition. In a study, trans fat consumption decreased dramatically in fast food establishments throughout NYC in just two years from 2007 to 2009 (Ann Intern Med. 2012;157:81-86). And the amount of products purchased from these establishments that were trans fat-free increased dramatically.

Trans fats and stroke

In the Women’s Health Initiative Observation Study, trans fats were associated with an approximate 40% increased risk of ischemic (clot-based) strokes in postmenopausal women in the highest consumption quintile compared to the lowest (Ann Neurol. 2012 Nov.;72:704-715). Ischemic strokes are by far the most common type of stroke. There were over 87,000 women in this study between the ages of 50 and 79. Interestingly, aspirin seemed to help prevent the strokes in this population. Many of us are on the fence about taking aspirin, but this may a reason for postmenopausal women to discuss aspirin with their physicians. Though, if the FDA does ban trans fats, aspirin may not be needed.

Trans fats and aggression

Psychological changes are another concern. In a recent study with 945 men and women, results showed that the more trans fats consumed, the greater the probability of irritability, aggression and impatience (PLoS ONE 7:e32175). This may be an indication that diet plays a role in mood changes and disorders.

Saturated fats and cognitive impact

What if we ate more saturated fats? In the observational Women’s Health Study, results for 6,000 postmenopausal women showed that those who consumed the most saturated fat had a significant decline in global memory and verbal memory scores, compared to those who consumed the least.

The good news is that those who consumed the highest amounts of monounsaturated fats had an improvement in these scores, compared to those who consumed the least (Ann Neurol. 2012 July;72:124-134). Researchers concluded that the amounts of specific fat types were more important than the overall amount of fat consumed.

There are better fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and there are fats that are worse for us, such as saturated fats. However, some foods contain both saturated and unsaturated fats, and this is where those critical of calling saturated fat “bad” tend to utilize examples. With the right balance of unsaturated to saturated fats, certain foods can be beneficial, like nuts, olive oil and avocado – in moderation, of course.

In a randomized controlled trial, considered the gold standard of studies, type 2 diabetes patients who received mixed nuts saw a decrease in their HbA1C (a three-month measure of glucose or sugar levels) and a decrease in their LDL “bad” cholesterol (Diabetes Care. 2011;34:1706-1711).

Those who consumed muffins instead of nuts or who consumed half nuts and half muffins saw no improvement in their HbA1C or LDL levels. The takeaway is that a small handful of nuts, about 2 ounces daily in place of carbohydrates, can have a significantly positive impact on the health of type 2 diabetes patients.

Unsaturated fat impact

In a randomized controlled study comparing a Mediterranean diet to a low-fat diet, those on MEDI showed a significant 30% decrease in the risk of cardiovascular disease and related death (N Engl J Med. 2013;368:1279-1290). However, those in the low-fat group could not maintain low-fat levels, thus they consumed a diet similar to the standard American diet, and those in the MEDI group consumed more vegetables, olive oil and/or nuts than is typical.

It also speaks to the fact that it is not enough to reduce fat; it’s important to replace it with the right things. If you eat pasta and grains instead, this may not alter results; however, if you replace high levels of fat with nutrient-dense vegetables, then the effects, as seen in the MEDI, tend to be very favorable.

I applaud the FDA for considering banning artificial trans fats, but be forewarned that you need to be wary of partially hydrogenated oils on labels, even if the product says “trans fat-free.” Saturated fats by themselves may be unhealthy as well. However, saturated fats in combination with unsaturated fats may promote positive effects on your overall health. Regardless, moderation is important when it comes to fats, even with good fats. Too much is bad, no matter what the source.

 

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 www.medicalcompassmd.com and/or consult your personal physician.

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0 248

Banning trans fats may decrease the risk of death and heart attacks

 

We all need fat in our diets, but what fats do we really need and what can we do without? There are several types of fats that have differing impacts on our health, including trans fats, saturated and unsaturated fats.

Trans fats are fats that we can definitely do without. The Food and Drug Administration has taken one of its most aggressive stances in years regarding trans fats. The agency announced recently they are in the preliminary stages of potentially banning artificial trans fats, based on findings from expert panels and scientific studies.

