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132 pounds lost, a new life gained - Michael Tessler in a before and after photo

By Michael Tessler

We’ve got quite a bit to catch up on. It has been over a year since I published what I thought was the last Open Mike column. In that time I’ve lived what feels like a dozen lives. 

I’ve moved across the country twice; hosted a radio program; attended the premiere of our first feature film at the prestigious Stony Brook University Staller Center; helped produced an underwater television special starring Sir Richard Branson and the grandson of ocean explorer Jacques Cousteau; successfully filmed several historic short films taking place in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries; and was brought on as a ghostwriter for a compelling biography for a fitness guru/entrepreneur in Atlanta. 

Shortly thereafter I began developing an online school for emotional intelligence and am in the process of writing a corresponding children’s book. Interspersed between all that I founded my own production company, announced my candidacy for a local councilman position and, perhaps most importantly, lost 132 pounds in my effort to live a healthier and happier life.

132 pounds lost, a new life gained – Michael Tessler in a before and after photo

It has been a long, hard and wonderful year riddled with obstacles and seemingly insurmountable odds. Reflecting back on it all, it doesn’t quite feel real. I’m writing all this because I’m exhausted and a little frustrated at the pace of things lately. Sometimes we as people have to force ourselves to look at our progress rather than just our mistakes or perceived failures. Don’t worry, I make plenty of mistakes too and have been the proud beneficiary of a practical education of failed efforts and misguided attempts.

Presently, I’m at home sitting in a very comfortable leather chair several blocks south from the Hollywood sign. Internally, I’m making the most difficult Los Angeles decision a person can make: protein shake or grilled chicken with avocado? God, what I’d do for a New York bagel.

Being a New Yorker in Los Angeles is a lucrative thing. You’ve got the hustle, honesty and helium-like ego required to keep up and in some cases rise above the fast-paced, self-obsessed world of glamour, fame and film. I’ve been here just three months so far. It truly feels like a lifetime. 

This city is quite a change of pace from Orlando where I lived for nine months after my dad’s fourth brain surgery. Being so far away from family during such a difficult time just didn’t settle right. I’m blessed I was able to pick up my life and move down south. After a whirlwind of a time in Florida that included some serious self-reflection and losing 132 lb (a column for another time), a very scary experience with internal bleeding and lots of personal development, my family finally said it was time for me to pursue my dreams and to stop sleeping on their couch.

From my rooftop you’ve got an ideal view of the Hollywood sign and the massive Netflix building. Sometimes I swear these monuments stare me down — as if to taunt with motivation. These two icons represent the new and old of an ever-evolving industry. Every decision I make must be done to create not just forward professional momentum in the film/television industry that is, but also upward professional propulsion toward the film/television that will be. This can be frustrating and conflicting at times.

My apartment complex is brand new. Since my roommate is from Texas, neither of us were able to visit the place before signing the lease. It is a competitive process to find the right location and price. “Adulting” is hard. Up until the moment my car pulled up, I was not entirely convinced the place was real. Was half-expecting we’d find an abandoned auto body shop or sketchy cash-only “jewelry” store. Thankfully, my internal optimist prevailed.

It’s a nice place, almost too nice — always imagined my first place in Hollywood would have at least some kind of varmint living in the walls. Nothing yet, just very annoying ice cream trucks and the occasional scream in the distance — we live near a high school so it’s hard to tell whether it is an excitable soccer mom or a murder most foul. Gotta love city living. Now that I’m a pseudo-grownup, all of our furniture matches one style instead of the typical postcollegiate hodgepodge of couches and chairs acquired curbside on Sheep Pasture Road in Port Jefferson. This is progress, people.

While I’ve always loved the IDEA of being an adult — this notion that my workday would end with a copy of the Wall Street Journal in my hands, Bing Crosby on the record player and myself looking dapper in tweed jacket with elbow patches is quite different than the reality. Just yesterday I found myself alternating between opening bills and handwashing a massive stack of dishes that were so dirty even the dishwasher quit. This of course occurred while I was blasting SpongeBob reruns on my television. I’m 25 years old and I’ll defend SpongeBob till the day I die.

