Stony Brook University

Compliments of Anita Jo Lago

Hometown: Stony Brook

Day job: Production Manager for Marketing and Communications at Stony Brook Medicine.

“The rapid pace of invention in photography technologies has changed what we are capable of capturing. The art in photography is expanding and nothing seems impossible in terms of imagining what a photo can be of, look like or what camera (or mobile device) it can be taken with. Creativity has no boundaries and is never ending. To be riding that wave at this moment is very exciting.”

Photographer: “I started taking photos back in the late ‘80s on film cameras. I got more serious in 2002 when I started travelling and wanted to capture what I saw during walks around cities. After my office changed locations in 2014, I found myself passing the Frank Melville Park in Setauket daily. That sparked my curiosity in nature and started my latest adventure in photography.”

Favorite camera: “I find the Nikon D850 and the Canon 5D Mark 4 to be very challenging and rewarding cameras.”

Favorite lenses: “For macro photography (extreme close-up photography), Nikon 200mm f/4, Voigtlander 125mm f/2.5 and Canon 65mm f/2.8 are all fantastic lenses. They have taught me a true test of patience. Zoom lenses like the Nikon 70-200mm f/2.8G, Canon 100-400 f/4.5-5.6 and Nikon 200-500mm f/5.6E have a great range for capturing wildlife near and far.”

Favorite location: “Frank Melville Park is a hidden treasure. The environment and “vibe” of the park is peaceful. The Red Barn, Mill House and Bates House give the sense of history of the land and community. The North and South Ponds, the trails, the gardens, all contribute in ‘packing a punch’ when it comes to the beauty of nature and wildlife. Experiencing rare bird sightings, watching eggs hatch, nestlings learning to fly, bird migrations, reemerging turtles after winter hibernation, beekeeping … there are millions of happenings, hours of enjoyment, something for everyone. Every visit is a memorable one. Imagine taking photos there!

Other hobbies: “Besides spending time watching wildlife year-round, I enjoy computer technology, learning about mute swans, craft beer and finding a great slice of pizza!”  

Best advice to get that perfect shot: ‘Take photos of things that you’re immersed in, that you feel a deep connection with and that you love being around. If you shoot often enough, there comes a point where you don’t realize you have a camera in your hands and that your eye is looking through the viewfinder. There, you are in the zone — you found the sweet spot. Those are the photos that you will cherish as perfect.”

Favorite aspect about taking photos: Getting lost looking through the viewfinder. The excitement of seeing what I’m seeing is astonishing. There is so much discovery unfolding in nature that goes unnoticed. To have an opportunity to share those photo stories with others is extremely gratifying. It’s fulfilling to connect others to things they may never have an opportunity to experience and see firsthand.” 

Lori Chan, standing, in the lab with doctoral student Jiabei He. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

It’s like a factory that makes bombs. Catching and removing the bombs is helpful, but it doesn’t end the battle because, even after many or almost all of the bombs are rounded up, the factory can continue to produce damaging products.

That’s the way triple-negative breast cancer operates. Chemotherapy can reduce active cancer cells, but it doesn’t stop the cancer stem cell from going back into the cancer-producing business, bringing the dreaded disease back to someone who was in remission.

Scientists who stop these cancer stem cells would be doing the equivalent of shutting down the factory, reducing the possible return of a virulent type of cancer.

Lori Chan, an assistant professor in the Department of Pharmacological Sciences in the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University, recently published research in Cell Death & Disease that demonstrated the role of a specific gene in the cancer stem cell pathway. Called USP2, this gene is overexpressed in 30 percent of all triple-negative breast cancers.

Inhibiting this gene reduced the production of the tumor in a mouse model of the disease.

Chan’s results “suggest a very important role [of this gene] in cancer stem cells,” Yusuf Hannun, the director of the Stony Brook University Cancer Center, explained in an email.

Lori Chan with her dog KoKo. Photo by Joshua Lee

Chan used a genetic and a pharmacological approach to inhibit USP2 and found that both ways shrink the cancer stem cell population. She used RNA interference to silence the gene and the protein expression, and she also used a USP2-specific small molecular inhibitor to block the activity of the USP2 protein.

With the knowledge that the cancer stem cell factory population needs this USP2 gene, Chan inhibited the gene while providing doxurubicin, which is a chemotherapy treatment. The combination of treatments suppressed the tumor growth by 50 percent.

