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Studies have shown that eating fresh fruit and cinnamon may be beneficial to diabetics. Stock photo
Fresh fruit and cinnamon may reduce risk

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

What causes Type 2 diabetes? It would seem like an obvious answer: obesity, right? Well, obesity is a contributing factor but not necessarily the only factor. This is important because the prevalence of diabetes is at epidemic levels in the United States, and it continues to grow. The latest statistics show that about 12.2 percent of the U.S. population aged 18 or older has Type 2 diabetes, and about 9.4 percent when factoring all ages (1).

Not only may obesity play a role, but sugar by itself, sedentary lifestyle and visceral (abdominal) fat may also contribute to the pandemic. These factors may not be mutually exclusive, of course.

We need to differentiate among sugars, because form is important. Sugar and fruit are not the same with respect to their effects on diabetes, as the research will help clarify. Sugar, processed foods and sugary drinks, such as fruit juices and soda, have a similar effect, but fresh fruit does not.

Sugar’s impact

Sugar may be sweet, but it also may be a bitter pill to swallow when it comes to its effect on the prevalence of diabetes. In an epidemiological (population-based) study, the results show that sugar may increase the prevalence of Type 2 diabetes by 1.1 percent worldwide (2). This seems like a small percentage, however, we are talking about the overall prevalence, which is around 9.4 percent in the U.S., as we noted above.

Also, the amount of sugar needed to create this result is surprisingly low. It takes about 150 calories, or one 12-ounce can of soda per day, to potentially cause this rise in diabetes. This is looking at sugar on its own merit, irrespective of obesity, lack of physical activity or overconsumption of calories. The longer people were consuming sugary foods, the higher the incidence of diabetes. So the relationship was a dose-dependent curve. Interestingly, the opposite was true as well: As sugar was less available in some countries, the risk of diabetes diminished to almost the same extent that it increased in countries where it was overconsumed.

In fact, the study highlights that certain countries, such as France, Romania and the Philippines, are struggling with the diabetes pandemic, even though they don’t have significant obesity issues. The study evaluated demographics from 175 countries, looking at 10 years’ worth of data. This may give more bite to municipal efforts to limit the availability of sugary drinks. Even steps like these may not be enough, though. Before we can draw definitive conclusion from the study, however, there need to be prospective (forward-looking) studies.

Effect of fruit

The prevailing thought has been that fruit should only be consumed in very modest amounts in patients with — or at risk for — Type 2 diabetes. A new study challenges this theory. In a randomized controlled trial, newly diagnosed diabetes patients who were given either more than two pieces of fresh fruit or fewer than two pieces had the same improvement in glucose (sugar) levels (3). Yes, you read this correctly: There was a benefit, regardless of whether the participants ate more fruit or less fruit.

This was a small trial with 63 patients over a 12-week period. The average patient was 58 and obese, with a body mass index of 32 (less than 25 is normal). The researchers monitored hemoglobin A1C (HbA1C), which provides a three-month mean percentage of sugar levels.

It is very important to emphasize that fruit juice and dried fruit were avoided. Both groups also lost a significant amount of weight while eating fruit. The authors, therefore, recommended that fresh fruit not be restricted in diabetes patients.

What about cinnamon?

It turns out that cinnamon, a spice many people love, may help to prevent, improve and reduce sugars in diabetes. In a review article, the authors discuss the importance of cinnamon as an insulin sensitizer (making the body more responsive to insulin) in animal models that have Type 2 diabetes (4).

Cinnamon may work much the same way as some medications used to treat Type 2 diabetes, such as GLP-1 (glucagon-like peptide-1) agonists. The drugs that raise GLP-1 levels are also known as incretin mimetics and include injectable drugs such as Byetta (exenatide) and Victoza (liraglutide). In a study with healthy volunteers, cinnamon raised the level of GLP-1 (5). Also, in a randomized control trial with 100 participants, 1 gram of cassia cinnamon reduced sugars significantly more than medication alone (6). The data is far too preliminary to make any comparison with FDA-approved medications. However, it would not hurt, and may even be beneficial, to consume cinnamon on a regular basis.

Sedentary lifestyle

What impact does lying down or sitting have on diabetes? Here, the risks of a sedentary lifestyle may outweigh the benefits of even vigorous exercise. In fact, in a recent study, the authors emphasize that the two are not mutually exclusive in that people, especially those at high risk for the disease, should be active throughout the day as well as exercise (7).

