Monthly Archives: December 2013

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Kathy O’Sullivan, the Rev. Pete Jansson, Sandra Swenk and Ken Brady wave at the Biddle Fountain's dedication. Photo by Bob Savage

By Mallika Mitra & Elana Glowatz

Through hard work and dedication, pieces of Port Jefferson’s history that were lost or crumbling have been restored, preserving tales of the village’s past for future generations.

The historic First Baptist Church building that was once languishing has been renovated and a landmark fountain that disappeared from its front lawn at East Main Street and Prospect Street has been returned.

For their efforts in keeping village history alive while beautifying the area, the Island Christian Church, led by the Rev. Pete Jansson, as well as community volunteers Kathy O’Sullivan, Ken Brady and Sandra Swenk, are some of our People of the Year.

The Biddle Fountain, donated by famous village resident John Biddle in 1898, was once a gathering place in the village, a focal point of parades and other events. Unfortunately, a couple of decades later it became difficult to maintain and when Brookhaven Town removed it to widen the intersection at East Main and Prospect streets, it was lost to history. But our People of the Year stepped in, bringing in a replica of the fountain that sits in front of the church building, now the home of Island Christian Church, as it did before, many years ago.

After the fountain was put in place, Laura Schnier, a member of the church who was on the committee for the Biddle Fountain project, added plants.

The new Biddle Fountain stands in front of the Island Christian Church. Photo by Elana Glowatz
The new Biddle Fountain stands in front of the Island Christian Church. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Each volunteer played a vital role in bringing the fountain replica to the village.

According to Jansson, Brady, the village historian, brought all of the knowledge about the original fountain, put out a search for the lost landmark and then searched for a replica of the old fountain.

The Rev. Joe Garofalo of the Island Christian Church, which also has locations in Northport and Holtsville, said Brady has “a wealth of information.”

Port Jefferson Village’s digital photo archive, which Brady set up and includes numerous historical images, proved helpful during the Biddle Fountain project, Brady said.

The historian, in turn, said Swenk, a former village mayor, was helpful in reaching out to people for fundraising.

“Sandra has really great ideas,” Jansson agreed. “She put tremendous effort into connecting with people in the neighborhood and soliciting money.”

According to O’Sullivan, Swenk has always been involved in the beautification of the village and keeping the historical aspect of the town alive.

“Sandra is very concerned about the town,” Schnier said.

For her part, O’Sullivan “was the driving force in the whole project” and stayed with it through several setbacks, such as early trouble with fundraising, Brady said.

“She is a good leader,” the historian said. “She brings out the best in people.”

O’Sullivan has watched the church transform over the years, since her father was a minister at the First Baptist Church of Port Jefferson from 1978 to 1980. The struggling church had its last service on July 4, 2010, before it was renovated and became the Island Christian Church.

“It was such a small church with no money at all,” O’Sullivan said. “It was extraordinarily wonderful to see how they rebuilt the church.”

She said in a previous interview that though she is not a member of Island Christian Church, after she saw the building’s renovation and the good it did for the village, she decided to return the favor by lending her help to the fountain project.

Jansson, who began leading the Port Jefferson congregation once the Island Christian Church opened, said, “We wanted to restore it back to what it used to look like in the 1850s.”

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Dennis Sullivan is a Man of the Year for selfless work

Dennis Sullivan blows a bugle at the 2011 Veterans Day Ceremony at the Centereach VFW post. File photo by Brittany Wait

By Mallika Mitra

As state surgeon of the Veterans of Foreign Wars in New York, Dennis Sullivan works hard to ensure that his fellow veterans are cared for.

Sullivan is also the quartermaster and financial officer of VFW Post 4927 in Centereach, which he joined in 1984. According to Richard Autorina, chaplain of the VFW post, Sullivan continuously displays “caring, compassion and commitment toward veterans.”

Sullivan visits Veterans Affairs hospitals and outpatient clinics to assist veterans with personal problems, and raises money to help veterans in emergency situations, Autorina said.

“Dennis was a great comfort to me as a parent,” when her son was deployed to Afghanistan with the Army, Councilwoman Kathleen Walsh said. According to Walsh, when her son returned, he suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder and a brain injury. Walsh said Sullivan helped her understand her son’s PTSD.

Sullivan mentored many young men coming back from having been deployed, Walsh said. When Sullivan visits veterans at VA hospitals, he also helps them fill out their forms and speed up their VA claims.

“Anything I can do for the veterans,” Sullivan said of his visits to VA hospitals.

For spending his time caring and advocating for veterans, Dennis Sullivan is a Man of the Year.