She suggested that the USP2 gene can serve as a biomarker for the lymph metastasis of triple-negative breast cancer. She doesn’t know if it could be used as a biomarker in predicting a response to chemotherapy. Patients with a high expression of this gene may not respond as well to standard treatment.

“If a doctor knows that a patient probably wouldn’t respond well to chemotherapy, the doctor may want to reconsider whether you want to put your patient in a cycle for chemotherapy, which always causes side effects,” Chan said.

While this finding is an encouraging sign and may allow doctors to use this gene to determine the best treatment, the potential clinical benefit of this discovery could still be a long way off, as any potential clinical approach would require careful testing to understand the consequences of a new therapy.

“This is the beginning of a long process to get to clinical trials and clinical use,” Hannun wrote. Indeed, researchers would need to understand whether any treatment caused side effects to the heart, liver and other organs, Chan added. 

In the future, doctors at a clinical cancer center might perform a genomic diagnostic, to know exactly what type of cancer an individual has. Reducing the cancer stem cell population can be critically important in leading to a favorable clinical outcome.

A few hundred cancer cells can give rise to millions of cancer cells. “I want to let chemotherapy do its job in killing cancer cells and let [cancer stem cell] targeted agents, such as USP2 inhibitors, prevent the tumor recurrence,” Chan said. 

She urges members of the community to screen for cancer routinely. A patient diagnosed in stage 1 has a five-year survival rate of well over 90 percent, while that rate plummets to 15 to 20 percent for patients diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.

The next step in Chan’s research is to look for ways to refine the inhibitor to make it more of a drug and less of a compound. She is also interested in exploring whether USP2 can be involved in other cancers, such as lung and prostate, and would be happy to collaborate with other scientists who focus on these types of cancers.

For Chan, the moment of recognition of the value of studying this gene in this form of breast cancer came when she compared the currently used drug with and without the inhibitor compound. With the inhibitor, the drug becomes much more effective.

A resident of Stony Brook, Chan lives with her husband, Joshua Lee, who is working in the same lab. The couple, who have a 1½-year-old rescue dog from Korea named KoKo, met when they were in graduate school.

Concerned about snow, which she hadn’t experienced when she was growing up in Taiwan, Chan started her tenure at Stony Brook five years ago on April 1, on the same day a snowstorm blanketed the area. “It was a very challenging first day,” she recalled. She now appreciates snow and enjoys the seasonal variety on Long Island.

Chan decided to pursue a career in cancer research after she volunteered at a children’s cancer hospital in Taiwan. She saw how desperate the parents and the siblings of the patient were. In her role as a volunteer, she played with the patients and with their siblings, some of whom she felt didn’t receive as much attention from parents who were worried about their sick siblings.

“This kind of disease doesn’t just take away one person’s life,” Chan said. “It destroys the whole family.” When she went to graduate school, she wanted to know everything she could about how cancer works.

Some day Chan hopes she can be a part of a process that helps doctors find an array of inhibitors that are effective in treating patients whose cancers involve the overexpression of different genes. “It would be a privilege to participate in this process,” she said.

Belle (Emma Watson) comes to realize that underneath the hideous exterior of the Beast (Dan Stevens) there is the kind heart of a Prince in Disney's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST, a live-action adaptation of the studio's animated classic directed by Bill Condon. © 2016 Disney Enterprises inc. All Rights Reserved.

Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook will host a concert by the Stony Brook Wind Ensemble on the Main Stage on Wednesday, April 17 at 7:30 p.m.

Conducted by Bruce Engel, the program will include Samuel Barber’s “Overture to the School for Scandal,” Franz Schubert’s “Unfinished Symphony (1st movement),” “Bolero by Maurice Ravel, “An American in Paris” by George Gershwin, “Beauty and the Beast” by Allan Menken and “Pines of the Appian Way” by Ottorino Respighi/

Tickets are $10 adults, $5 students and seniors. For more information, call 631-632-2787 or visit www.stallercenter.com.

Sean Clouston

By Daniel Dunaief

Every year, the country pauses on 9/11, remembering the victims of the terrorist attacks and reflecting on the safety and security of the country. At the same time, a Stony Brook University study continues not only to remember the first responders but also to understand the physical and mental consequences of the work police, firefighters and other first responders performed in the immediate aftermath of the attacks.