So in other words, the couch is “the worst deep-fried food,” as I once heard it said, but sitting at your desk all day and lying down also have negative effects. This coincides with articles I’ve written on exercise and weight loss, where I noted that people who moderately exercise and also move around much of the day are likely to lose the greatest amount of weight.

As a medical community, it is imperative that we reduce the trend of increasing prevalence by educating the population, but the onus is also on the community at large to make lifestyle changes. So America, take an active role.

References:

(1) www.cdc.gov/diabetes. (2) PLoS One. 2013;8(2):e57873. (3) Nutr J. published online March 5, 2013. (4) Am J Lifestyle Med. 2013;7(1):23-26. (5) Am J Clin Nutr. 2007;85:1552–1556. (6) J Am Board Fam Med. 2009;22:507–512. (7) Diabetologia online March 1, 2013.

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, visit www.medicalcompassmd.com.      

Lobster Mac and Cheese Casserole

By Barbara Beltrami

It’s that frenzied time of year when the imminent holidays take huge chunks out of not just our wallets but our time. For many of us, preparing complicated and time-consuming meals is out of the question, and it’s either takeout or something quick but hearty that can be shoved in the oven while we scramble around to attack the holiday chores. This is when casseroles can be the answer. They’re meals that the kids enjoy and can even pitch in to help prepare (if you can pry them away from their iPhones and video games). Casseroles can be prepared ahead of time and refrigerated or frozen, then reheated. Here are a few that are my favorites.

Lobster Mac and Cheese Casserole

YIELD: Makes 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 pound elbow macaroni

1 stick unsalted butter

½ cup flour

1 quart 2% milk, heated but not boiled

8 ounces Emmenthal (Swiss) cheese, grated

8 ounces sharp cheddar cheese, grated

4 ounces fontina cheese, grated

Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

1/3 cup finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

1½ pounds cooked lobster meat

1 cup unseasoned breadcrumbs

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 375 F. Put a large pot of salted water on to boil for macaroni. Cook macaroni according to package directions; drain. Meanwhile in a large saucepan, melt all but two tablespoons butter over medium heat; reduce heat to low and, stirring constantly with wire whisk add flour, cook for two minutes, until nicely blended and a pale golden color. Still whisking, add hot milk and cook a minute or two more, until mixture is smooth and thickened; remove from heat and whisk in the cheeses, salt and pepper and parsley until well blended and smooth. Stir in cooked macaroni and lobster; transfer to greased large casserole dish or individual ramekins. Melt remaining two tablespoons butter and combine with breadcrumbs; sprinkle over mac and cheese mixture. 

Chicken, Wild Rice and Mushroom Casserole

YIELD: Makes 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 cup uncooked wild rice or wild rice and long-grain rice blend

4 tablespoons unsalted butter

1 shallot, minced

¼ cup flour

1½ cups chicken broth

1½ cups half-and-half

Pinch nutmeg

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

½ pound mushrooms, cleaned and sliced thin

3 cups diced cooked chicken

2 tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 F. Cook rice according to package directions; set aside. In large saucepan over medium heat, melt half the butter, then cook the shallot until opaque but not brown, about a minute or two; sprinkle in flour and whisk until just blended; add broth and half-and-half and over medium heat, vigorously whisk; when smooth, simmer about 5 minutes, and season with nutmeg, salt and pepper. In medium skillet over medium heat, saute mushrooms in remaining butter; add, along with chicken and rice, to butter-flour mixture; thoroughly combine and turn into 2-quart greased casserole. Bake about 30 minutes, until bubbly and barely crispy on top and garnish with parsley.  

Bean and Corn Casserole

YIELD: Makes 6 servings

INGREDIENTS:

¼ cup olive oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 green frying pepper, diced

1 tablespoon flour

1 tablespoon chili powder

One 14-ounce can diced tomatoes with juice

One 28-ounce can + one 14-ounce can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained

One 14-ounce can corn kernels, drained

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves

¼ cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

¼ cup shredded sharp Cheddar cheese

¼ cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat oven to 350 F. In large skillet over medium heat, warm olive oil; add onion, garlic and frying pepper; cook, stirring frequently, until onion is wilted, about 3 to 5 minutes. Add flour and chili powder and stir until blended. Stir in tomatoes and their juice and over medium heat, bring to a boil; continue to cook, stirring frequently, until most of the liquid is evaporated, about 5 to 10 minutes. Stir in beans, corn, salt and pepper, thyme and parsley, and transfer to greased two-quart casserole. Bake until bubbly, about 40 minutes; sprinkle with cheese and bake 5 more minutes. Garnish with cilantro before serving.