The VFW state surgeon is also the chairperson of Recycled Rides, a program that provides veterans with cars. According to Chris Senior, the owner of Crestwood Auto Body, insurance companies donate to the program cars that have been in accidents, stolen or were company cars. Then, auto body shops donate time and labor to fix the cars, companies donate car parts to assist in fixing the cars and Sullivan coordinates getting the cars to veterans.

“He is a selfless man,” Senior said of Sullivan. “He is always looking to help someone less fortunate than him.”

Ed Kizenberger, the executive director of Long Island Auto Body Repairmen’s Association, met Sullivan through the VFW when he was looking for a way to donate rides to those in need.

“He was very enthusiastic about helping,” Kizenberger said. “He is one of those people who is always happy to donate his time and resources to help others.”

Sullivan is also a member of the Veterans Review Board of the Long Island Home Builders Care Development Corp. A not-for-profit, the organization uses donations of land and dollars to build new homes for veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. According to Autorina, the organization has given away two homes and will be giving away five more in December to Afghanistan and Iraq veterans and their families. In June, Sullivan was on the panel of six VFW commanders who chose Marine Sgt. Ryan Donnelly to receive a new home.

Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) met Sullivan 11 years ago when Bishop was first elected to Congress. They worked together when Sullivan asked Bishop for funding to renovate the kitchen of the Centereach VFW building.

Now Sullivan is on Bishop’s Veterans Advisory Board, which reviews issues important to veterans. According to Krystyna Baumgartner, Bishop’s new communications director, the board is especially interested in legislation that deals with appropriations and protecting both active duty service members and veterans. The board advised the congressman on the REVAMP Act, which would create a grant program for veterans organizations, such as the VFW, to receive up to $250,000 to renovate their halls, Baumgartner said.

Because Sullivan is so active in VFW affairs across the state — traveling throughout the state to help veterans — the two have worked on similar projects and events, said Bishop, who described himself as lucky to be able to call Sullivan a friend.

This year, state Sen. John Flanagan inducted Sullivan into the New York State Senate Veterans’ Hall of Fame. Sullivan was honored for his service to the United States during the Vietnam War and his continued commitment to his fellow veterans since the end of his service.

According to Autorina, after Hurricane Sandy, Sullivan visited VFW posts on Long Island and spoke to veterans who were victims of the hurricane. He raised and distributed $148,000 to more than 350 veterans and ladies auxiliary members, Autorina said.

“Dennis is just a phone call away of anyone in need,” Autorina said. “If he can’t help them, he will go out of his way to find the right person for each situation.”

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Arthur Giove Jr.’s house at 65 Elm Ave. in Coram lights up every year for a good cause. Photo by Mallika Mitra

By Mallika Mitra

For the sixth year, 65 Elm Ave. in Coram exhibits holiday spirit with the help of more than 70,000 LED lights, handmade decorations and music.

In the past, Arthur Giove Jr. decorated his house with just a few lights and simple decorations. But years ago, he began researching online about how to create a show on his front lawn with bright lights, yard inflations and elaborate decorations.

The light show can now be seen every night from Thanksgiving to New Years between 5 and 11 pm.

Giove has made about 90 percent of the decorations on his lawn by himself. A computer in his garage is setup with a FM transmitter, which allows people to hear the music on 107.3 FM coordinated with the light show, as well as through speakers in front of the house. The light show is around half an hour long and includes 13 holiday songs.

“It’s not just a big cluttered mess,” Giove said. “It’s all coordinated.”

At the front of the house sits a donation box, collecting money from visitors for the Suffolk County Make-A-Wish Foundation and St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital.

Giove has been collecting donations during the holidays for the past five years. This year, he introduced a new donation box.

“Every year I add, I take stuff down and replace it,” he said.

He estimated he has collected about $40,000 over the years for the charities.

Other changes to this year’s show include the addition of 6-foot snowflakes, two 8-foot spiral trees and elves that pop out of their boxes.

“I don’t even have to tell people what’s new,” Giove said. “They’ve been coming every year, so they know.”

Giove works on the light show all year with the help of his wife and children. He begins by making the lights and decorations in February, March and April. Then, he spends the spring and summer choreographing the show. In October, Giove begins decorating. He has spent upward of $15,000 on creating the winter wonderland.

As the holidays get closer, Elm Avenue welcomes a line of cars, filled with people wanting to see Giove’s show.

“Sometimes you can’t even get down the block,” he said. “Some people stay for two minutes and some stay for two hours.”

The neighbors don’t mind having such a popular light show on their street.

“Everybody loves it,” said Lynn Sarppraicone, who lives two blocks away from Giove’s house. “We come here every year.”

“Facebook has been a tremendous help,” Giove said about making his show known. The Facebook page, titled “Elm Avenue Dancing Light Show,” has received more than 1,700 likes.