Trans fats are found in processed foods, baked goods and fried foods, as well as margarine, frozen pizzas, coffee creamers and microwave popcorn. To determine whether a food has trans fats, check the label for partially hydrogenated oils. Some restaurants may also use trans fats.

Why is the FDA’s potential banning of trans fats important? According to the agency, just by eliminating this one type of fat, it could reduce annual incidences of heart attacks by 20,000 and deaths due to heart disease by 7,000 (federalregister.gov). The Institute of Medicine’s position is that there is no benefit to trans fats, only potential harm from consuming any amount.

However, it is still unclear how far the FDA will go to eliminate trans fats. Will they force food manufacturers to eliminate trans fats if they are less than 0.5 g per serving? Products with low levels per serving, such as Skippy peanut butter, are allowed to say they are free of trans fats. There are some foods that contain small amounts of natural trans fats, but not the ones mentioned above.

Does this mean that bakery goods and fast foods are going to be healthy for us? Hardly! Many food establishment have already eliminated trans fats. We consume significantly less than we once did. In 2003, we consumed 4.6 g per day, but in 2012, we consumed 1 gram daily, according to the FDA. However, consuming any trans fats may be too much.

Mayor Bloomberg may be remembered for his impact on dietary composition. In a study, trans fat consumption decreased dramatically in fast food establishments throughout NYC in just two years from 2007 to 2009 (Ann Intern Med. 2012;157:81-86). And the amount of products purchased from these establishments that were trans fat-free increased dramatically.

Trans fats and stroke

In the Women’s Health Initiative Observation Study, trans fats were associated with an approximate 40% increased risk of ischemic (clot-based) strokes in postmenopausal women in the highest consumption quintile compared to the lowest (Ann Neurol. 2012 Nov.;72:704-715). Ischemic strokes are by far the most common type of stroke. There were over 87,000 women in this study between the ages of 50 and 79. Interestingly, aspirin seemed to help prevent the strokes in this population. Many of us are on the fence about taking aspirin, but this may a reason for postmenopausal women to discuss aspirin with their physicians. Though, if the FDA does ban trans fats, aspirin may not be needed.

Trans fats and aggression

Psychological changes are another concern. In a recent study with 945 men and women, results showed that the more trans fats consumed, the greater the probability of irritability, aggression and impatience (PLoS ONE 7:e32175). This may be an indication that diet plays a role in mood changes and disorders.

Saturated fats and cognitive impact

What if we ate more saturated fats? In the observational Women’s Health Study, results for 6,000 postmenopausal women showed that those who consumed the most saturated fat had a significant decline in global memory and verbal memory scores, compared to those who consumed the least.

The good news is that those who consumed the highest amounts of monounsaturated fats had an improvement in these scores, compared to those who consumed the least (Ann Neurol. 2012 July;72:124-134). Researchers concluded that the amounts of specific fat types were more important than the overall amount of fat consumed.

There are better fats, such as monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats, and there are fats that are worse for us, such as saturated fats. However, some foods contain both saturated and unsaturated fats, and this is where those critical of calling saturated fat “bad” tend to utilize examples. With the right balance of unsaturated to saturated fats, certain foods can be beneficial, like nuts, olive oil and avocado – in moderation, of course.

In a randomized controlled trial, considered the gold standard of studies, type 2 diabetes patients who received mixed nuts saw a decrease in their HbA1C (a three-month measure of glucose or sugar levels) and a decrease in their LDL “bad” cholesterol (Diabetes Care. 2011;34:1706-1711).

Those who consumed muffins instead of nuts or who consumed half nuts and half muffins saw no improvement in their HbA1C or LDL levels. The takeaway is that a small handful of nuts, about 2 ounces daily in place of carbohydrates, can have a significantly positive impact on the health of type 2 diabetes patients.

Unsaturated fat impact

In a randomized controlled study comparing a Mediterranean diet to a low-fat diet, those on MEDI showed a significant 30% decrease in the risk of cardiovascular disease and related death (N Engl J Med. 2013;368:1279-1290). However, those in the low-fat group could not maintain low-fat levels, thus they consumed a diet similar to the standard American diet, and those in the MEDI group consumed more vegetables, olive oil and/or nuts than is typical.