In all the many changes this year brought, I’m often reminded of where it came from. Part of why I’m bringing Open Mike back is because it was this community that raised me. You paid the taxes that paid for my schooling — you might as well see some return benefit in the form of my column.

Heidi, our amazing leisure editor is going to throw a fit when she sees how long this so let me wrap it up.

What story do you leave behind in a city of stars and storytellers? For some it’d be the Oscars or Emmy perhaps. For me? I’d like to do something to make my hometown proud. Something worthy of a plaque on the Hall of Fame at Port Jeff High School. I know that sounds silly, but where you come from and never allowing distance or success to make you forget — that is what I strive for. All of my good fortune, my confidence and dreams began because of the place and people who raised me. So I give my everlasting thanks and gratitude to you. Home is always home, so yes, Hooray for Hollywood … but most importantly, GO ROYALS!

Catch Open Mike on a monthly basis in TBR News Media’s Arts & Lifestyles.

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Stock photo

Over time, parents have learned to have conversations with their kids about drug use — whether they should not use at all or to use responsibly.

With New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) stating his hope to pass legislation to legalize recreational marijuana during his recent 2019 State of the State address — something that has been in the works for years — we think the time is right to discuss marijuana use in the same way we do with cigarettes or alcohol.

While laws will likely prevent minors from buying the drug, legalizing means, in general, it will be easier to find, and parents may need to remind teenagers that just because something is for sale, just as with other drugs, it doesn’t mean they can or should purchase it.

Of course, what’s available at parties always comes into play. Many times, parents may have the talk about alcohol with their children, stressing that their judgment can easily be impaired after only a drink or two, but do they include that smoking a joint can do the same? Just like with alcohol, it’s not safe to drive a car or operate machinery after using marijuana, as it can impair judgment, motor coordination and reaction time.

The sage advice from parents that they would rather have their children wake them in the middle of the night with a phone call asking to be picked up at a party than having them get behind the wheel after drinking — or in a car with someone who has been — would apply to marijuana use as well. Besides waking up mom or dad, there are always the options of sleeping in the house where the party is taking place, getting a ride from a designated driver, or getting a cab or Uber. That’s a golden rule that even adults need to abide by as driving while impaired by a drug in New York state can lead to a $500 to $1,000 fine, a license suspension for at least six months and a possible one-year jail term. If marijuana is legalized, being over the age limit will mean smoking or eating edible cannabis will become a choice, rather than a secretive, unlawful vice.

And if recreational use of pot becomes legal, due to the danger of impairment, despite the new law, many employers may still have random drug testing — something for people to consider as they seek employment.

If state officials legalize the recreational use of marijuana, there will be something else in common with cigarettes. While many may think smoking a joint doesn’t cause the same health problems as cigarettes, according to the American Lung Association, smoking marijuana can still pose a risk to lung health.

To help with discussions about pot use, residents can find out what’s on the minds of others Feb. 25 when the Suffolk County Legislature invites people to share their thoughts about legalizing recreational marijuana at a public hearing at the William H. Rogers Building in Smithtown. We at TBR News Media will be there.

With the possibility of New York becoming the 11th state to legalize recreational use of marijuana, it’s time for parents to get ahead of any problems by discussing drug use with their children.

By Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Dunaief

Ah, Cinderella. The glass slipper. The handsome prince. A story that even frustrated, annoyed, irritable teenagers can love, right?

That’s what we thought when we bought the tickets. My wife and I enjoy good music, lyrical singing and creative costumes. So we figured we’d share some of that with our teenage children before we pack them up and ship them off to the next chapter of their lives.

The outing started out with such promise. I drove my teenagers to meet my wife. We connected with her outside a garage, where she used her parking pass to get us into a building several blocks from the show.

As soon as she got in the car, she could tell the mood was dark and foreboding.

“What’s the matter?” she asked.

“Nothing,” Angry 1 and Angry 2 muttered in unison.

“Do you not want to see the show?”

No answer.

“Well? Would you rather go home? Dad can take you back.”

No answer.

“Can I please have my ticket?” my wife asked, sticking out her hand. “I will go alone.”

“No,” I replied. “I want to go, too.”

Walking through a city we didn’t know well, we raced to get to the theater before 7 p.m. It wasn’t easy, but we got in by 6:58 and race-walked to the door.

“You can’t come in,” the usher said.

