Health

When they work as they should, they become a part of a process that helps us remember the Amendments to the Constitution, the Pythagorean Theorem, or the words to a love poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. When they don’t work correctly, we can run into all kinds of problems, some of which can get worse over time.

The N-methyl-D-aspartate receptor, also known as the NMDA receptor, which has parts that are bound in the membrane of brain cells, or neurons, is at the center of learning and memory.

Up until last year, only parts of the NMDA receptors sticking out of the membrane were known. A lack of a three-dimensional understanding made it difficult to see how this receptor works. Hiro Furukawa, an associate professor at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and his postdoctoral researcher, Erkan Karakas, provided considerably more structural details of this receptor.

“The structures of the full-length NMDA receptor that [Furukawa’s] lab generated last year are seminal,” said Lonnie Wollmuth, a professor in the Department of Neurobiology and Behavior at Stony Brook University and a collaborator with Furukawa on other work. “They are fundamental to understanding how the NMDA receptor operates and how it can be modified in the clinic.”

Wollmuth suggested Furukawa has an “outstanding” reputation and said the structure of the receptor will “drive the field in new directions.”

Furukawa cautioned that scientists are still missing a structural understanding of a piece of the receptor that protrudes into the cell. Seeing the structure of this receptor will “provide clues for developing new compounds and for redesigning existing compounds to minimize side effects associated with nonspecific targeting,” Furukawa explained.

When NMDA receptors open, sodium and calcium ions flow into the cells. Too much calcium in the cells can cause toxicity that results in the neurodegeneration observed in Alzheimer’s disease and injuries related to strokes. Changes in the concentration of these ions can excite the neuron and cause symptoms such as epilepsy.

Seeing the structure of this receptor can provide a road map to find places on it that can become too active or inactive. Researchers typically look for binding sites, where they can send in a drug that can affect the function of the receptor. The more binding pockets scientists like Furukawa find, the greater the opportunity to regulate the NMDA receptor function.

Furukawa’s lab includes two graduate students, four postdocs and a technician. He is collaborating with scientists at Emory University to design and synthesize novel compounds based on the protein structures. As he gets more research funding, Furukawa would like to add more expertise in bioinformatics, which involves using computer science and statistics to understand and interpret large collections of data.

Experts in this field can go through a database of compounds quickly, enabling scientists to conduct the equivalent of thousands of virtual experiments and screen out candidates that, for one reason or another, wouldn’t likely work.

Furukawa is also studying autoimmune disorders in which immune cells attack these important receptors. One of these diseases is called anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis. Susannah Cahalan wrote an autobiographical account of her struggle with the disease in a New York Times Best Selling Book called “Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness” in 2012.

Furukawa is collaborating with a group at the University of Pennsylvania to find a way to detect the autoimmune antibodies that causes encephalitis. He is working to find a way to quench autoimmune antibodies for an anti-NMDA receptor.

Furukawa lives in Cold Spring Harbor with his wife, Megumi, who used to be an elementary school teacher but is now taking care of their sons Ryoma, 7, and Rin, 4.

Furukawa, who moved from Japan to Boston in fifth grade, then back to Japan for junior high school and finished high school in Missouri, is enjoying an opportunity to grow his own vegetables on Long Island.

As an undergraduate at Tufts, Furukawa was more interested in international politics and economics than in science. When he took chemistry and physics classes, he said the work “clicked comfortably” and he wound up majoring in chemistry. As an eight-year-old, he recalled watching the stars at night through a telescope. When he saw a ring of Saturn for the first time, he was so excited that he couldn’t sleep.

Furukawa’s colleagues appreciate his dedication to his work.

“He is certainly driven,” said Wollmuth. “He is in an extremely competitive field, so he must work efficiently and hard.”