BACKYARD BEAUTY

Karen Kurpetski of Riverhead snapped this gorgeous photo on Nov. 4. She writes, ‘In light of the health report I received today on a positive note, the sunset was just as magical and positive to me.’

Send your Photo of the Week to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com

 

Michael Tessler

By Michael Tessler

I’m writing this from about 34,000 feet in the air. There’s a great landscape below me: America. This vast and beautiful country feels endless from this vantage point. No matter how old I get or how many times I take the voyage, I’ll never quite get over the fact that you can start your day on Main Street, Port Jefferson and end it on Hollywood Boulevard.

It has been a record amount of time since I’ve had a day off. Not that I’m counting. I’m nearing one month since I’ve had one truly mindless or menial day. I’m not complaining — working in Los Angeles is a blessing. Though it is a constant hustle to survive, this struggle has made me grateful for the many blessings in my life and the many people that have gotten me here. 

It is easy to forget the power of the written word. Being back on Long Island for a few days, I was reminded of its incredible power by my co-worker Liz (you may know her as the bubbly sales representative who is constantly in motion). After reading my column on my weight loss journey, she began a daily routine of walking FIVE MILES every morning. You can imagine my shock, surprise and gratitude when I heard that just a few small printed letters could cause such a positive and lasting impact on someone.

So here I am, hoping I can provide some inspiration to you by sharing some lessons I was reminded of during my few days back with TBR News Media. 

Local news is the beating heart of a community. Most of us take it for granted. Until I worked for the paper, I know I certainly did. That all changed after spending time with our publisher, Leah Dunaief, who at each editorial and sales meeting reminds us of the importance of the work we do and what it means to the community we serve. Leah taught me that anything can become an inspiring and exciting subject, with enough passion and pride. 

There is a sense of belonging and place that comes with the printed word. When we set aside the digital drabble of social media and open the pages of our hometown paper, we’re reminded of how special we are. Whether happy or sad, tragic or celebratory — this publication tells our story and brings us together in the process. 

We write lengthy and ever-amusing responses to the stories we disagree with. With great, rambunctious passion we debate parking meters and zoning laws. It may seem simple or even small, but hovering above the great American landscape I can’t help but think of how beautiful it is, this weekly celebration of us. 

So as I reach the conclusion of an incredibly difficult and humbling stretch of work, riddled with successes, failures, lessons learned both easy and hard, I am reminded of the lessons taught to me by my second family at TBR News Media. Love what you do. Love who you work with. Love the community you call home and love yourself enough to take time off.

To Leah, who has believed in me and provided me with more opportunity than any person I’ve ever known: Thank you. You challenge me constantly to dream bigger, think smarter and cherish the people around me. 

To Kathryn, who taught me the value of hard work and building lasting, meaningful relationships. You gave me my hustle and drive and reminded me to appreciate just how cute the little ones in our life are. 

To Meg, who reminds me that to change a person’s day all you need is a smile and song, you warm every room you enter with your kindness. 

To the entire TBR family, you remind me that home is always waiting for you and filled with love … no matter how far you may roam or how long. 

To the readers who keep this heart beating, I’m thankful. May the love that goes into each page of this paper transcend into your home this holiday season. Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and a Happy New Year from a grateful native son living his Hollywood dream. 

The author is an award-winning film and television producer and CEO of Multihouse Entertainment in Los Angeles.

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The season for giving is here, and while North Shore residents plan their holiday feasts, it’s a good time to consider the plight of people less fortunate. 

Imagine, more than 89,000 children on Long Island are hungry, according to Hauppauge-based Long Island Cares. These children aren’t dreaming of visions of sugarplums, they are wishing for substantial meals to get them and their families through the day.

Some centers, such as the Community Food Council on East 5th Street in Huntington Station, are reporting a 33 percent increase in demand over the last three months. It’s unclear why the sudden surge in food insecurities but the food banks are in need of supplies and volunteers, and counting on the local community to find ways to pitch in. So, it’s a good time to develop a plan. 

When preparing to donate to a food bank, a good rule of thumb is to call the nonprofit or visit its website to see what is needed. During this time of year, many have volunteers on hand to put together holiday meals. Throughout the year, depending on donations, there may be a surplus of one item and a deficit of another.