We slumped our shoulders.

“But it’s not 7 p.m.,” my wife observed.

“Yes, but the show doesn’t start until 7:30. We’ll open the doors in a few minutes.”

Funny, right? Well, no, not in the moment.

“Wait, this starts at 7:30 p.m.?” my son asked. “How long is it?”

The usher informed us it was three 45-minute acts, with two 15-minute intermissions. That meant we’d get home around 11 p.m.

“I have so much homework,” he lamented.

We decided I would retrace our steps back to our car so he could get his backpack, order an Uber and send him on his way. I took a ticket and ran with him to the car. Fortunately, the Uber transfer went well. As I trotted back to the theater, I realized I was missing something. I called my wife.

“What’s the matter?” she asked, sensing the continuing unraveling of the evening.

“I can’t find the ticket. It must have fallen out of my pocket.”

“Oh no, how are you going to get in?”

We talked for a moment and then I realized we could show my wife’s two tickets to the usher with whom I spoke to on the way out. Our daughter could hover near the seats. Fortunately, the usher let me return.

Once the show began with frenzied music and considerable dancing, we waited. And waited. And waited. No one spoke. No one sang. It was, to the surprise of all three of us, a ballet.

Now, I know many fine people who love the ballet. Just as I know many wonderful, albeit misguided, people who love the Patriots. For the three of us, however, a ballet was not only unexpected, it was also unwelcome.

By the time intermission began, we were laughing.

“Should we stay for the second act?” my wife asked.

We stayed for another 45 minutes and left the theater.

“You know, it could have been worse,” our daughter said, as we were driving back home.

“Oh yeah, how?” my wife and I wondered, incredulous.

“All four of us could have seen it,” she said.

We chuckled as we hit every red light on the way home from the shattered glass slipper of an evening.

Renee Fleming

By Leah Dunaief

Leah Dunaief

As befits a woman born on St. Valentine’s Day, Renée Fleming grew up to become the sweetheart of the opera world. Possessing a powerful yet silky voice, great beauty and impressive acting skills, Fleming has moved from a single dimension to any number of new musical venues, with a major role in Broadway’s “Carousel,” singing the national anthem at the 2014 Super Bowl, and innumerable appearances on television, in movies and in concerts.

The opera diva will be the star attraction at Stony Brook University’s Gala, the major fundraiser at the Staller Center March 2. I’ve long known about her spectacular professional career but thought I would like to know more about the person that she is, so I had a brief, 10-minute chat with her on the phone at a hotel in Barcelona, Spain. We were time-limited to protect her voice, which is as immediately recognizable when she speaks as when she fills the Metropolitan Opera House with glorious music.

Q: You are coming to Stony Brook to perform. Do you have some special connection with SUNY?

A: Yes, I went to SUNY Potsdam, and so did my sister and brother. My two nephews are at SUNY, so we are a fan club.

Q: You undoubtedly travel a lot. What do you do to keep yourself healthy and protect your voice during plane trips?

A: I try to stay hydrated, get enough rest. I live moderately and believe in mind over matter. And I do the same as others, trying to avoid those who are coughing on the plane.

Q: I believe you grew up in a musical family, your parents both being high school music teachers. Did you always want to sing?

A: It was the furthest thing from my mind! I loved horses, thought I might be a vet, or maybe the first lady president — which has yet to happen. I had ambition, was a very good student. I always wrote music growing up. But I never heard of a woman composer so that wasn’t an option. I majored in music ed, my parents thought that was a good idea, went on to the Eastman School and Julliard. Then I fell in love with jazz.

Q: Do you get nervous when you are to
perform?

A: I was not a gregarious person, that wasn’t my personality. I was shy. So that was one of the skills I had to learn.

Q: Do you have a favorite role or composer?

A: I’m not so much into favorites. Verdi, Strauss …

Q: Do you speak other languages?

A: Yes, I speak French, German, some Italian.

Q: Do you need to know those languages to sing in them?

A: No, there have been great singers who have not known the language they were singing in. You do not need to know the language but it is helpful.

Q: You have two daughters. How did you manage the work/life balance?

A: It’s hard for a working mother. You never feel you are doing anything well. You have to manage everything. It’s challenging. Fortunately I have a tremendous amount of energy and a great work ethic.