North Shore natives travel to Washington with hopes of swaying lawmakers to renew health care benefits

John Feal speaks at the September 11 memorial ceremony in Commack last week. Photo by Brenda Lentsch

The 9/11 first responders who have fought for years to get health care support are heading back to Washington, D.C., in hopes of ushering in the renewal of the James L. Zadroga 9/11 Health & Compensation Act. And for one Nesconset resident, change cannot come soon enough.

Parts of the bill will expire next month, and other parts in October 2016.

The James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Reauthorization Act would extend the programs of the original Zadroga act indefinitely. It was introduced to Congress in April and currently has 150 bipartisan co-sponsors.

“When this bill expires, our illnesses do not expire,” said John Feal, founder of the FealGood Foundation, in a phone interview. Feal, of Nesconset, has been walking the halls of Congress for the past eight years to help get this bill passed.

He is also a 9/11 first responder who worked on the reconstruction at Ground Zero, and lost half of his foot in the process. He suffered from gangrene, but he says his injuries “pale in comparison to other first responders.”

President Barack Obama signed the current Zadroga act into law in 2011 and established the World Trade Center Health Program, which will expire in October if not renewed.

The WTC program ensured that those whose health was affected by 9/11 would receive monitoring and treatment services for their health-related problems. It consists of a responder program for rescue and recovery workers and New York City firefighters, and a survivor program for those who lived, worked or went to school in lower Manhattan on Sept. 11, 2001.

The Zadroga act also reopened the September 11th Victims Compensation Act, which allows for anyone affected to file claims for economic losses due to physical harm or death caused by 9/11. That will expire in October of next year.

Feal said he was asked by television personality Jon Stewart to come on “The Daily Show” in December 2010, but the Nesconset native said he did not want to leave the real legislative fight in D.C. Instead, he helped get four 9/11 responders to the Dec. 16, 2010, episode, who helped shed light on the ongoing battle these responders were dealing with in Congress.

“He was definitely one of the reasons the bill got passed,” Feal said of Stewart. Stewart accompanied Feal and many other first responders when they traveled to Washington, D.C, on Wednesday, Sept. 16, and took part in a mini rally.

The bill did not pass the first time it was presented to Congress back in 2006. A new version was drafted in 2010 and passed in the House of Representatives, but was having trouble getting through the Senate due to a Republican filibuster. The bill received final congressional approval on Dec. 22, 2010, and was enacted by the president on Jan. 2, 2011.

“As we get older these illnesses will become debilitating,” Feal said. “Not extending this bill is criminal. People will die without it. It’s a life-saving piece of legislation.”

Jennifer McNamara, a Blue Point resident and president of The Johnny Mac Foundation, is also actively involved in the fight to keep responders health costs covered. Her late husband, John McNamara, passed away in 2009 from stage IV colon cancer.

He was a New York City Firefighter and worked more than 500 hours at the World Trade Center in the aftermath of 9/11. He worked with responders to get support for the Zadroga bill before he died.

“I made him a promise to continue to lend support to get this legislation passed,” Jennifer McNamara said in a phone interview. When her husband passed away, she said there weren’t as many responders getting sick as there are now. “People are dying more quickly, and more are getting diagnosed with cancers and other illnesses.”

The two big issues that McNamara said she feels need to continue to be addressed are monitoring these diseases and coverage of costs once someone is diagnosed. McNamara said she believes that if there were better monitoring programs earlier on, her husband could’ve been diagnosed before his cancer was stage IV, and he could’ve had a better chance.

“These people did tremendous things for their country,” McNamara said. “They shouldn’t have to guess about whether they are going to be taken care of.”

Kara Hahn’s prescription medicine take-back proposal aims to enhance Long Island’s drinking water quality

A two-tiered piece of legislation on the county level is looking to tackle some of Long Island’s most pressing issues, from the medicine counter to the waterways, all in one fell swoop.

A proposal to establish a drug stewardship program throughout the county could potentially build upon existing drug take-back programs, playing off recent legislation enacted in Alameda County, California, and ultimately keep drugs out of our drinking water, lawmakers said. Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) introduced the piece of legislation earlier this summer with hopes of providing residents with more convenient ways to get rid of their unused medicine before the county’s next general meeting in October.