While many may be inclined to reach into their pantry to find nonperishables, a cash donation can often be the most beneficial to nonprofits, so they can turn around and buy food in bulk. This can also save volunteers time, because they don’t need to go through items looking at expiration dates.

If one wants to donate food, a trip to the supermarket is the best bet to ensure the donated items aren’t expired. Though if your cabinets are bursting at the seams, reach in and make sure to check expiration dates on cans and boxes. Also, look cans over to ensure they are not dented or leaking and that boxes aren’t damaged. And steer away from food in glass jars as these containers can easily break.

Take into consideration more nutritious options, too, such as cereals high in fiber, whole wheat pasta and low sodium soups and vegetables. When it comes to any kind of mixes, remember many households may be out of milk or eggs, so choose a mix that can be used with water. Another thing to consider is purchasing toiletries such as toothpaste, deodorant, diapers and toilet paper.

To increase the spirit of giving, organize your local Boy Scout and Girl Scout troops or religion classes or get your children involved. Or, if you already know of a group organizing a food drive, contribute your items to the event. Collecting food for those in need is a wonderful way to inspire young ones to help others and it encourages them to continue charitable pursuits when they reach their goals or succeed them.

In our coverage area, in addition to Long Island Cares and the Community Food Council, there are the Smithtown Emergency Food Pantry, St. Anthony of Padua R.C. Church in Rocky Point, St. Cuthbert’s Episcopal Church in Selden, Ecumenical Lay Council Pantry through the First Presbyterian Church in Northport, St. Gerard Majella R.C. Church in Port Jefferson Station, Our Daily Bread Food Pantry in Setauket and many more. 

As the lights come down in a few weeks, remember when it comes to food banks, the hungry keep coming. The spirit of giving can last all year round as these organizations are always in need of donations no matter what month on the calendar.

The gift of time, too, is also a generous way to contribute.

Daniel Dunaief

By Daniel Dunaief

What is it about “The Play That Goes Wrong” that is just so right for so many people, including me?

My wife and I recently went to this farcical show, where my wife informed me that she, the couple attending the performance with us, and just about everyone around us could tell how much I enjoyed the experience. 

In case you haven’t heard about it and can’t figure it out from the title, “The Play That Goes Wrong” is an absurd show where everything goes so wrong — the props, the actors, the staging, the lighting and the music. Indeed, it’s almost challenging to follow the simple murder mystery plot amid gales of laughter, much of it coming from me.

My family has numerous qualities that we have shared from one generation to the next. My late father laughed so hard at the pratfalls and theater-of-the-absurd dialogue of Danny Kaye movies like “The Court Jester” (1955) that I can still picture him gasping for air as he wiped away the tears slaloming down his face, where they joined the muddy sneaker stains, the dirty paw prints and the soda spills on a white carpet that chronicled our active lives.

The current play follows in the footsteps of Kaye, Benny Hill, the Three Stooges and a host of other characters who do anything for a laugh, stepping on rakes that slam into their heads or interacting in nonsensical ways with other actors as a part of a skit. The show makes the sketch comedy of many of today’s late night shows appear pedestrian by comparison. Granted, the plot follows a singular theme and, once completed, can and does create a full length and ridiculous drama.

Now, some people may find the pedestrian antics of the cast too absurd. I agree that the show isn’t for everyone and doesn’t provide life lessons, memorable songs, gritty entertainment or an insightful view of existence.

And yet, it does offer much needed self-parody and perspective on a country thoroughly divided by events in Washington, D.C. The people who run our country seem intent on making their supporters cheer, while their detractors roll their eyes, shake their heads and seek solace from people who share their beliefs.

Fine, but, the actors in a show written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields of the Mischief Theatre Company, seem intent on roping as much of the audience as possible into their shenanigans. 

One of the actors, who plays Cecil Haversham, seems delighted by the presence of the audience. He plays to the crowd so often that he shares in their enthusiasm when he does something well or when the crowd appreciates an ongoing joke.

This intentionally imperfect play isn’t perfectly imperfect, either. Some moments fall flat. The second half of the show, which is shorter than the first, isn’t quite as engaging, entertaining and uproarious.

Knowing the general plot of the story before I attended, I tried to anticipate the wide range of possible intentional stumbles and humorous moments that actors struggling to maneuver through a story might endure. The range of mistakes and blunders exceeded my expectations among numerous welcome and delightful surprises.