Q: Did you get that from your parents?

A: (Pauses.) Yes, probably.

Q: Do you ever have nightmares that you had forgotten your lines?

A: Yes, those kinds of nightmares like
everyone else.

Q: Did that ever happen?

A: No.

Q: Are your dreams set to music?

A: Hmm, I don’t really know. 

Q: What else about music?

A: I’m working with the National Institutes of Health. When children are exposed to music early, their oral comprehension is increased. Studies have shown that.

A major passion of the opera superstar is the intersection of music, health and neuroscience. She is artistic adviser at the Kennedy Center and has launched a collaboration with NIH — the first of its kind between a performing arts center and the largest supporter of biomedical research in the world. She gives presentations on her concert tours with scientists, music therapists and medical professionals. She recently co-authored an article with Dr. Francis Collins, NIH director, for the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Be sure to come out for the fundraising Stony Brook University Gala Saturday night, March 2, at the Staller Center. You will not only hear fabulous music. You will see one of the 21st century’s most remarkable
women.

Smoking and salt consumption add to the risk of GERD. Stock photo
Simple lifestyle changes are among the most effective treatments

By David Dunaief, M.D.

Dr. David Dunaief

It seems like everyone is diagnosed with gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD). I exaggerate, of course, but the pharmaceutical companies do an excellent job of making it appear that way with advertising. Wherever you look there is an advertisement for the treatment of heartburn or indigestion, both of which are related to reflux disease.

GERD, also known as reflux, affects as much as 40 percent of the U.S. population (1). Reflux disease typically results in symptoms of heartburn and regurgitation brought on by stomach contents going backward up the esophagus. For some reason, the lower esophageal sphincter, the valve between the stomach and esophagus, inappropriately relaxes. No one is quite sure why it happens with some people and not others. Of course, a portion of reflux is physiologic (normal functioning), especially after a meal (2).

GERD risk factors are diverse. They range from lifestyle — obesity, smoking cigarettes and diet — to medications, like calcium channel blockers and antihistamines. Other medical conditions, like hiatal hernia and pregnancy, also contribute (3). Diet issues include triggers like spicy foods, peppermint, fried foods and chocolate.

Smoking and salt’s role

One study showed that both smoking and salt consumption added to the risk of GERD significantly (4). Risk increased 70 percent in people who smoked. Surprisingly, people who used table salt regularly saw the same increased risk as seen with smokers.

Medications

The most common and effective medications for the treatment of GERD are H2 receptor blockers (e.g., Zantac and Tagamet), which partially block acid production, and proton pump inhibitors (e.g., Nexium and Prevacid), which almost completely block acid production (5). Both classes of medicines have two levels: over-the-counter and prescription strength. Here, I will focus on PPIs, for which more than 113 million prescriptions are written every year in the U.S. (6).

PPIs include Nexium (esomeprazole), Prilosec (omeprazole), Protonix (pantoprazole) and Prevacid (lansoprazole). They have demonstrated efficacy for short-term use in the treatment of Helicobacter pylori-induced (bacteria overgrowth in the gut) peptic ulcers, GERD symptoms and complication prevention and gastric ulcer prophylaxis associated with NSAID use (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.) as well as upper gastrointestinal bleeds.

However, they are often used long-term as maintenance therapy for GERD. PPIs used to be considered to have mild side effects. Unfortunately, evidence is showing that this may not be true. Most of the data in the package inserts is based on short-term studies lasting weeks, not years. The landmark study supporting long-term use approval was only one year, not 10 years. However, maintenance therapy usually continues over many years.

Side effects that have occurred after years of use are increased risk of bone fractures and calcium malabsorption; Clostridium difficile, a bacterial infection in the intestines; potential vitamin B12 deficiencies; and weight gain (7).

Bacterial infection

The FDA warned that patients who use PPIs may be at increased risk of a bacterial infection called C. difficile. This is a serious infection that occurs in the intestines and requires treatment with antibiotics. Unfortunately, it only responds to a few antibiotics and that number is dwindling. In the FDA’s meta-analysis, 23 of 28 studies showed increased risk of infection. Patients need to contact their physicians if they develop diarrhea when taking PPIs and the diarrhea doesn’t improve (8).