It also speaks to the fact that it is not enough to reduce fat; it’s important to replace it with the right things. If you eat pasta and grains instead, this may not alter results; however, if you replace high levels of fat with nutrient-dense vegetables, then the effects, as seen in the MEDI, tend to be very favorable.

I applaud the FDA for considering banning artificial trans fats, but be forewarned that you need to be wary of partially hydrogenated oils on labels, even if the product says “trans fat-free.” Saturated fats by themselves may be unhealthy as well. However, saturated fats in combination with unsaturated fats may promote positive effects on your overall health. Regardless, moderation is important when it comes to fats, even with good fats. Too much is bad, no matter what the source.

 

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 www.medicalcompassmd.com and/or consult your personal physician.

by -
0 259

They don’t line up like Legos or brick blocks in a house that the big bad wolf can’t knock down. In fact, many proteins, which are at the heart of pathways that tell other parts of cells what to do, fold over on themselves.

In a healthy person, those folds follow certain patterns, helping to conduct a signal or start or end a process. In people who have diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, or Huntington’s disease, the proteins don’t fold properly, causing a range of problems.

As the director of the Laufer Center for Physical and Quantitative Biology, Ken Dill, who is also in the Chemistry Department at Stony Brook, is interested in developing tools and principals of protein folding, some of which may help provide a better understanding of health and disease and may lead to more effective approaches to drug delivery.

“What happens in Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s is that the proteins all glom together,” Dill said. “When and how they form is of interest to us.”

The typical drug delivery process targets a particular site on a protein and plugs it up “like a cork in a wine bottle,” he said. With Parkinson’s, however, the proteins are all bound together, which leaves no particular place to find a tight binding site.

Dill works with biotechnology companies including Amgen and Genentech. These companies make proteins as drugs, as opposed to pharmaceutical companies, which often make chemicals as drugs.

“It’s complicated to make a protein as a drug,” he said. “When you take a biotechnology drug, if you want to inject a solution of proteins, you want to concentrate the proteins as much as possible.” Putting them together in such a large group, however, causes them to stick together, which limits the ability to make them effective once they’re inside the body.

His lab, which includes 13 people, explores questions of how to keep proteins from tangling up, which is a goal of biotechnology companies designing drug therapies.

Companies design drugs that kill most of the bacteria in a population, but there are some that survive. Those last cells multiply and continue to develop, sometimes without any known remedy.

Scientists and bacteria are locked in a struggle Dill said was like the phenomenon from the Red Queen in “Alice in Wonderland,” where each participant has to keep running just to stay in place. Jim Wang, a chemistry professor at Stony Brook and an affiliate at the Laufer Center, is directly engaged in studying this dynamic.

Stony Brook faculty members have appreciated Dill’s leadership. Dill is “transforming research in physical and quantitative biology at Stony Brook,” said Joshua Rest, an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution who is affiliated with the Laufer Center. “Before [Dill] arrived, scientists from different departments working on quantitative approaches to biology weren’t always talking to each other and taking advantage of each other’s expertise in a systematic way.”

Rest credits Dill with developing a community of researchers from diverse fields. He said Dill led an effort to understand the fundamental factors that affect cellular growth rates. Rest called Dill a “science superstar.”

Dill became interested in protein folding over a quarter of a century ago. He was fascinated by the intellectual challenge of understanding such a fundamental problem in nature.

Dill said he feels privileged to work at a place like the Laufer Center, where he doesn’t have to focus as much on short-term payoffs, but can think about and go after longer-term, harder problems.

In addition to about a dozen affiliated faculty members, the Laufer Center includes Dill and Associate Director Carlos Simmerling, who is also in the chemistry department, and Sasha Levy, who arrived from Stanford at the beginning of November. The group will also add Gabor Balazsi, who is currently a professor at the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, in June.

Dill and his wife Jolanda Schreurs live in Port Jefferson. Their older son Tyler is in graduate school at the University of California at San Diego and is studying nanoengineering, while Ryan is at UCLA and is majoring in chemistry.

Prior to working at Stony Brook three years ago, Dill lived in the San Francisco area. He said he appreciates Long Island and the variety of seasons, including the fall foliage.

As for his work, Dill said he remains “at least as excited as ever before” about the opportunities, where he feels as if the Laufer Center enables him to “take his own little moon shots.”

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