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn is pushing a bill to make it easier to get rid of leftover medicine. File photo
Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn is pushing a bill to make it easier to get rid of leftover medicine. File photo

“This is a duel benefit,” Hahn said. “I’ve wanted to find a way to get pharmacies to be required to take back prescription drugs, and this doesn’t quite require that, but it could be an end result.”

The local law proposal argued that while pharmaceuticals are essential to the treatment of illnesses and long-term conditions, residents at large still do not dispose of them properly, running the risk of certain drugs ending up in public drinking water supplies and causing harm to the environment. And with Suffolk County sitting on top of a sole source aquifer, which provides residents with necessary drinking water, Hahn argued that protecting the aquifer was critical to the health and safety of Long Island as a whole.

“The idea is to begin a discussion on this. Federal regulations have changed to allow pharmacies to take back certain drugs, but the state level has been dragging their feet on the local regulations in order to make this possible here,” Hahn said. “They can’t drag their feet any longer. All kinds of medicines are being found in our water when our health inspectors do their sampling. We have to find a way on both these fronts to control what is happening.”

The legislator said she was playing off the recently passed law in California, which also established a drug product stewardship policy requiring manufacturers to design and fund collection programs for medications. Similar programs have also sprouted up in Canada, France, Spain and Portugal.

A spokesman for Hahn said the bill would essentially establish a manufacturer-administered pharmaceutical take-back program that would provide residents with convenient ways to safely and environmentally responsibly dispose of expired and unneeded medications.

“This program, if adopted, will primarily impact and improve water quality rather than deal with drug abuse,” Seth Squicciarino, the spokesman, said. “However, it is reasonable to assume that if there are less unused, unneeded and forgotten prescription drugs in medicine cabinets, it could reduce drug experimentation especially among first time users.”

Currently, residents’ only course of action when looking to properly dispose of unused medicine is to bring their prescriptions to the 4th Precinct or 6th Precinct of the Suffolk County Police Department, which then dumps the drugs into an incinerator — which Hahn described as the most environmentally friendly way to dispose of drugs right now.

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Port Jefferson Yacht Club hosted its sixth annual Village Cup Regatta on Saturday, raising funds for pancreatic cancer research through the Lustgarten Foundation and for John T. Mather Memorial Hospital’s palliative medicine program.

The regatta pits the hospital and Port Jefferson Village against one another in a friendly competition for the Village Cup, a trophy which the hospital has now won two years in a row following a village reign of three years.

Participants raised about $64,000 for the cause through this year’s race, according to yacht club member Chuck Chiaramonte. The sum will be split between the Lustgarten Foundation and the palliative care program, which is focused on improving patients’ quality of life.

Chiaramonte said over the six years of the regatta, the event has raised more than $300,000.

The yacht club — formerly known as the Setauket Yacht Club — supplied the boats and captains for the event, which included a parade of boats, games and face painting for children at the harborfront park, and a trophy presentation at the adjacent Village Center.

Chiaramonte said the club looks forward to the event every year.

“It was really meant to just be a joyous occasion and share the love of the water and boating with our neighbors,” he said.

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Narcan, a drug that stops opioid overdoses. File photo by Jessica Suarez

Suffolk County is hosting a Narcan training class to teach residents how to administer the life-saving drug that stops opioid overdoses.

According to the county health department, the training class meets New York State requirements and will teach attendees how to recognize and overdose on opioids such as heroin and Vicodin. They will also learn how to administer Narcan through an overdose victim’s nose and what additional steps to take until emergency medical personnel arrive on the scene.

Participants who complete the training will receive a certificate and an emergency resuscitation kit that contains Narcan, also known as naloxone.

The class will be held on Monday, Sept. 14, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at the Office of Health Education in the North County Complex, 725 Veterans Highway, Bldg. C928, Hauppauge.