B12 deficiencies

Suppressing hydrochloric acid produced in the stomach may result in malabsorption issues if turned off for long periods of time. In a study where PPIs were associated with B12 malabsorption, it usually took at least three years’ duration to cause this effect. B12 was not absorbed properly from food, but the PPIs did not affect B12 levels from supplementation (9). Therefore, if you are taking a PPI chronically, it is worth getting your B12 and methylmalonic acid (a metabolite of B12) levels checked and discussing possible supplementation with your physician if you have a deficiency.

Lifestyle modifications

A number of modifications can improve GERD, such as raising the head of the bed about six inches, not eating prior to bedtime and obesity treatment, to name a few (10). In the same study already mentioned with smoking and salt, fiber and exercise both had the opposite effect, reducing the risk of GERD (5). This was a prospective (forward-looking) trial. The analysis by Journal Watch suggests that the fiber effect may be due to its ability to reduce nitric oxide production, a relaxant for the lower esophageal sphincter (11).

Obesity

In one study, obesity exacerbated GERD. What was interesting about the study is that researchers used manometry, which measures pressure, to show that obesity increases the pressure on the lower esophageal sphincter significantly (12). Intragastric (within the stomach) pressures were higher in both overweight and obese patients on inspiration and on expiration, compared to those with normal body mass index. This is yet another reason to lose weight.

Eating prior to bed — myth?       

Though it may be simple, it is one of the most powerful modifications we can make to avoid GERD. A study that showed a 700 percent increased risk of GERD for those who ate within three hours of bedtime, compared to those who ate four hours or more prior to bedtime. Of note, this is 10 times the increased risk of the smoking effect (13). Therefore, it is best to not eat right before bed and to avoid “midnight snacks.”

Although there are a number of ways to treat GERD, the most comprehensive have to do with modifiable risk factors. Drugs have their place in the arsenal of choices, but lifestyle changes are the first — and most effective — approach in many instances. Consult your physician before stopping PPIs since there may be rebound hyperacidity (high acid produced) if they are stopped abruptly.

References:

(1) Gut 2005;54(5):710. (2) Gastroenterol Clin North Am. 1996;25(1):75. (3) emedicinehealth.com. (4) Gut 2004 Dec.; 53:1730-1735. (5) Gastroenterology. 2008;135(4):1392. (6) JW Gen Med. Jun. 8, 2011. (7) World J Gastroenterol. 2009;15(38):4794–4798. (8) www.FDA.gov/safety/medwatch/safetyinformation. (9) Linus Pauling Institute; lpi.oregonstate.edu. (10) Arch Intern Med. 2006;166:965-971. (11) JWatch Gastro. Feb. 16, 2005. (12) Gastroenterology 2006 Mar.; 130:639-649. (13) Am J Gastroenterol. 2005 Dec.;100(12):2633-2636.

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 or consult your personal physician.

Your spouse receives his/her elective share from your estate at the time of your death. Stock photo

By Nancy Burner, Esq.

Nancy Burner, Esq.

We are frequently asked whether it is a good idea to disinherit your spouse due to the possibility of nursing home care in the future. While updating your estate planning documents is a good idea, simply disinheriting your spouse may not protect your estate in the event she or he needs to go to a nursing facility. 

If your spouse requires care in a nursing facility and wants to rely on Chronic Medicaid to pay for it, the Department of Social Services will conduct a five-year lookback. 

During the examination, the Department of Social Services will inquire whether your spouse received his or her “elective share” from your estate at the time of your death. If your spouse did not receive his/her elective share, the Department of Social Services will issue a dollar for dollar penalty that will delay Chronic Medicaid benefits.

An elective share ensures that surviving spouses in New York receive the first $50,000 or one-third of an estate, whichever is greater. The surviving spouse has a time limit when he or she must demand the elective share. If the elective share is not demanded within the time frame, the surviving spouse forfeits his/her right to receive the share.  

For example, if you pass away with $300,000 in your estate, your spouse would be entitled to $100,000 even though your last will and testament specifically excluded your spouse. If the elective share of $100,000 is not paid from your estate, the Department of Social Services will issue a penalty of about seven months. In other words, Medicaid will not pay for the first seven months of care in the nursing facility.  