Benjamin Luft

Recently, Sean Clouston, an associate professor in the Department of Family, Population & Preventive Medicine at SBU Renaissance School of Medicine, and Ben Luft, the director of the SBU WTC Health and Wellness Program since 2003, published research in which they demonstrated a link between a protein commonly connected with Alzheimer’s disease to post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, in first responders.

In a small preliminary study, the researchers found a difference in the level of the protein between first responders who are battling chronic PTSD and those who aren’t battling the condition. The Stony Brook scientists published their work in the journal Alzheimer’s & Dementia: Diagnosis, Assessment & Disease Monitoring.

The researchers cautioned that the presence of the markers doesn’t necessarily indicate anything about present or future changes in cognitive function.“We don’t know the specificity of the markers,” Luft explained in an email.

Amyloid is generally considered the earliest marker of Alzheimer’s disease, which includes cognitive decline. Some people, however, have significant amounts of amyloid and don’t develop problems with their thinking. Neurodegenerative diseases without amyloid rarely have severe symptoms, which don’t appear to worsen with time.

“This paper doesn’t look at cognitive symptoms,” Clouston said. “We do have papers looking at cognitive impairment and other memory-based differences. It wasn’t a part of this paper.”

The newest research is part of an ongoing program in which the university follows 11,000 responders who came to the World Trade Center. The study for this paper involved a smaller subset of this population. This type of research can and does have application to other studies of people who have traumatic experiences, the scientists suggest.

Most traumatic experiences are unique to each person, as people who suffer physical and emotional trauma in combat often confront the aftereffects of head injuries. Among the first responder population who survived the attacks on 9/11, most of them “faired pretty well physically,” Clouston said. 

“We didn’t have a lot of head injuries. Understanding PTSD in this crowd is really useful for the literature as a whole because it allows us to focus on the long-term psychiatric fallout of an event without worrying about exposures that are different.”

The scientists had at least some idea of the timing and duration of exposures. This research suggests that it might be helpful to think about the kinds of problems that cognitive impairment can cause, which might involve managing other health-related problems.

Luft added that the population they are studying shows the benefit of immediate care. “One thing for sure is that the care of the first responders has to occur very quickly,” he said. “Now that we know the history, the greatest chance you have in mitigating the effect of this type of trauma is to deal with the problem from the get-go.” 

Sean Clouston with his daughter Quinn at Benner’s Farm in Setaukt. with his daughter Quinn. Photo by Rachel Kidman

First responders have benefited from psychotherapy as well as from various pharmacological treatments. Luft suggested that they might even benefit from having therapists available in the field, where they can receive near instantaneous psychological support.

In addition to the psychological trauma, first responders have had physical effects from their work in the aftermath of the attacks, such as respiratory and gastrointestinal problems, as well as autoimmunity issues.

People have these problems because “of the pro-inflammatory effect of PTSD itself,” said Luft. The researchers believe trauma can affect the immune system and the brain.

According to Clouston, the next step with this work is to replicate it with a larger scale. The experiment was “fairly expensive and untried in this population and novel in general, so we started small,” he explained in an email. The scientists would like to “get a larger range of responders and to examine issues surrounding symptomatology and other possible explanations.”

Clouston has been at Stony Brook for six years. Prior to his arrival on Long Island, he worked on a collaborative project that was shared between University College London and the University of Victoria. 

An expert in aging, he felt like his arrival came at just the right time for the WTC study, as many of the first responders were turning 50. After giving talks about the cognitive and physical effects of aging, he met Luft and the two decided to collaborate within six months of his arrival.

Clouston is focused on whether PTSD caused by the terrorist attacks themselves have caused early brain aging. A self-proclaimed genetics neophyte, he appreciates the opportunity to work with other researchers who have considerably more experience in searching for molecular signatures of trauma.

Clouston said his family has suffered through the trauma of cognitive decline during the aging process. His family’s struggles “definitely bring [the research] home,” reminding him of the “terror that many family members feel when they start noticing problems in their siblings, parents, spouses, etc.”

As for his work on the recent study, he said he is excited about the next steps. “Little is known about the subtypes of amyloid,” he suggested and there’s a “lot more to explore about the role [of this specific type] in the population. I do think it could be really informative about the types of symptoms.”