Drive over to 65 Elm Ave. in Coram on Friday, Dec. 13, at 7 pm to see Santa, elf on the shelf and Dave the minion during the light show.

A Jefferson’s Ferry resident and a staff member share a hug. Photo by Mallika Mitra

By Mallika Mitra

Sudden music, dancing and hugs surprised residents of Jefferson’s Ferry retirement community on Dec. 12, when staff members participated in a flash mob with “Hug Me Maybe,” a parody of singer Carly Rae Jepsen’s “Call Me Maybe.”

Nearly 200 residents laughed and clapped along to the music while Jefferson’s Ferry management, waitstaff and elder care personnel performed a choreographed dance and made their way through the audience hugging residents.

It was the second flash mob — a sudden convergence of people, usually for a surprise performance — set to “Hug Me Maybe” that the residents have seen, the first one being in January as Jefferson’s Ferry CEO Karen Brannen started conducting a study entitled “Embraceable You.” The goal of the study, which was run by Hauppauge-based Corporate Performance Consultants and Brannen herself, was to see whether contact would enhance the lives of residents.

According to Brannen, about 200 residents participated in the study, which consisted of three surveys: one in January, before the interpersonal hugging program called “Hug Me” began, one during the program and one in April, after the program was completed.

The program period kicked off with a flash mob, followed by games and activities throughout that first week. If residents hugged staff or each other, they would receive tokens, which were later drawn for prizes. Residents could also hug staff members at hugging booths located throughout the complex and receive small prizes, such as candy and beads.

“The day we announced what we were doing, a resident came up to me afterward with tears in her eyes and said, ‘My husband died a year ago and this is exactly what I needed. I need a hug,’” Brannen said. “It all just meant so much to her.”

Although “Embraceable You” was not a clinical study, Brannen said it showed that interpersonal touch has a positive effect on the moods of residents. The questions concerning depression on the surveys given to residents were more positive after the original “Hug Me” program concluded in April.

Now the “Hug Me” program has started up again, and this time it’s here to stay.

“We want to make [hugging] part of our culture,” Brannen said. “Between staff and residents, we have very positive relationships. The culture is one that they accept a program like this.”

A waitress in Jefferson’s Ferry’s dining hall choreographed last Thursday’s dance, performed close to the holidays.

“The holidays are a very hard time for people who have lost family,” Brannen said. She added that many residents have lost loved ones and don’t have the opportunity for interpersonal touching.

The flash mob’s routine, which was taught to the staff in one week by three members of the dining room staff who had been in the original performance in January, yielded a positive response.

“The spontaneity is just wonderful,” said Nancy Darling, who has been a resident for more than four years.

Chuck Darling added, “The kids in the dining room and staff are fantastic.”

According to Brannen, for the “Embraceable You” study, residents and staff of Jefferson’s Ferry were taught how to appropriately hug each other.

As a result, “residents were getting closer,” she said.

According to Faith Littlefield, who will have been a resident for three years in March, residents were given literature about how physical contact is healthy.

“It really is good for you,” Littlefield said. “Karen, our CEO, is the best hugger.”

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Some Chinese herbal remedies have had it right for many years, even if no one could point to a specific reason. Now, however, researchers at Stony Brook have figured out why some remedies taken as a tea for arthritis and pain work.

A chemical in the brain, and elsewhere, can send a signal that relieves pain, inflammation and stress. The reason pain sometimes continues, causing ongoing aches and discomfort, is that the body also has a system for breaking down or putting away its own pain-easing solution.

The Chinese remedy has an active chemical in the herb that is a truxillic acid compound. This is similar to a chemical Stony Brook scientists found that allows a pain relieving neurotransmitter, called endocannabinoid anandamide (or AEA) to remain active.

The body has a “natural marijuana system,” explained Dale Deutsch, a professor of Biochemistry and Cell Biology at Stony Brook. Deutsch has locked onto one of the key players in the breakdown of that system.

Deutsch recently received a $3.8 million, five-year grant from the National Institute on Drug Abuse to develop new drugs for pain, inflammation, and drug addiction. The research involves scientists from the Biochemistry and Cell Biology departments, Chemistry, Applied Mathematics and Anesthesiology. The research also involves the Institute for Chemical Biology and Drug Discovery, and the Laufer Center for Physical Biology.

Deutsch and his team are looking to block a protein called fatty acid binding protein. The scientists are trying to figure out if preventing these FABPs from becoming active allows AEA to continue to provide pain relief.

In drug addiction, interfering with these FABPs might reduce the pain and perhaps cravings associated with removing drugs, Deutsch said.

“In theory, if you can increase the AEA when people are coming off drugs, you may be able to help them with withdrawal, and diminish drug-seeking behavior,” Deutsch said.