There are options available to you now in order to preserve your estate even if your spouse requires care in a nursing facility. One option is to set up a supplemental needs trust through your last will and testament that benefits your spouse but protects the estate. You would appoint a trustee to manage the assets in the trust on behalf of your spouse. 

The supplemental needs trust is a vehicle to supplement and not supplant government benefits. This would allow the money to be used for your spouse’s benefit but not interfere with an application for Medicaid benefits. Another option would be to provide that your spouse receives one-third of your estate and the reminder goes to your children.

Finally, in New York State, we have a program called Community Medicaid, which will pay for a home health aide to come into your home and assist your spouse with activities of daily living. If your spouse received this assistance in the home, there would not be a five-year lookback and he or she would not be required to elect against your estate. This may be a viable option now, so you are not the sole caregiver.    

It is important to review your estate planning documents with an elder law attorney in your area to ensure you and your spouse are protected and have the appropriate documents in place for your specific situation.  

Nancy Burner, Esq. practices elder law and estate planning from her East Setauket office.

By Fr. Francis Pizzarelli

Father Frank Pizzarelli

The American landscape continues to be burdened with conflict, dishonesty and ineffective leadership at every level of government. As I write this column, more than 800,000 federal employees will not be paid because of a government shutdown. They unfortunately are being held captive by a government that is paralyzed on both sides of the aisle.

As the New Year begins, let’s not be distracted by a political rhetoric that is more fixated on ad hominem attacks and divisiveness, but rather let us support positive action on behalf of all Americans.

Our country is founded on the principle of “we the people.” We must renew our commitment to stand up for social justice, for equality and inclusiveness for all people, no matter what their ethnicity, race, color, sexual orientation, economic or social status.

The leaders of our faith community, both locally and nationally, must move out of their coma of silence, not become political or feed the rhetoric of hate and divisiveness, but rather they must stand up and call us to civility and a discourse that supports and respects the human dignity and integrity of every American citizen.

At the beginning of every New Year, we traditionally make a series of New Year’s resolutions that we break by Jan. 2. This year let’s identify some important social issues that urgently need to be addressed and work diligently at creative solutions that will improve the quality of life in all of our communities.

Homelessness is a growing problem across our county. Our traditional approach is a poor Band-Aid that sets most homeless up for failure. The poor and the homeless live in the shadows. They’ve no fixed address so they have no political representation — no one to voice their concerns and struggles.

Our Department of Health and Human Services, which is charged to deal with the homeless, is working with an antiquated model that is outdated and inefficient, therefore costing you, the taxpayer, an extraordinary amount of money and does little to break the cycle of poverty and homelessness in our midst.

Let us be mindful that more and more of our homeless are mentally ill, drug addicts and returning veterans suffering from untreated PTSD. We lack the basic human resources to break their cycle of dependency on the system.

The opioid crisis is worse than it was last year. As I write this column, I buried two more young people who died senselessly because of this epidemic.

The president of the United States called the opioid epidemic a national health crisis. It is, but again we pay lip service to a national infection but are doing little to treat it effectively. Evidence-based treatment says we need long-term residential treatment beds for a minimum of one year to 18 months, if we hope to empower the recovering addict to wellness and long-term recovery.

We have very limited resources in this regard. The few resources we do have are overtaxed with referrals and are underfunded. The time for talking is over; it’s time for positive action!

These two issues are massive. However, I am optimistic that we have the people and the resources to make a difference. We need to think outside the box, be creative, be willing to risk and most importantly believe we can make a difference that counts. I do!

Fr. Pizzarelli, SMM, LCSW-R, ACSW, DCSW, is the director of Hope House Ministries in Port Jefferson.

Markus Seeliger with a model of a protein kinase. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

They are like couples looking for each other on a dating website. Each side could theoretically find a range of connections. The focus in this dating game, however, has heavily favored understanding the preferences of one side. 

Markus Seeliger, an associate professor in the Department of Pharmacological Sciences at the Stony Brook University Renaissance School of Medicine, has taken important steps to change that, albeit in a completely different area. Instead of working with two people who are searching for a date, Seeliger studies the interactions among protein kinases, which are like switches that turn on or off cellular signals, and inhibitors, which researchers and drug companies are creating to slow down or stop the progression of diseases.