A play that delves in the world of funny gaffes takes real work on the part of the writers and the actors. To anyone sick of the political headlines, the conspiracy theories, the name calling, the accusations and counter accusations, this play is a welcome comedic retreat. It’s no wonder it won Best New Comedy at the 2015 Laurence Olivier Awards in London and is now on Broadway.

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By Leah S. Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

Look for something special in the newspaper and online next week. Earlier in the year, some of you may have noted we ran a contest asking you to write in your favorite business or service on the North Shore by category. We wanted to know your favorite bank, your favorite bakery, favorite hotel, hair salon, nail salon, restaurant, accountant, lawyer and so forth. The entry form, which filled a whole page, could only be found in the newspaper, although we publicized the contest on the web and on our social media platforms as well. But you had to pick up the newspaper in order to vote for your favorites, and we of course did that on purpose to get you to read the paper, which is today an endangered species.

Well, the contest was a big success. We received over 2,500 submissions and we have winners in more than 100 categories, including those that are in ties. We tabulated the answers on our computers and were fascinated by the results. The winners and/or nominators come from as far west as Cold Spring Harbor and Huntington and as far east as Wading River, as well as from Northport, East Northport, Kings Park, Smithtown, St. James, Three Village, Port Jefferson and Port Jefferson Station, Middle Country, Mount Sinai, Miller Place, Rocky Point and Shoreham—our entire North Shore areas of news coverage and distribution. Readers took the time and made the effort to salute their business contacts in this way.

We think our readers will benefit from this information, a kind of recommended list of some of the best businesses in Suffolk County, as they do their shopping and meet their needs around town. The “Readers Choices” will be named in their categories in a pullout section next Thursday, in time for holiday shopping. And we know the various winners are proud to have been singled out in this way. 

It’s pretty special to be No. 1 in customers esteem. It means the businesses, services and professionals have some sort of differential advantage over their competitors, and it gives the winners bragging rights and the spotlight to talk about their newest products even as they thank their customers. We, of course, thank the winners who have chosen additionally to advertise all that information in our supplement — although no ad was required of them — and that is part of the reason for the several weeks of space we devoted to the contest. In so doing, we are following the traditional business model that has always supported news media: Advertisers underwriting news for the readers, even as some of that news is about their products and services.

In addition to being named in the supplement, the winners will be invited to a dinner reception at the Three Village Inn in Stony Brook on Wednesday evening, Feb. 5, 2020, from 6-8 p.m. There will be valet parking, a great help in the event of inclement weather. At the historic inn, they will walk up to the podium on a red carpet, be asked to speak for one minute about their business or profession if they wish, and videoed and photographed as they do so. The videos will then appear on our website and the photographs in our newspapers and social media after the reception. In addition, there will be a drawing for the three gift certificates of $150, $75 and $50 to be used in the winners stores or offices by those who sent in nominations.

Tickets to the event may be ordered on our website (tbrnewsmedia.com) after the first of the year, by phone with a credit card (631-751-7744) or by mail (P.O. Box 707, Setauket, NY 11733).

In addition to the winners and their guests, we will also invite the customers who nominated their first choices and the general public in what we hope will be a wonderful show of support for local businesses. They are at the core of our communities and today, as we know, they too are an endangered species.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

Dr. Matthew Kearns

No matter which holiday we celebrate this time of year a pet dog or cat makes a great gift. The bond is almost always immediate and lasts a lifetime. Conversely, the thought of losing a pet is terrible. Since the advent of pet microchip identification, many a lost pet has been returned to its owner safe and sound. There are, however, still some lingering doubts about the safety and efficacy of these chips. I hope to clear that up in this article.

A microchip is an identification chip only and does not contain a power source. Once inserted, the chip will not give off any energy that could be harmful to your pet. The chip is passive, or inert. What that means is, when the microchip scanner is waved over it, the chip receives energy similar to a radio antenna. The chip then gives the scanner back the energy in the way of data, or information.  

Pet microchips are very small (about the size of a grain of rice) and can be injected under the skin without any anesthetic. I do not wish to imply that the pets that receive this injection do not feel the needle, but it is far from major surgery. At our hospital we offer to implant the chip at the time of spay or neuter (when the patient is already anesthetized) to reduce the anxiety and discomfort of the pet. These chips do not tend to migrate after implantation and rarely cause any discomfort.