The drug addiction component to this system is still at the early stages, cautioned Deutsch.

Martin Kaczocha, who identified the FABP’s role with AEA as a graduate student in Deutsch’s lab and is now an assistant professor in the Anesthesiology Department, is studying how the neurotransmitter reduces pain.

The potential upside to finding inhibitors that block the breakdown of AEA is that they work off the body’s own systems and may not have the same negative side effects as the drugs currently on the market, like NSAIDs, which, while effective can also cause stomach problems.

Tapping into this natural pain-relieving system may enable patients to feel the kind of physical relief from neuropathic pain that they might get from marijuana, without having the same psychotropic effects of the drug, he explained.

Deutsch has been studying AEA for over 20 years. In fact, towards the beginning of his work with the neurotransmitter, he discovered an enzyme that is involved in breaking down AEA. Some companies are working on drugs even now that are moving into Phase 2 trials that inhibit that enzyme, Deutsch said.

What excites Deutsch about this new FABP target, however, is that it is organ specific. That means that the transporters in the brain are different from those in the liver or other areas of the body.

The studies with the enzyme, while effective, may wind up inhibiting AEA breakdown throughout the body.

With this grant, Deutsch and colleagues, including Iwao Ojima, distinguished professor of Chemistry, Kaczocha and Robert Rizzo, associate professor in the Department of Applied Mathematics and Statistics and a member of the Laufer Center, can screen for additional compounds that might work on FABPs. So far, they’ve looked through a million possible options and expect to screen for an additional four to five million compounds within the next few years to get more potent inhibitors of the FABPs.

Deutsch credited the work of undergraduate student Brian Ralph, graduate students Bill Berger and Trent Balius and research assistant Liqun Wang as providing instrumental contributions.

Within the next few years, Deutsch and his team hope to partner with pharmaceutical companies that may develop drugs with them.

A resident of Stony Brook, Deutsch lives with his wife Lou Charnon Deutsch, an author and professor of Hispanic languages and literature at Stony Brook. Deutsch has been sailing for 20 years and especially enjoys heading to the Great South Bay.

Deutsch became fascinated with science when he received a chemistry set from his mother when he was 12.

As for his most recent efforts with FABP inhibitors, Deutsch said it “works in animals,” so he “knows we’re on the right track.”

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The benefits may be comparable to some prescription drugs

I couldn’t resist writing one last article about exercise this year. There are some compelling studies that show exercise’s powerful effects in altering our genes. Recent studies show its impact on specific diseases. Last week I referred to its effect on diabetes (“Exercise: optimizing or reducing its effects,” Dec. 12). Exercise has effects on a host of other chronic diseases as well, including kidney stones, osteoarthritis, cardiovascular disease and breast, colorectal and endometrial cancers.1

There are also studies on simple ways to motivate yourself during exercise. One showed that those who repeat positive mantras like “feels good” while exercising were able to persist in their exercise routines for longer periods.2 To learn more about this, read the Dec. 12 article.

Why is this so important and why am I harping on exercise right before the holidays? Because we are too sedentary, and this is the time of the year when we are inclined to overeat. According to the 2005-06 National Health & Nutrition Examination Survey, we spend more than half our time sitting.3 And this percentage is trending up. Let’s look at the evidence.

 

Exercise and your genes

While you may be waiting for gene therapy to cure our chronic illnesses, it turns out that exercise may have a significant impact on our genes. No waiting required, this is here and now.

In a recent study, results showed that thousands upon thousands of genes in fat cells were affected when participants exercised.4 The study involved sedentary men and asked them to exercise twice a week by attending a one-hour spin class each time. According to the researchers, the genes impacted were those involved most likely in storing fat and in risk for subsequent diabetes and obesity development. Participants’ gene expression was altered by DNA methylation, the addition of a methyl group made up of a carbon and hydrogens. These participants also improved their biometrics, reducing fat and subsequently shrinking their waist circumferences, and improved their cholesterol and blood-pressure indices.

The effect is referred to as epigenetics, where lifestyle modifications can ultimately lead to changes in gene expression, turning them on and off. Therefore, just because you have been dealt a set a genes from your parents does not mean you can’t alter how a significant number of them act. This has been shown with dietary changes, but this is one of the first studies to show that exercise also has significant impacts on our genes. The amazing thing about this study is that it took only six months to see these numerous gene changes with modest amounts of cardiovascular exercise.