Markus Seliger

Most scientists have looked at the pairing of these molecules and protein kinases from the perspective of the inhibitor, trying to figure out if it would bind to one of the 500 protein kinases in the human body.

Seeliger, however, is exploring the coupling from the other side, looking at the selectivity of the kinases. He published recent research in the journal Cell Chemical Biology.

“People have only ever looked at the specificity from the point of view of an inhibitor,” Seeliger said. “We’ve turned it around. We’re looking at it from the perspective of kinases,” adding that kinases have been important drug targets for decades.

In an email, Michael Frohman, a SUNY distinguished professor and the chair of the Department of Pharmacological Sciences, applauded Seeliger’s efforts and said his research “is representative of the innovative work going on in many of the labs here.” 

On a first level, Seeliger discovered eight kinases that bind to a range of potential inhibitors, while the others are more selective.

Within the smaller group that binds a range of inhibitors, there was no sequence relationship between the base pairs that formed the kinases. The kinases are also not closely related in the cellular functions they regulate. They all trigger similar signaling cascades. 

Seeliger wanted to know why these eight kinases were four to five times more likely to couple with an introduced inhibitor than their more selective kinase counterparts. The Stony Brook scientist performed a three-dimensional analysis of the structure of one of these kinases at Brookhaven National Laboratory.

“They have a very large binding pocket that can accommodate many different inhibitors,” Seeliger said. Indeed, he discovered this higher level of receptivity by separating out this group of eight, which also had more flexible binding sites. If the match between the configuration of the inhibitor and the kinase isn’t perfect, the kinase can still find a way to allow the molecule to connect.

For any potential inhibitor introduced into the human body, this more flexible and accommodating group of kinases could cause unintended side effects regardless of the level of specificity between the inhibitor or drug and other targets. This could have health implications down the road, as other researchers may use the properties of these kinases to switch off programs cancer or other diseases use to continue on their destructive paths.

“Studies point to the roles of protein kinases as driving (to at least allowing and permitting) cancer growth and development,” Yusuf Hannun, the director of the Stony Brook University Cancer Center, explained in an email. “Therefore, one needs to inhibit them.”

Hannun described Seeliger as “very rigorous” and suggested he was an “up and coming scientist” whose “novel approach” shed significant new light on protein kinases.

In his research, Seeliger’s next step is to look at the existing database to see what other groups of kinases he finds and then determine why or how these switches have similarities to others in other systems or regions of the body.

Seeliger likened kinases to a control panel on a space shuttle. “Nothing about the sequence tells you about the role of the switches,” which would make it difficult for astronauts to know which switch to turn and in what order to bring the shuttle home.

Another question he’d like to address involves a greater understanding of the complexity of a living system. So far, he’s looked at properties of these kinases under controlled conditions. When he moves into a more complex environment, the inhibitors will likely interact and yield unexpected binding or connections.

Frohman appreciated Seeliger’s overall approach to his work and his contribution to the field. He cited the popularity of a review article Seeliger wrote that documents how drug molecules find their target binding site. Frohman said this work, which was published in the Journal of the American Chemical Society, was cited over 400 times in other articles.

Seeliger has been “very dedicated to moving this field forward. We were very excited about the topic and have been very pleased with the work he’s done on it since arriving at SBU,” Frohman said.

A resident of Stony Brook, Seeliger lives with his wife Jessica Seeliger, an assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacological Sciences who works on developing drugs for tuberculosis. The couple has two young children.

“We are all very happy they are both here as independent scientists,” Frohman added.

Indeed, Hannun called Jessica Seeliger an “outstanding and highly talented scientist,” as well.

Seeliger grew up in Hanover, Germany. He became interested in science in high school when he watched “The Double Helix,” which showed the development of the structural model of DNA.

His lab currently has two postdoctoral researchers and two doctoral candidates. Ultimately, Seeliger hopes his research helps establish an understanding of the way various kinases are functionally similar in how they interact with drugs.

“We wish we would be able to design more specific inhibitors without having to test dozens and dozens of compounds by trial and error,” he explained. He hopes to continue to build on his work with kinases, including exploring what happens when mutations in these switches cause disease.