For more information on the class, contact Wanda Ortiz at 631-853-4017 or wanda.ortiz@suffolkcountyny.gov.

File photo

An animal rights group has a bone to pick with Stony Brook University.

The Beagle Freedom Project, a national laboratory animal advocacy group, has filed a petition in the state Supreme Court against Stony Brook University with hopes of compelling the school to provide documents relating to Quinn, a dog being housed at the university for animal testing and research. The group, alongside supporter Melissa Andrews, made a Freedom of Information Law request to Stony Brook for documents as part of their “identity campaign,” which allows individuals to virtually adopt dogs or cats being held or used in experiments.

The petition accused Stony Brook University of failing to provide a full response to the FOIL request, providing only five pages of heavily redacted documents. Among the five pages provided was a form appearing to indicate that Quinn and his littermates had been purchased from Covance Research Products, Inc., the group said.

Currently, most universities routinely euthanize all such “purpose-bred for research” animals, the group said. In a statement, a spokesman for the Beagle Freedom Project said the group hopes that the documents help to identify opportunities to provoke post-research adoptions of healthy laboratory dogs and cats.

The petition also challenged Stony Brook University’s claim that it has no further documentation relating to Quinn, pointing out that certain documents are required to be maintained by the Animal Welfare Act and that other publicly funded universities responding to similar requests had produced hundreds of pages of documents. In the petition, BFP and Andrews argued that Stony Brook University and the other respondents did not articulate a particularized or specific justification for denying access, as required, and that there is no such justification.

“Stony Brook is either lying about the records they are keeping or they are in violation of federal recordkeeping requirements,” said Jeremy Beckham, research specialist for the Beagle Freedom Project. “Either way this is troubling and the taxpaying public, forced to fund these experiments, have a right to hold this school to account.”

Lauren Sheprow, a spokesman for Stony Brook University, said the university was unable to comment at this time.

The petition asked the Supreme Court of the State of New York to compel Stony Brook University and the other respondents to provide complete, unaltered documentation concerning Quinn. The Manhattan-based law firm Olshan Frome Wolosky LLP is representing BFP and Andrews in connection with the petition, through its pro bono program.

Through the Identity Campaign, the Beagle Freedom Project has uncovered a troubling pattern of laboratories using animals redundantly or unnecessarily for research or experimentation, providing these animals with poor veterinary care, and other abuses, a spokesman for the group said.

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By Matthew Kearns, DVM

In the Aug. 13 article we focused on the causes of chronic otitis externa (external ear infections). This article will focus on treatment. First, relieve yourself of the guilt that you did not treat the “infection” correctly. If your pet has chronic ear infections, that usually indicates some predisposing factor (usually genetic in origin). Second, get over the frustration of assuming that because we veterinarians use the term “ear infection” that if treated once, it will never return. 

Chronic otitis externa is a problem that can be managed, not cured.  Therefore, general maintenance of the ear is much better than waiting for things to get out of control. Talk to your veterinarian about ear cleaners, or if you look for an ear cleaner at the pet store make sure it states that it is a cleaner and a drying agent. This means it will have some isopropyl alcohol and usually propylene glycol to not only break up the wax but also to dry the lining of the ear canal.

Those dogs (or cats) that produce excessive wax should have their ears cleaned regularly (once to twice weekly).  If your pet’s ears are really inflamed/infected, you will need medication from your veterinarian to get things under control. However, once the infection clears up, maintenance cleaning is imperative. I have many a pet owner tell me how guilty they feel about cleaning their pet’s ears because they know it hurts and the pet runs away.

However, these same owners usually wait until there is a full-blown infection. Therefore, it is much easier to clean the ears when there is no infection, as compared to waiting until the lining of the ear canal is inflamed and sensitive.  Remember, “an ounce of prevention…”

There are some cases that get so out of hand that your veterinarian may suggest sedating your pet to obtain samples for testing (ear cultures, etc.), as well as a deep ear flush to evaluate the ear drum and the middle ear behind it. Although the problem may originate in the external ear canal, it can progress to a middle ear infection (otitis media) and systemic medication may be indicated. 