Stony Brook University Hospital plans to launch two mobile emergency room units in the spring designed to treat stroke patients.
Lifesaving service for the community

By Ernest J. Baptiste

Ernest Baptiste

According to a study in the American Heart Association’s journal Stroke, when a blood vessel supplying the brain is blocked, nearly two million brain cells are lost for each minute that passes, making stroke one of the most time-sensitive diagnoses in medicine. The faster blood flow can be restored to the brain, the more likely that a person will have a full recovery.

That said, Suffolk County residents now have one more reason to look to Stony Brook Medicine for the highest level of care for both ischemic stroke (when a clot blocks the flow of blood to the brain) and hemorrhagic stroke (bleeding within the brain tissue).   

This month we are launching Long Island’s first mobile stroke unit program — a revolutionary pre-hospital program designed to provide specialized, lifesaving care to people within the critical moments of stroke before they even get to the hospital.

While new to Long Island, mobile stroke units have successfully reduced stroke disability and have improved survival rates in other major metropolitan areas across the country. Stony Brook Medicine is collaborating with over 40 emergency medical service (EMS) agencies throughout Suffolk County to provide this lifesaving, time-sensitive care.

Each mobile stroke unit is a mobile emergency room with a full crew of first responders, brain imaging equipment and medications. The units also have telehealth capability to Stony Brook University Hospital, which allows our physicians at the hospital to communicate in real time with the crew and patient, and immediately check for a blocked vessel or bleeding in the brain. This helps to markedly accelerate the time needed to make an accurate stroke diagnosis.

The first responders onboard the mobile stroke unit can then begin administering time-sensitive, advanced stroke treatments while the person is en route to the nearest hospital that can provide them with the appropriate level of care. 

The units are in operation seven days a week, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m., which is the window of time when most stroke calls are received in Suffolk County.

One is strategically stationed at a base station located off of the Long Island Expressway at Exit 57. The other, which will be launched soon, will be stationed similarly off of Exit 68. These locations were chosen for easy east-west and north-south access. The team will take calls within a 10-mile radius of each base, which includes about 40 different communities.

Ernest J. Baptiste is chief executive officer of Stony Brook University Hospital.

Micayla Beyer, center, with teammates Luke Solak and Melanie Young at a recent fundraiser. Photo from Micayla Beyer

A team of Stony Brook University students is preparing for the journey of a lifetime to help those in need, all while bringing awareness to the lack of access to clean water in impoverished villages around the world.

Micayla Beyer, 21, a senior who is majoring in physics and German, is heading up a group of 14 SBU students. The team will climb up the 19,341-foot Mount Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Africa, stopping along the way to help villages with limited access to clean water. The trip is in conjunction with WaterAid, an international nonprofit dedicated to improving access to clean water, hygiene and sanitation in the world’s poorest communities. Beyer said she learned about WaterAid through the organization Choose a Challenge, which pairs student travelers with a cause. To be eligible for the week-long Kilimanjaro trip, which begins May 29, each team member has to raise $6,000.

Nearly 100 SBU students attended an information session held on campus to learn more about the trek and the charity. Photo from Micayla Beyer

Kaylie White, engagement and support care associate for WaterAid America, said the organization has been working with Choose a Challenge for more than a year now, and the philanthropic treks can be a learning experience for students.

“Often on adventure trips like the Kilimanjaro one, students will be faced with lack of access to clean water and modern toilets as well, which is an opportunity for them to think more critically about how important those basic necessities are,” she said.

White said the trip challenges students both physically and emotionally, as they learn about the problems that are caused by a lack of access to clean water, dependable toilets and good hygiene.

“We hope that after participating in this trek, students will continue to be advocates of our work and spread awareness for the global water crisis,” White said.

Beyer, a 2015 Harborfields High School graduate, said she feels it’s important for people to know that there are areas in the world where residents don’t have access to clean water, and who sometimes have to travel miles to the nearest water source. Many times children will also help to retrieve the water, she said, and therefore are unable to attend school.

The college student said the trek, which will be her first trip outside of North America, is something that can be done with minimal training as the students only need to carry a personal backpack while guides and porters help to carry heavier items such as tents. She said she and the others will be grateful for the help as she admits, “we’re probably not as fit as we should be.”

To help students prepare, White said she and her colleague Elena Marmo, help students with their fundraising goals. They encourage efforts like bake sales and on-campus events, and in the past, some students ran 5ks for donations. She said Beyer has been an incredible advocate for WaterAid at SBU.