Super Bacon-Cheeseburger Sliders

By Barbara Beltrami

Research on the internet informs me that sliders date back to the old White Castle hamburgers as well as to the Navy moniker for greasy burgers that slid onto the bun or plate. Their reincarnation has, like many resurrected concepts, produced a whole new phenomenon, most often a beef patty but also a mini-sandwich that can be anything from a turkey Reuben to eggplant parmigiana. Whatever their provenance, sliders are wonderful for large gatherings like Super Bowl parties. Along with the wings and the guacamole and the nachos and chips and dips, the pizzas and heroes and chili, sliders offer super football fare that can be easily grabbed, bitten into, chewed and swallowed in enough time to cheer or curse the latest play.

Super Bacon-Cheeseburger Sliders

Super Bacon-Cheeseburger Sliders

YIELD: Makes 12 servings

INGREDIENTS:

2½ to 3 pounds ground beef

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

6 slices cheddar cheese, halved

12 slider rolls

6 cooked bacon slices, halved

12 tomato slices

12 red onion slices

12 pickle slices

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat grill or broiler. Separate and pat meat into 3-inch discs, season with salt and pepper and cook for about 3 minutes per side, more or less depending on desired doneness. One to 2 minutes before they are done, carefully lay cheese on top and continue cooking until cheese is melted. Arrange bottom halves of rolls on a platter, slide meat patties onto rolls. Add bacon, tomato, onion and pickles and serve immediately with ketchup, mustard, mayonnaise and lots of napkins.

Super Turkey Reuben Sliders

YIELD: Makes 12 servings

INGREDIENTS:

12 slider rolls

6 tablespoons prepared mustard

12 slices deli turkey breast, halved

One 14-ounce can sauerkraut, heated and well-drained

6 slices Swiss cheese, halved

¾ cup Russian dressing 

DIRECTIONS:

Preheat broiler. Arrange bottoms of slider rolls on rack of large broiler pan. Spread half a tablespoon mustard on each one; add turkey breast. Next mound the sauerkraut evenly over turkey and top with Swiss cheese slices. Broil 1 or 2 minutes, just until cheese is melted. With a spatula, slide each bottom half with its toppings onto a platter, evenly spread top halves with Russian dressing and serve hot with potato salad and a pickle.

Super Eggplant Parmigiana Sliders

YIELD: Makes 12 servings

INGREDIENTS:

1 egg

1 to 1½ cups bread crumbs

Coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper

12 half-inch-thick round slices eggplant

One 14-ounce can petite diced tomatoes

1 garlic clove, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil or one teaspoon dried

1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley or one teaspoon dried

1 tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or one teaspoon dried

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

¼ cup olive oil

24 half-inch-thick round slices narrow crusty Italian bread

1 pound mozzarella cheese, sliced into 12 rounds

DIRECTIONS:

In a shallow bowl beat egg with 1 or 2 tablespoons water; in another shallow bowl, combine the bread crumbs with the salt and pepper. Dip the eggplant slices first in the egg, then in the bread crumbs and then transfer to a plate. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, combine tomatoes, garlic, the 2 tablespoons olive oil, the herbs and salt and pepper in a medium skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until mixture is thickened. Set aside to keep warm.

Preheat oven to 400 F. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat, add eggplant and cook, turning once, until brown on both sides. Remove from skillet and blot with paper towels. Arrange 12 slices bread on rack of broiler pan, top each with an eggplant slice, then a slice of mozzarella. Cover loosely with aluminum foil and bake for 15 minutes or until cheese is melted. Meanwhile, reheat sauce and remove eggplant from oven. Spoon sauce evenly over melted cheese, top with remaining bread slices, slide onto platter and serve hot or warm with marinated artichoke hearts, peppers and mushrooms.

FIRE AND ICE

Jaysun Vodopija of Lake Grove captured these icy images on Jan. 26 at Lake Ronkonkoma, a source of inspiration for many of his photos. He writes, ‘[Saturday] morning the wind was as calm as can be and the air was crisp. Before heading to the lake, I looked out of my bedroom window about one hour before sunrise and noticed clouds overhead but none on the horizon and that was my sign to get moving. In these photos you will see a piece of ice in what appears to be the shape of a dragon. ‘

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