Talk to your veterinarian about exploring the underlying causes of the ear infection. As we discussed in the previous article, it is estimated that 80 to 90 percent of recurrent ear infections are secondary to allergies. Newer, more accurate blood tests can diagnose food allergies, seasonal allergies or both. Avoiding certain foods (including treats), as well as managing seasonal allergies can decrease (or sometimes eliminate altogether) the need for cleaning the ears at all. 

As a last resort, there are two surgical procedures that can be performed in severe cases. The first is called a lateral ear canal ablation. This procedure reconstructs a portion of the external ear canal so it more resembles a human ear canal. This allows better airflow and makes cleaning and treatment easier.

The second procedure is called a total ear canal ablation and bulla osteotomy, or TECA-BO (pronounced, “teeka-boo”) for short. This is reserved for end-stage ear canals where over the years so much scar tissue has developed, no medication can be introduced into the canal. This procedure involves removing the entire external ear canal and part of the middle ear as well.

A percentage of patients lose their hearing, but it will eliminate a significant source of chronic pain. The good news is that in almost every case, the patient is deaf before the surgery secondary to chronic disease. 

I hope this sheds a little light on a confusing (and sometimes frustrating) disease in pets. 

Dr. Kearns has been in practice for 16 years and is pictured with his son, Matthew, his dog, Jasmine.

Passion for music thrives thanks to eSight glasses

Justin Crilly uses the eSight electronic glasses to perform simple tasks like using a computer. Photo by Rachel Siford

By Rachel Siford

Justin Crilly of Smithtown has had an eye-opening experience.

Legally blind 16-year-old Crilly had started using eSights on his eyes and is now able to pursue his passion for music. eSights are electronic glasses that utilize a high-definition camera in the headset to capture a real-time video feed. The headset connects to the processing unit that adjusts every pixel to allow Crilly to see and also houses the battery.

The tech company is fairly new since it launched in 2013.

“When I was first considered legally blind at 3 months old, the doctors said I would never see again,” he said.

Crilly’s mother, Stacy, said she saw an ad for eSight on Facebook and was intrigued. They went to a demo in the city and tried a pair out, and immediately fell in love with them.

“I don’t have to squint walking down the hallway anymore,” he said. “Now I can see when I go to a concert or a movie.”

Justin Crilly sports the eSight glasses, which help him overcome blindness. Photo by Rachel Siford
Justin Crilly sports the eSight glasses, which help him overcome blindness. Photo by Rachel Siford

Crilly’s mother has noticed considerable differences in her son’s behavior since he started wearing the glasses this past March.

“The eSights have increased his independence tremendously,” his mother said. “It makes me less afraid for him to go out into the world.”

She went on to say that it gives him the freedom to do anything he wants, like go away to college when he graduates if he so chooses.

“There was always this worry about how far was he going to make it independently, but now I am elated to know that he can be as independent as anybody else,” Stacy Crilly said. “In a way these glasses freed him from his disability.”

According to his mother, since Justin Crilly was a baby, he always gravitated toward music. He has been looking into music schools for the past several years, excited about where to go to college to pursue a career in music production.

He has been taking music theory and recording at Hauppauge High School for the past year. He is able to plug his eSights directly into the computer, making using the software to make music, at home and at school, much easier. Justin Crilly has taken voice, piano and drum lessons throughout his life and has recently started learning how to DJ at Spin DJ Academy in Hauppauge.

Before he started using eSights, it took Justin Crilly about three hours or more to do homework every night, but now he can knock it out in an hour.

He said he wants to show people that anyone with disabilities can do anything they want.

“I want people to hear my music and think ‘despite that he has a disability, he still made music sound that good,’” Justin Crilly said. “No matter if you have a disability or not, you can do anything with your life.”