White said the plan is to have eight students from SBU participate in the trek, which will raise $25,000 for the organization and fund projects at two schools overseas to install clean water technologies, bathroom facilities, handwashing facilities and hygiene programming.

“That will make an incredible difference in the lives of children — allowing kids to grow up healthy and strong, staying in school so they can pursue their dreams,” White added.

Team member Mary Bertschi

Mary Bertschi, 22, a SBU marine biology major, plans to join Beyer on the mission. She said she was excited to participate because she studied in Madagascar in the fall of 2017 where she learned how many poor villages have limited access to clean water and toilets. During that trip, she and other students tested the parasite loads in young people in five different villages and found 85 percent of those tested had at least one waterborne parasite. She also learned that one in nine people doesn’t have access to clean water.

“That stuck with me,” Bertschi said.

While in Madagascar, Bertschi said SBU students had ways to clean water, including LifeStraw filters, but they did have to bathe at times in the dirty rivers and streams. She said the mild introduction to limited access to clean water was eye-opening for her.

Both students are near their goals of raising $6,000, and March 30, Greenporter Hotel in Greenport, where Bertschi works, will hold a fundraiser for the nonprofit.

Bertschi said the students will have to be realistic about how much ground they can cover on the mountain and will have to watch for altitude sickness, but she said the challenges during the trip will be worth it.

“I hope people recognize what a large issue this is, the lack of access to clean water, and the lack of access to toilets and sanitation and hygiene education,” Bertschi said. “I feel like that is something that a lot of people don’t really understand the severity.”

Beyer said she and her teammates are already learning from the experience.

“This path from signing up for the trek to reaching the summit of Kilimanjaro is the hardest thing any of us have gone through — it requires incredible time management, self-discipline, a positive attitude, insane creativity and networking skills, all to fundraise the 6K each and summit the third tallest mountain in the world,” Beyer said. “The best part about this whole thing so far is that we’re making an impact on so many people’s lives and bringing awareness of this water crisis to Long Island where we have some of the best water imaginable.”

To learn more about the Kilimanjaro trek, visit us.wateraid.org/team/185472.

Alexander Orlov, right, with former students, Peichuan Shen and Shen Zhao. File photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Alexander Orlov knows first-hand about the benefits and dangers of technology. A native of the Ukraine, Orlov and his family lived close enough to Chernobyl that the 1986 nuclear power plant disaster forced the family to bring a Geiger counter to the supermarket. In his career, the associate professor in the Material Science and Chemical Engineering Department at Stony Brook University has dedicated himself to unlocking energy from alternatives to fossil fuels, while he also seeks to understand the environmental consequences of the release of nanoparticles.

Orlov, who is a member of a US-EU working group on Risk Assessment of Nanomaterials and has served as science adviser to several congressmen, the EU Commission and governments in Europe and Asia, recently spoke with Times Beacon Record News Media about this expanding scientific field.

Alexander Orlov File photo

TBR: Is a big part of what you do understanding the way small particles can help or hurt people and the environment?

Orlov: Yes, we have two lines of research. The first is to make efficient nanoparticles, which can help create sustainable energy by creating energy from water or by taking carbon dioxide, which is greenhouse gas, and converting it into fuel. On the other side, we have a project, which is looking at the dangers of nanoparticles in the environment, because there are more and more products, thousands, which contain nanoparticles. We are trying to understand the mechanism of release of those particles.

TBR: How do you monitor the release of nanomaterials?

Orlov: We use labels, and we track them. If they are released from consumer products, it’s not necessarily that they are immediately dangerous. They can be. We are trying to quantify how much is released.

TBR: How do you determine toxicity?

Orlov: In the scientific arena, there is a qualitative discussion, if chemicals or nanomaterials are released, they will be toxic. That is only the beginning. We need to discuss how much is released. There’s a principal in toxicology that everything is toxic. If you drink too much water, it can be toxic and you can die. Similar [rules] apply for nanomaterials. If there is a little released, the danger might be minimal. If it’s too much, that’s where you might get concerned. [The amount of a nanomaterial released] is often not quantified. That’s what we are trying to do.

TBR: How do you determine what might be toxic over a prolonged period of time?

Orlov: What we have in our studies are determined by funding. Normally, funding for scientific research has a three-year window. The studies have been done over the course of years, but not decades, and so the cumulative exposure is still an open question. Another problem is that different scientific groups study nanomaterials which are not the same. That means there are so many variants. Sometimes, navigating the literature is almost impossible.