If this was not enough, another study showed substantial gene changes in muscle cells after one workout on a stationary bike.5

 

Exercise versus drug therapy

We don’t think of exercise as being a drug or having drug effects, but what if it had similar benefits to certain drugs in cardiovascular diseases and mortality risk? A meta-analysis — a group of 57 studies that involved drugs and exercise — showed that exercise potentially has equivalent effects to statins in terms of mortality with secondary prevention of coronary heart disease.6 This means that, in patients who already have heart disease, both statins and exercise reduce the risk of mortality by similar amounts. The same was true with pre-diabetes — prior to full-blown type 2 diabetes — and the use of metformin or exercise. It didn’t matter which one was used, the drug or the lifestyle change.

However, diuretics, also called water pills, were more effective than exercise in treating heart failure. This is interesting, since diuretics are used mainly for symptomatic relief and are not thought of in terms of mortality. Thus, the takeaway from this study is that exercise is very powerful and should be used in conjunction with therapies for cardiovascular disease, not instead of them. Don’t stop your medication based on the results of one meta-analysis. If you have further questions, always consult your physician.

Kidney stones and exercise

Anyone who has tried to pass a kidney stone knows it can be an excruciating experience. Most of the treatment revolves around pain medication, fluids and waiting for the stone to pass. However, the best way to treat kidney stones is to prevent them. In the Women’s Health Initiative Observational Study, exercise reduced the risk of kidney stones by as much as 31 percent.7 Even better, the intensity of the exercise was irrelevant to its beneficial effect. What mattered more was exercise quantity. One hour of jogging or three hours of walking got the top results. But lesser amounts of exercise also saw substantial reductions. This study involved 84,000 postmenopausal women, the population most likely to suffer from kidney stones.

Sex as exercise

We have heard that sex may be thought of as exercise, but is this myth or is there actual evidence? Try to keep a straight face. Well, it turns out this may be true. In the most recent study, published in the prestigious PLoS One journal, researchers found that young healthy couples exert 6 METs — metabolic energy, or the amount of oxygen consumed per kilogram per minute — during sexual activity.8

How does this compare to other activities? Well, we exert about 1 MET while sitting and 8.5 METs while jogging. Sexual activity falls between walking and jogging, in terms of the energy utilized, and thus may be qualified as moderate activity. Men and women burned slightly less than half as many calories with sex as with jogging, burning a mean of 85 calories over about 25 minutes. Who says exercise can’t be fun?

I can’t stress the importance of exercise enough. Although in last week’s article I noted that exercise with more intensity had better results, any exercise is good, as demonstrated with the kidney stone reduction study.

Exercise not only influences the way you feel, but also may influence gene expression and, ultimately, affects the development and prevention of disease. In certain circumstances, it may be as powerful as drugs and in combination may pack a powerful punch. Therefore, instead of just making exercise a New Year’s resolution, make exercise a priority — part of the fabric of your life. It may already be impacting the fabric of your body: your genes.

 

References: 1 JAMA. 2009;301(19):2024. 2 Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013 Oct 10. 3 cdc.gov/nchs/nhanes.htm. 4 PLoS Genet. 2013 Jun;9(6):e1003572. 5 Cell Metab. 2012 Mar 7;15(3):405-11. 6 BMJ 2013; 347. 7 JASN online 2013, Dec. 12. 8 PLoS One 8(10): e79342.

 

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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Town acquires remainder of notable property

A ticket to a race at the Gentlemen’s Driving Park in Terryville on July 4, 1892. Photo by Elana Glowatz

Long Island’s last harness horse racing track is a step closer to being preserved, after the Brookhaven Town Board voted last week to spend $1.18 million from its land acquisition fund to purchase almost 6 acres of land at the site in Terryville.

Once the town closes on that property, it will own the entirety of the 11-acre plot off Canal Road at Morgan Avenue, less than half a mile east of Route 347.

The Gentlemen’s Driving Park is now an overgrown path in the woods, but during the Victorian Era it was a place where bettors gathered as men raced the half-mile loop counterclockwise behind their horses in carts called sulkies. The track, which was part of a circuit of harness racing tracks in the Northeast, was adjacent to the Comsewogue stables, which were owned by well-known area horse trainer Robert L. Davis and are now the Davis Professional Park.

Now that the town is acquiring the rest of the site, Cumsewogue Historical Society President Jack Smith said in a phone interview last Thursday that he would like to partner with the parks department to clear the track and he would like to “develop programs and events that are appropriate for the site to educate” visitors. He gave examples of placing signs around the track detailing its history so that people may learn while walking around it, and holding an annual fair with vintage sulkies re-enacting the horse races from the late 1800s or participating in a carriage parade.

Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld, who was a driving force behind the site’s acquisition, said last Thursday that preserving the track is important from an environmental standpoint as well — maintaining open space helps replenish the underground aquifer from where the area gets its drinking water.

Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld and Cumsewogue Historical Society President Jack Smith on a recent trip to the Gentlemen’s Driving Park in Terryville. Photo by Elana Glowatz
Councilman Steve Fiore-Rosenfeld and Cumsewogue Historical Society President Jack Smith on a recent trip to the Gentlemen’s Driving Park in Terryville. Photo by Elana Glowatz

In addition to working with the historical society to preserve the track, the councilman said he would like to see a stewardship agreement with the Woodcrest Estates apartments, which abut the property. Fiore-Rosenfeld said the senior residents could use the track, “a relatively tranquil place,” to go for walks without having to go into the street.

Smith discovered the Gentlemen’s Driving Park a few years ago using Google Earth. He said in a previous interview that he had heard rumors of a racing track in the area, and while looking at the aerial view of Terryville he saw a faint oval shape in the woods off Canal Road. The next day he was walking on the 25-foot-wide path in the woods.

The track is mostly whole — a Long Island Power Authority right-of-way cuts into its southwestern curve.

The historical society president reached out to Fiore-Rosenfeld and the two have since worked together to preserve the site.

“This was not some backwoods, good ol’ boy, local kind of thing. This was a big deal for its time,” Smith said last winter, as the town was still working to acquire the rest of the property. He called it the NASCAR of its day and said, “This was an era when the horse was king. The horse was everything to everyone,” including transportation, sport and work.

The historian has uncovered a few artifacts, including a pair of Victorian-era field glasses near the finish line on the track’s west side. They were broken, likely after being dropped and trampled. Smith also has a ticket from a July 4, 1892.

Ironically, the rise of the automobile likely caused the track’s demise, but cars also helped preserve the track so it could be discovered today. According to Smith, local kids raced jalopies at least through the mid-1950s, which prevented the track from becoming completely overgrown. Those kids left signs of their activities — around the track there are rusty frames of wrecked cars.

“Maybe we should keep one there as a monument,” Smith said last Thursday, with a laugh. “In a strange way we owe a lot to those kids.”

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Worms are fine. Mice and rats? Sure. Dogs and monkeys also have their value, especially to basic research. But what really interests Gholson Lyon are people. “I study humans because that’s what I’m interested in,” said Lyon, a child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist and researcher at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. “Humans are an incredibly complex species.”

An assistant professor at CSHL since March 2012, Lyon is establishing connections with Stony Brook as he builds a research and clinical team that benefits from an understanding of human genetics. “Part of the reason to partner with Stony Brook is that it’d be nice to work with clinicians who have done a lot of work with families,” he said.

Indeed, Lyon worked closely with a close-knit family in Utah in which some of their sons were born with unusual symptoms and died at young ages. Starting in 1979, five boys that were born in that family over a three-decade period got some aspect of the disease.

Looking closely at the family’s genes, Lyon found a mutation that, as he put it, has a “high expression.” He named the disorder Ogden Syndrome, after the town where the first family lives. While it would be hard to develop a treatment for Ogden Syndrome, “It’s about knowledge,” Lyon said. “Giving the family knowledge that it has this mutation helps to bring awareness.”

Indeed, knowing that a child is born with this genetic change can help alert parents to find ways to avoid various symptoms for their children.

In Ogden Syndrome, boys sometimes have trouble when food goes down the wrong tube, causing lung infections. In the future, with the family more aware of this problem, parents can work with doctors to prevent sending food to the lungs with the type of food choices or with earlier placement of a feeding tube, he said.

Lyon’s medical mission is to provide and encourage other doctors to offer individualized care. “There are lots of people who want to develop drugs,” he said. “I firmly believe that identifying illness before it begins and then working to prevent or decrease the severity of the illness is far easier than trying to fix a full-blown illness with drugs after the fact.”

He said he understood actress Angelina Jolie’s informed decision to have a double mastectomy based on her genetic predisposition to breast cancer.

“Every individual has their own risk-benefit analysis,” Lyon said. Lyon derives considerable satisfaction from working with the family with Ogden Syndrome. He found it similarly rewarding to work with someone who had such a severe obsessive compulsive disorder that he struggled to function.

For many months, Lyon treated this patient with Prozac, without any effect. After doing a full genetic analysis of his patient, he realized his patient had a gene that affects the metabolism of fluoxetine, the ingredient in Prozac. If he had known that upfront, he would have chosen a different drug.

Lyon used deep brain stimulation with this patient. The effort completely changed his life, enabling him to function at a higher level and even to date. His patient got married this past summer.

Deep brain stimulation is not the current standard of care, has potential side effects and is a more expensive treatment, costing tens of thousands of dollars. Lyon, however, believes the technique — in which a machine sends regular, controlled electrical signals into the brain — will prove useful for other patients.