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Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone signs the county’s tobacco age law. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone and Health Commissioner James Tomarken encouraged residents who use tobacco to break their addiction through the “Learn to Be Tobacco Free” program.

“We are promoting good health to all residents in Suffolk County,” Bellone said. “For those who are addicted to tobacco or nicotine products, we urge them to get the support they need to prevent illnesses that are caused by tobacco.”

Smithtown’s session was scheduled at Smithtown Public Library, 1 North Country Road on Mondays from 6 to 7 p.m. on Sept. 21, 28, Oct. 5, 19, 26 and Nov. 2.

The classes are free to Suffolk County residents, though there is a nominal fee for medication for medically eligible participants.

“Breaking an addiction to nicotine can be very difficult,” Tomarken said. “Studies have shown that smokers who try to quit smoking using a combination of behavioral support and medicine are three times more likely to be successful than those who try to stop smoking without support.”

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A group of new Stony Brook medical students display their first stethoscopes, donated by the school’s alumni association. Photo from Stony Brook University School of Medicine

The 132 first-year students of the Stony Brook University School of Medicine Class of 2019 — the largest ever in the school’s history — officially began their training with the school’s annual White Coat Ceremony.

At the Aug. 23 event, the incoming medical students received their first physician-in-training white coats and took the Hippocratic oath for the first time. The Class of 2019 is a talented and diverse group coming from New York State, eight other states, and around the world.

Only 7.4 percent of the total 5,255 applicants were accepted. A larger portion of students in this class, compared to previous incoming classes, already have advanced degrees. A total of 23 hold advanced degrees, including one Ph.D., one Doctor of Pharmacy, 18 masters’ and three Masters in Public Health.

“Today is a celebratory and symbolic day for all of you. As you receive your first white coats, enjoy the honor and responsibility that comes with wearing the white coat,” said Kenneth Kaushansky, senior vice president of Health Sciences and dean of the School of Medicine. “Medicine is a field unmatched in the range of emotions you will experience. You will be struck by many firsts — your first newborn delivery, your first sharing of a diagnosis of cancer, the first patient you will see cured, and your first patient death. And never forget that your journey will require lifelong learning, as you take part in many advances in the art and the science of medicine in the years to come.”

Among the many accomplished members of the Class of 2019 include Tony Wan, the son of Chinese immigrants, who enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps right after high school. He served two tours in Iraq — where his duties included providing first aid to fellow soldiers.

He then left the military and pursued college at CUNY-York College, where he graduated as class valedictorian in 2012. After seeing too many of his fellow Marines with life-changing injuries, he’s motivated toward becoming a neurologist specializing in traumatic brain injuries. Wan said he particularly wants to work to improve the care of veterans.

Persis Puello, a mother of two and the oldest incoming student, at 34 years of age, is also part of the 2019 class. She earned advanced degrees from Columbia University, a Master of Science in Applied Physiology and Nutrition; and from Stony Brook, a Master of Science in Physiology and Biophysics. Her career as an athletic trainer and nutritionist inspired her to work toward becoming an orthopedic surgeon and, eventually, a team doctor.

She credited support from her husband and her sister for enabling her to raise her two young children, ages 3 and 8, while pursing the challenge of a career in medicine.

Nicholas Tsouris, who grew up in Stony Brook and is a former professional lacrosse player, was part of a team of fellow students hailed by Popular Mechanics magazine as “Backyard Geniuses” for their invention of a spoke-less bicycle. After graduating from Yale, he worked on Wall Street while playing major league lacrosse, later deciding to pursue medicine.

The school has steadily increased its incoming class size over the past several years in order to address the significant shortage of physicians nationally, as cited by the Association of American Medical Colleges.

New to the ceremony this year was the presentation of a stethoscope to each student to accompany with their white coats. The school’s alumni association donated the 132 stethoscopes for the event.

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