TBR: Are the studies on toxicity keeping up with the development of new products?

Orlov: [The technology is] developing so fast. New materials are coming from different labs and have so many potential applications, which are exciting and novel in their properties. People studying safety and toxicity often can’t catch up with what they are studying in their lab.

TBR: Are there efforts to recapture nanomaterials released into the environment?

Orlov: Once released, it’s difficult to recapture. [It’s almost] like air pollution, where as soon as it’s in the atmosphere, it can go anywhere. There are industries that use nanomaterials. Soon, you’ll see 3-D printers in the household; 3-D printers would use polymers and embedded nanomaterials. There are already products like this. The question is how you would minimize consumer exposure. There are several ways: design safer products where nanomaterials aren’t going to be released; apply the standard methods of occupational safety; put equipment in ventilated environment; and you can also try to calculate the exposure.

TBR: Are you monitoring nanomaterials in some of these applications?

Orlov: The research we’ve done demonstrated that, even though you have something in polymer or in consumer products, [there is] still [the] possibility of release of nanomaterials, even though it is considered safe. The polymer itself can degrade.

TBR: Do you have any nanoparticle nightmares?

Orlov: Often, the only nightmares I have is that my understanding of the field is so minuscule given that the field is expanding so fast. The amount of knowledge generated and papers published in this is so vast that no single individual can have a comprehensive knowledge in this field. The only way to address it is to collaborate.

TBR: How is the funding environment?

Orlov: In the United States, there’s a significant amount of funding in both fundamental and applied research, but the policy priorities change in certain areas such as environmental protection, so that affects scientists who are working in the environmental area. I teach environmental classes at Stony Brook. Students ask whether it makes sense to go into environmental protection because of the current funding and general policies.

TBR: What do you advise them to do?

Orlov: I tell them priorities change. At the end of the day, would they like to have clean water and a healthy environment and healthy humans? You can find a niche. It doesn’t make sense to abandon this area.

TBR: You experienced the fallout from Chernobyl firsthand. How often do you think about this?

Orlov: I do think about this often for several reasons. There is an overlap in energy and the environment. This idea that scientific discoveries have positive and negative impacts on humanity came during that time. When I was in the Ukraine and disaster happened, I think about this a lot of times.

TBR: How does a career in science compare to your expectations?

Orlov: My original thinking is that after you get to a certain level, you have a more measured life, in terms of free time and time spent in research. I didn’t realize that the amount of funding or probability of getting funding is becoming very low. When I looked at my colleagues who were scientists 30 years ago, they had a five times higher chance of getting funding compared to right now. Being in science is not as relaxing and it can be stressful and the thing is, if you only focus on getting funding, the creativity can suffer.

TBR: Are there other examples of the dichotomy between scientific promise and destruction?

Orlov: In my introductory lecture to chemical engineers at Stony Brook, one scientist who affected more people than Stalin or Hitler was a German scientist who developed the process of converting nitrogen [gas] to ammonia [which is used for fertilizer]. Half of the population exists because of this scientific discovery. [One of the inventors, Fritz Haber, received the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1918 for this work, called the Haber-Bosch process].

TBR: What else did he do?

Orlov: Haber had a dark side to him. He was involved in developing chemical weapons for Germans [which were used during World War I and World War II]. The [extension of his] discoveries killed millions of people [including Haber’s relatives in World War II after he died]. Considered the father of chemical warfare, he developed the process of weaponizing chlorine gas. This is [a way] to discuss the ethics of scientific discovery.

TBR: How would people learn about these examples?

Orlov: Stony Brook and other universities are trying to teach ethics to engineers and scientists because this is a perfect example of the dark side of science and how science and policy overlap.

From left, Dan O’Brien, area director, Panera Bread, Doherty Enterprises Inc.; Jennifer Fitzgibbon, oncological dietician and coordinator for the Healthy Forks Survivorship program, Stony Brook University Hospital; and Jackie Boyd, general manager of Panera Bread at Stony Brook University Hospital. Photo from BML Public Relations

Panera Bread, makers of bread items, soups, salads, sandwiches and more, celebrated the grand opening of its new café at Stony Brook University Hospital, 101 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook on March 11. Owned and operated by franchisee Doherty Enterprises, the restaurant will employ about 60 people, according to a company statement.