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The notion that there is a direct link between microchips and cancer is greatly exaggerated in the media and on the internet. It is true that these chips have been documented to cause a type of cancer called “injection site sarcoma” in lab mice and rats. These animals are very prone to this type of cancer when any material is injected under the skin. To this date there is only ONE documented case of cancer in a dog that was directly linked to the implantation of a microchip.  

Older microchips and microchip scanners were not as successful and there were accounts of pets that were needlessly euthanized as a result. However, in a study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association (JAVMA) in 2008, the newer chips and scanners reported at least a 90 percent (in some scanners and chips up to a 98 percent) success rate in identifying the chip. Another study published in JAVMA in 2009 approximately 75 percent of dogs and approximately 65 percent of cats that were turned over to shelters were able to be reunited with their owners via the microchip (of those owners that were not reunited 35 percent had disconnected phones and another 25 percent never returned phone calls from the shelter).

If you wish to get a pet this holiday season and wish to find them again if lost, then I would suggest you have a discussion with your veterinarian about microchipping.    

I wish to extend a joyous holiday season and a Happy New Year to all the faithful readers of my column. I also wish to thank the editor of the Arts and Lifestyles section, Heidi Sutton, and all the staff at Times Beacon Record News Media for another great year.  

Dr. Kearns practices veterinary medicine from his Port Jefferson office and is pictured with his son Matthew and his dog Jasmine. Have a question for the vet? Email it to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com to see his answer in an upcoming column.

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By Linda Toga, Esq.

Linda Toga, Esq.

THE FACTS: I will be getting married soon. It is a second marriage for both me and Mary. We both have children from our prior marriages. 

THE QUESTION: Is there something I can have Mary sign to ensure that my assets will pass to my children when I die? 

THE ANSWER: If you are only worried about what happens to your assets when you die, you can ask Mary to sign a waiver of her right of election. As long as you have kept your assets separate from Mary’s as opposed to comingling your assets in joint accounts or investing your assets in jointly held property, a waiver should be adequate. 

Under the law, regardless of how assets are held or the wishes memorialized in a will, trust or beneficiary designation form, a surviving spouse is entitled to one-third of his/her deceased spouse’s assets. This entitlement is known as the surviving spouse’s right of election. The types of assets that are subject to the right of election are set forth in Estates, Powers and Trusts Law Article 5. 

Pursuant to Article 5, a surviving spouse’s elective share may include assets owned by the decedent individually but also assets that the decedent owned jointly with others and assets held in retirement and pension plans, to name a few. 

A surviving spouse must exercise his/her right of election within six months of the issuance by the Surrogate’s Court letters testamentary or letters of administration. Although spouses who voluntarily agree to live apart can still exercise their right of election, a spouse who is found to have “abandoned” a decedent is barred from claiming an elective share. 

In order for Mary to waive her right of election, she must sign a document that states that she waives her right of election and all claims against your estate. The waiver must be signed by Mary in the presence of a notary. Of course, if, after Mary signs a waiver, you choose to leave assets to Mary in your will, you can certainly do so. The waiver does not prevent Mary from being a beneficiary of your estate. It simply prevents her from demanding more than you may voluntarily allocate to her.

 It is important to note that a waiver only addresses Mary’s rights to your assets after your death. If you are concerned about what may happen to assets in the event of a divorce, you should discuss with an experienced attorney your options in terms of a pre- or postnuptial agreement. 

Linda M. Toga, Esq. provides legal services in the areas of estate planning and administration, real estate, small business services and litigation from her East Setauket office. Visit her website at www.lmtogalaw.com or call 631-444-5605 to schedule a free consultation.

Mirna Kheir Gouda

By Daniel Dunaief

Mirna Kheir Gouda arrived in Commack from Cairo, Egypt, in 2012, when she was entering her junior year of high school. She dealt with many of the challenges of her junior year, including taking the Scholastic Aptitude Test, preparing for college and adjusting to life in the United States.

Her high school counselor at Commack High School, Christine Natali, suggested she apply to Stony Brook University. Once she gained admission, she commuted by train to classes, where she planned to major in biology on the road to becoming a doctor.

She did not know much about research and wanted to be involved in it to learn, especially because Stony Brook is so active in many fields.

“After some time conducting research, I came to be passionate about it and it was no longer just another piece of my resume, but rather, part of my career,” she explained in an email.