It shows promise not only for treating severe obsessive compulsive disorder, but also for helping with other illnesses like Tourette Syndrome.

“Now is the time to be putting a lot of effort into advancing deep brain and precision medicine,” Lyon said.

The Cold Spring Harbor researcher said he has had patients for whom even individualized approaches haven’t improved the quality of life. “Medical doctors try their best to provide individualized care to each person,” he explained. “I have certainly had many times in which I could not help certain people due to the severity of their illness and the limited resource at hand.”

Eric Topol, the director of the Scripps Translational Science Institute and the chief academic officer at Scripps Health, called Lyon a “rising star” who is not afraid to “tell it like it is.” He said Lyon, whom he asked to give a talk on the future of genomic medicine last year, is making “major contributions to get the field moving forward.”

 

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For most of us, exercise is not a priority during the winter months, especially during the holiday season. We think that it is okay to let ourselves go and that a few more pounds will help insulate us from the cold. We tend to lock ourselves indoors and hibernate. Of course I am exaggerating, but I am trying to make a point. During the winter it is even more important to put exercise at the forefront of our consciousness because, as I mentioned in my Thanksgiving article, we tend to gain the most weight during the Thanksgiving to New Year holiday season [1].

Many times we are told by the medical community to exercise, which of course is sage advice. It seems simple enough; however, the type, intensity level and frequency of exercise may not be defined. For instance, any type of walking is beneficial, right? Well, as a new study that quantifies walking pace notes, some types of walking are better than others. Although physical activity is always a good thing compared to being sedentary.

We know exercise is beneficial for prevention and treatment of chronic disease. But another very important aspect of exercise is the impact it has on specific diseases, such as diabetes and osteoarthritis. Also, certain supplements and drugs may decrease the beneficial effects of exercise. They are not necessarily the ones you think. They include resveratrol and nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (such as ibuprofen). Let’s look at the evidence.

Walking with a spring in your step

While pedometers give a sense of how many steps you take on a daily basis, more than just this number is important. Intensity, rather than quantity or distance, maybe the primary indicator of the benefit derived from walking.

In the National Walkers’ Health Study, results showed that those who walk with more pace are more likely to decrease their mortality from all causes and to increase their longevity [2]. This is one of the first studies to quantify specific speed and its impact. In the study, there were four groups. The fastest group was almost jogging, walking at a mean pace of less than 13.5 minutes per mile, while the slowest group was walking at a pace of 17 minutes or more per mile.

The slowest walkers had a higher probability of dying, especially from dementia and heart disease. Those in the slowest group stratified even further: those whose pace equaled 24-minute miles or greater had twice the risk of death, compared to those who walked with greater speed.

However, the most intriguing aspect of the study was that there were big differences in mortality reduction in the second slowest category compared to the slowest, which might only be separated by a minute-per-mile pace. So don’t fret: you don’t have to be a speed-walker in order to get significant benefit.

Mind-body connection

The mind also plays a significant role in exercise. When we exercise, we tend to beat ourselves up mentally because we are disappointed with our results. The results of a new study say that this is not the best approach [3]. Researchers created two groups. The first was told to find four positive phrases, chosen by the participants, to motivate them while on a stationary bike and repeat these phrases consistently for the next two weeks while exercising.

Members of the group who repeated these motivating phrases consistently throughout each workout were able to increase their stamina for intensive exercise after only two weeks, while the same could not be said for the control group, which did not use reinforcing phrases.

‘Longevity’ supplement may have negative impact

Resveratrol is a substance that is thought to provide increased longevity through proteins called sirtuin 1. So how could it negate some benefit from exercise? Well it turns out that we need acute inflammation to achieve some exercise benefits, and resveratrol has anti-inflammatory effects. Acute inflammation is short-term inflammation and is different from chronic inflammation, which is the basis for many diseases. In a small randomized controlled study, treatment group participants were given 250 mg supplements of resveratrol and saw significantly less benefit from aerobic exercise over an eight-week period, compared to those who were in the control group [4]. Participants in the control group had improvements in both cholesterol and blood pressure that were not seen in the treatment group.

This was a small study of short duration, although it was well designed.

Impact on diabetes complications

Unfortunately, type 2 diabetes is on the rise, and the majority of these patients suffer from cardiovascular disease. Drugs used to control sugar levels don’t seem to impact the risk for developing cardiovascular disease. So what can be done? In a recent prospective (forward-looking) observational study, results show that diabetes patients who exercise less frequently, once or twice a week for 30 minutes, are at a higher risk of developing cardiovascular disease and almost a 70% greater risk of dying from it than those who exercised at least three times a week for 30 minutes each session. In addition, those who exercised only twice a week had an almost 50% increased risk of all-cause mortality [5].