Prior to its opening, the café and hospital personnel hosted a fundraiser for the Stony Brook University Cancer Center where employees donated directly to the Cancer Center, raising a total of $1,500.

The café is open daily from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. and is located on the fifth floor of the hospital in a newly constructed wing named The Brook.

For further information, call 631-632-6000.

Dr. David Fiorella with patient Danielle Santilli who received a new treatment for aneurysms. Photo by Greg Filiano

By Daniel Dunaief

desk@tbrnewsmedia.com

Danielle Santilli grappled with numerous discomforts, from headaches to nausea to dizziness, especially when she traveled in a car or stood up quickly. After a series of tests, however, she learned she had a wide-necked bifurcation aneurysm, which is one of the more common types of aneurysms.

A diagnosis that has potentially severe consequences, an aneurysm is an area in a blood vessel that grows like a balloon. If it ruptures, it can cause dangerous bleeding.

Santilli became a patient of Stony Brook Medicine’s interventional radiologist and professor of neurological surgery and radiology David Fiorella. Santilli was thrilled with the timing, as Fiorella was a co-principal investigator on a recently completed U.S. Food and Drug Administration study for a minimally invasive surgical technique that involves implanting a Woven EndoBridge or WEB.

“I feel very fortunate,” Santilli said of the opportunity to be one of the first to receive the treatment.

The FDA approved the use of the WEB in January. European doctors have used it effectively since 2011.

The WEB is a spherical structure that’s braided out of fine-shaped memory filaments of metal called nitinol, which is a combination of nickel and titanium. The WEB behaves more like a rubber band than a paper clip and wants to return to its original shape. Doctors insert it into a microcatheter in the femoral artery near the groin. Once they release it in an aneurysm and stretch it out, the WEB expands into a spherical shape inside the blood vessel.

The body grows new tissue over the aneurysm neck along the metal mesh, which is akin to sealing off a well.

The alternative for people with this type of aneurysm can often involve more invasive, open-brained surgery, Fiorella said.

The procedure takes about 40 minutes and often requires a one-night hospital stay. Patients with a WEB procedure also require aspirin for a short period, compared with six months of a blood thinner and then aspirin for much longer periods for other surgical alternatives.

Fiorella explained that there were two types of aneurysms. An unruptured version typically doesn’t have any symptoms. Doctors usually discover these through a screening for other symptoms or because of a family history. Patients in this group sometimes receive scans for different and unrelated reasons.

Robert Walsh, a 66-year-old retiree and resident of South Jamesport, went to a doctor to check himself out after his younger sister died earlier this year from an aneurysm. Tests revealed that he, too, had an aneurysm.

A month after his sister died, Walsh had the WEB procedure.

Fiorella and his staff “are probably the best I’ve ever encountered,” Walsh said. “I’m impressed with him and his entire staff for everything they did, with follow-ups, calling in prescriptions, getting my pre-op ready. I have a lot of confidence in Dr. Fiorella.”

People with a ruptured aneurysm are dealing with bleeding into their brain. This typically causes symptoms like the worst headache people have ever had, vomiting or a loss of consciousness of rapid neurological deterioration.

The survival rate for people in these circumstances is lower and depends on whether they make it to the hospital.

The WEB is helpful for patients who have a ruptured aneurysm. Other techniques, such as stents, are not usable for patients under these conditions.

“A lot of other tools are off the table” with a ruptured aneurysm, but the WEB is “very effective,” Fiorella said.

Some potential patients with a wide-necked bifurcation may not be good candidates for a WEB because their aneurysm is too small or too large for the device.

Stony Brook has extensive experience with the WEB. Doctors who want to perform a similar procedure at other hospitals need extensive training from experienced physicians who can prepare them for the procedure.

Long Island residents should know they have a “major center right here that’s doing work that surpasses anything going on in Long Island or, in most cases, in the city” with endovascular surgery, Fiorella said.

Santilli feels the doctor “saved my life,” and is delighted that she “doesn’t have to worry about using a blood thinner.”

The procedure changed the way Santilli and her family live. They are making healthier lifestyle choices. She and her husband Frank are cutting back on smoking, and she is also buying fruit instead of sugary snacks for the house.

Santilli said she feels fortunate that Fiorella was able to perform the procedure.

“I feel like I got a second chance,” she said.