She reached out to Gábor Balázsi, a relatively new faculty member at the time, who suggested she consider joining a lab.

Balázsi uses synthetic gene circuits to develop a quantitative knowledge of biological processes such as cellular decision making and the survival and evolution of cell populations.

Balázsi knew Kheir Gouda from the 2015 international Genetically Engineered Machine team, which consisted of 14 members selected from 55 undergraduate students.

“Having this iGEM experience,” which included deciding on a project, raising funds, carrying out the project and preparing a report in nine months, was a “very promising indication” that Kheir Gouda would be an “excellent student,” Balázsi explained in an email.

Kheir Gouda chose Balázsi’s laboratory, where she worked with him and his former postdoctoral fellow Harold Bien, who offered her guidance, direction and encouragement.

As a part of the honors program, Kheir Gouda had to conduct an independent research project.

She wanted to “work on a project that involved adaptations and I always thought, ‘What happens when the environment changes? How do cells adapt?’”

She started her project by working with a mutant gene circuit that was not functioning at various levels, depending on the mutation. She wanted to know how cells adapt after beneficial but costly function loss.

An extension of this research, as she and Balázsi discussed, could involve a better understanding of the way bacterial infections become resistant to drugs, which threaten their survival.

“The idea for the research was hers,” Balázsi explained in an email. Under Bien’s mentorship skills, Kheir Gouda’s knowledge “developed quickly,” Balázsi said.

Balázsi said he and Kheir Gouda jointly designed every detail of this project.

Kheir Gouda set up experiments to test whether a yeast cell could overcome various mutations to an inducer, which regains the function of the genetic gene circuit.

Seven different mutations caused some type of loss of function of the inducible promoter of the gene circuit function. Some caused severe but not complete function loss, while others led to total function loss. Some were more able to “reactivate the circuit” rescuing its function, while others used an alternative pathway to acquire a resistance.

The presence of the resistance gene was necessary for cell survival, while the circuit induction was not necessary. At the end of the experiment, cells were resistant to the drug even in the absence of an inducer.

“This synthetic gene circuit in yeast cells can provide a model for the role of positive feedback regulation in drug resistance in yeast and other cell types,” Balázsi explained.

Kheir Gouda said she and Balázsi worked on the mathematical modeling toward the end of her research.

“What our work suggests is that slow growth can turn on quiescent genes if they are under positive feedback regulation within a gene network,” Balázsi wrote.

This mathematical model of limited cellular energy could also apply to cancer, which might slow its own growth to gain access to a mechanism that would aid its survival, Balázsi suggested. 

Recently, Kheir Gouda, who graduated from Stony Brook in 2018, published a paper about her findings in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, which is a prestigious and high-profile journal for any scientist.

“Because PNAS has a lot of interdisciplinary research, we thought it would be a good fit,” Kheir Gouda said. The work she did combines evolutionary biology with applied math and synthetic biology.

The next steps in this research could be verifying how evolution restores the function of other synthetic gene circuits or the function of natural network modules in various cell types, Balázsi suggested.

Kheir Gouda’s experience proved positive for her and for Balázsi, who now has eight undergraduates working in his lab. “The experience of mentoring a successful undergraduate might help make me a better mentor for other undergraduates and for other graduate students or postdoctoral researchers, because it helps set goals based on a prior example,” Balázsi said.

He praised Kheir Gouda’s work, appreciating how she learned new techniques and methods while also collaborating with a postdoctoral fellow in Switzerland, Michael Mahart, who is an author on the paper.

“It is unusual for an undergraduate to see a research project all the way through to completion, including a publication in PNAS,” marveled Balázsi in an email. He said he was excited to have mentored a student of Kheir Gouda’s character.

Kheir Gouda has continued on a research path. After she graduated from Stony Brook, she worked for a year on cancer research in David Tuveson’s lab at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. She then transitioned to working at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology for Assistant Professor of Chemical Engineering Kate Galloway. Kheir Gouda, who started working at MIT in October, plans to continue contributing to Galloway’s effort until she starts a doctoral program next fall.

Kheir Gouda said her parents have been supportive throughout her education.

“I want to take this opportunity to thank them for all the sacrifices they made for me,” Kheir Gouda said.

She is also grateful for Balázsi’s help.

He has “always been a very supportive mentor,” she explained. She would like to build on a career in which she “hopes to answer basic biology questions but also build on research and clinical tools.”