The study followed over 15,000 men and women with a mean age of 60 for five years. The authors stressed the importance of exercise and its role in reducing diabetes complications.

Fitness age

You can now calculate your fitness age without the use of a treadmill, according to the recent HUNT study [6]. A new online calculator utilizes basic parameters such as age, gender, height, weight, waist circumference and frequency and intensity of exercise, allowing you to judge where you stand with exercise health. This calculator can be found at www.ntnu.edu/cerg/vo2max. The results may surprise you.

Even in winter, you can walk and talk yourself to improved health by increasing your intensity while repeating positive phrases that help you overcome premature exhaustion. Frequency is important as well. Exercise can also have a significant impact on complications of chronic diseases, such as cardiovascular disease and resulting death with diabetes. Take caution when walking outside during winter to avoid black ice, or use a treadmill to walk with alacrity, although getting outside during the day may help you avoid the winter blues.

References

[1] N Engl J Med. 2000;342:861-867. [2] PLoS One. 2013;8:e81098. [3] Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2013 Oct. 10. [4] J Physiol Online. 2013 July 22. [5] Eur J Prev Cardiol Online. 2013 Nov. 13. [6] Med Sci Sports Exerc. 2011;43:2024-2030.

 

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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Many expectant parents live their lives somewhere between hope and prayer. The big question, and fear, often isn’t whether the child will be a boy or girl, but whether he or she will develop in a healthy way.

The agony and ecstasy of the process was exponentially more dramatic for Gerald Thomsen and his wife Julia Todorov-Thomsen during three pregnancies that produced healthy children. Scientists who met at Stony Brook, the couple knew each phase of development for the skin, muscles, heart, brain, and everything in between.

“I tried to push out of my mind all the scenarios where things could go wrong,” Thomsen said. “There are so many complicated circuits and events.”

Indeed, Thomsen has considerably more than textbook knowledge about development, albeit with other organisms. The Stony Brook professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Cell Biology has dedicated much of the last 20 years to understanding some of the signals and processes that help animals, in his case, mostly frogs, develop.

The big picture question he explores in his lab is, “How does an embryo put itself together? How do cells with different specialties — nerve cells, skin cells — emerge from a single egg cell?”

Thomsen is interested in exploring this question at the whole animal, cellular and molecular level. In his lab, he is studying a process called induction, in which cells respond to signals from neighboring cells.

When a signal, often in the form of a protein or polypeptide, binds to a cell, it often sends a signal from the cell membrane to the nucleus, where it might start or stop a genetic process.

He’s currently working on how an understudied gene, which seems to regulate cell differentiation, might affect growth. When this gene is taken away, the frog embryo doesn’t develop tissues and organs critical for its survival.

Thomsen said many scientists in the world of developmental biology look specifically at what is new about a cell as it moves from one state to another. They want to know what genes are turning on or off. To explore that, the researchers often block them or make those genes more active, to see how that influences what a cell does.

In the late 1990s, Thomsen and a student of his, Haitao Zhu, observed a protein that interacts with a set of signals that go from the cell membrane to the nucleus, where the frog’s genetic machinery resides. When Thomsen and Zhu put the gene for that protein into the frog embryo, it generated another backbone and nervous system.

“It was really dramatic,” Thomsen recalled. The gene turned out to be a key regulator in a signaling pathway, called TGF beta.

Thomsen’s work in this arena is “a major contribution to our understanding of how embryos develop,” said Amy Sater, a professor at the University of Houston in the Biology and Biochemistry Department. “It’s had applicability across all vertebrate systems.”

Sater and Thomsen have taught the Cell and Developmental Biology of Xenopus course at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory for the last three years. Sater has appreciated Thomsen’s sense of humor and said, “The community has a lot of confidence in [his] work.”

Thomsen has a grant right now from the Stony Brook Medical School to look at a protein to see whether it might be operating in breast or other cancers. His lab, which includes eight people, is also focused on understanding the signals that lead to regeneration. In this arena, he is studying frog and sea anemone embryos.

Adult anemones can regenerate a complex body part from a stump of tissue, he said, the same way starfish can. Frogs have a limited ability to regenerate, so he could potentially test the lab’s findings with sea anemones in frogs.

A resident of Port Jefferson, Thomsen brings special guests to his children’s classes, introducing them to adult frogs, embryos and tadpoles. His children are Liam, 7, Isabella, 5, and Luca, who is almost 3.

Initially interested in oceanography, a specialty his wife pursued, Thomsen was fascinated by biochemistry and gene regulation in the context of differentiating cells. His particular field “always has something new.”

As he felt when his children were developing, Thomsen said the process is “amazing. Even though we know a lot of detail, we also appreciate that we know these details in a spotty way.”

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