Stony Brook University’s Larry Swanson, center, with fellow Ocean Acidification Task Force members Carl Safina, left, and Malcolm Bowman, right. Photo from Stony Brook University

By Daniel Dunaief

Larry Swanson has led research teams over far-flung water bodies, worked for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as a commissioned officer for 27 years and has been a fixture at Stony Brook University for over three decades. 

A former dean at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at SBU and current professor, Swanson, who is a member of New York’s Ocean Acidification Task force, was recently interviewed by Times Beacon Record News Media about his life in science.

TBR: How has science changed over the years?

Swanson: Some of the most significant things are the electronic tools that we have today. If you go back to when I was starting, if you wanted a water sample, and to collect temperature at five miles deep in the ocean, it was a very, very long tedious process. 

When you got that water sample on deck, if you wanted to simply measure salinity, you had to do a chemical titration. If you were doing that over five miles deep, below the first 1,000 meters, you might take a sample every half a mile or something like that. You couldn’t take a lot of samples. 

Now, you lower an instrument and you get a continuous trace of temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen and other parameters, every few tenths of a meter. We are sort of overwhelmed with data now.

TBR: That must change the way people conduct experiments.

Swanson: When I first started, every data point you collected was extremely valuable and if you lost it, you really lost a lot of time, a lot of energy. It was something you could never recover. With modern instrumentation, you can do so much more and do much of it remotely; you don’t have to go to sea for seven or nine months to do that.

TBR: What are some of the biggest discoveries in your field?

Swanson: This is not necessarily things I have done. The theory of plate tectonics was established. We drilled through the crust of the earth to the mantle and we have discovered hydrothermal vents. We’ve got enough data now that we’re collecting through satellites, direct measurement in oceans in more detail, that we can really talk about changes in the global environment, whether it’s temperature increase, carbon dioxide increase and so forth. 

Those are all things that have taken place over my lifetime in oceanography. We can see what we’re doing to ourselves much more clearly today because of new technology.

TBR: What is one of the great debates in science today?

Swanson: I think trying to understand the impacts of climate change is at the forefront for everyone that’s dealing with ocean and atmospheric sciences. We don’t know all the answers and we haven’t convinced everyone it’s an issue. 

Whether or not it’s driven by people, that [debate] will continue for years to come. We’re going to bear some of the consequences of climate change before we’ve adequately convinced people that we’ve got to change our lifestyle.

TBR: What about local challenges?

Swanson: The notion of ocean acidification and how rapidly it’s changing is a local challenge. What will the consequences of it be if we don’t try to ameliorate it and what do we need to do in order to make it less of a problem? How are we going to build resiliency and reverse it?

TBR: Is there a scientific message you wish people knew?

Swanson: Scientists in general do not communicate well with the public and part of the problem is because we speak in jargon. We don’t talk to [the public] in proper ways that meet their level of understanding or knowledge. We’ve done that poorly. 

For another thing, scientists can be faulted with regard to developing policy. The scientists’ work is never done. If you go to Congress and they ask, “What are we going to do to fix the problem?,” scientists will say, “Give me more money for research and I’ll get back to you.” 

So, there’s a disconnect in terms of time frames over which we operate. [Members of Congress] operate 2 to 4 years out, while scientists operate sometimes over lifetimes. We haven’t been able to bridge that gap.

TBR: Is that improving at all?

Swanson: One of the great things that Stony Brook now has is the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, which is helping all the scientists here that are willing to participate in trying to do a better job of communicating. It’s making a difference and having an impact that is meaningful. It’s always good to try to put your science in the most simplistic terms possible, even if it’s a drawing or cartoon that’s helpful.

TBR: What are your future goals?

Swanson: I am hopeful  the new task force can come up with a meaningful ocean acidification action plan. I’m very pleased to be part of that group.

TBR: If you were to start your oceanography career today, what would you do differently?

Swanson: If I were to start over, I would get a master’s degree in oceanography, not a doctorate, and then I would try to get an environmental law degree. The reason I would probably do that is that I think environmental law is the best way to make an immediate impact on society. I firmly believe that one should not be an environmental lawyer until one is a fairly good scientist.

TBR: How many more years before you retire?

Swanson: I’d say a maximum of three and a minimum of one. I’m often asked, “Why are you still working?” First of all, I enjoy it and I think one of the exciting things about being an oceanographer is that there’s never been a dull day. 

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