Stony Brook University

Local officials and health professional are urging residents to get this year's flu shot. Stock photo

State, county and area hospitals are bracing for this year’s flu season following reports of a sharp increase in recent weeks in the number of flu cases in New York state.

About 11,000 confirmed cases of influenza were reported by the New York State Department of Health for the week ending Jan. 11. That’s an increase of 10 percent over the previous week, according to the New York State Flu Tracker. There were 641 new cases in Suffolk County. The statewide total this season stands at almost 44,000. 

Similarly, “widespread”’ flu activity was reported by health departments in 46 states as of the last week of December, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

Stony Brook Children’s Hospital’s Dr. Sharon Nachman, division chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases and professor of Pediatrics, said currently the hospital is in the midst of handling an influx of influenza cases.

“We are dealing with the children’s hospital being quite full,” she said. “We have a number of infants with the flu, and we are concerned about it.” 

“Community protection is everyone’s job.”

– Sharon Nachman

The hospital hopes to see an improvement in the next couple of weeks.

Nachman points to a number of reasons why we have been seeing more flu cases in the state: People unwilling to get vaccinated; individuals believing that they are safe from getting sick if they haven’t in the past; a belief that cold and flu medications are better than the shot, among other things.

“I ask patients, ‘Is there a legitimate reason why you don’t want to be vaccinated?’” Nachman said. “You have to think of who is also living in your household, like young people and the elderly. Community protection is everyone’s job.”

The division chief said if everyone got their flu vaccine there would be less people to treat.

“You are 100 percent at risk without the vaccine,” Nachman said. “The vaccine will not prevent someone from getting the flu, but it can lessen the severity of it and shorten its duration.”

She said despite some misconceptions, you can’t catch the flu from the vaccine as it does not contain a live virus. If you happen to get sick after getting a flu shot, it’s a coincidence as there are a lot of viruses and illnesses circulating during the winter months.

In an effort to curb flu cases in Suffolk County, officials announced recently that the county would be offering free influenza immunization to residents 6 months of age and older who are uninsured or whose health insurance does not cover flu immunization.

“The health and wellness of our residents is of utmost importance,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) in a statement. “The flu has been on the rise, and we want residents to know it is not too late to protect yourself and your loved ones from what can turn into a debilitating disease by getting immunized as soon as possible.”

The county’s health department has been providing flu immunizations at a number of locations including Suffolk County Department of Health Services at Great River in the Town of Islip and at Riverhead Free Library.

Nachman said it is important to constantly wash your hands and if you are sick, stay home to avoid exposing others to the illness.

Flu shots are also available at local pharmacies, pediatrician and health care provider offices, as well at county-affiliated health centers.

People who are having difficulty finding flu shots or community groups serving those who are in need of flu shots are advised to contact the county Department of Health Services Bureau of Communicable Disease Control at 631-854-0333.

 

Stony Brook University Interim President Michael Bernstein during the school’s State of the University address in October 2019. Photo from Stony Brook University

Stony Brook University interim president Michael Bernstein has officially withdrawn his name for consideration in the search for the next SBU president.

Bernstein made the difficult decision “after considerable reflection,” according to an email statement from SBU.

“As he considered his future career options, he felt he needed the freedom to pursue external professional opportunities, without the complication of being an internal candidate at Stony Brook,” the statement read. “Michael has stated that he has been enormously impressed with, and inspired by the excellence of the faculty, staff, and students throughout Stony Brook’s campuses. It is his and the cabinet’s expectation that we will continue to work together as a team over the course of this next semester to move forward on all of our key goals.”

The interim president took over the reins at the university after former SBU President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. exited the position Aug. 1, 2019. In May of 2019, it was announced that Stanley would take on the role of president at Michigan State University in August that year.

In June of 2019, the State University of New York Board of Trustees approved Bernstein as interim president. Previously, Bernstein had served as provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs as well as professor of business, economics and history at SBU since 2016.

During an exclusive interview with TBR News Media in August, Bernstein said he had been originally planning to step down as provost and move to San Diego. When Stanley announced he was leaving, he was asked if he would consider the interim role. During the interview, when questioned if he would consider staying permanently, Bernstein said he had an open mind.

“Let’s see if I like the job and more importantly let’s see if the job likes me and we’ll go from there,” Bernstein said at the time.

The news came as a surprise to members of the Three Village Civic Association, who were aiming to create a stronger relationship with the university, and TVCA 1st Vice President George Hoffman said the group was disappointed.

“Michael Bernstein was an affable and outgoing person,” he said. “The first thing he did when appointed interim president was to reach out to all of the community organizations and invite us for breakfast to discuss how we can improve the relationship between the university and the community.”

Hoffman said the civic association “had great hopes for future relationships under Bernstein.” It was something they felt like they didn’t have with the previous administration.

“It is our hope that the search committee will select a candidate that has the same understanding of the importance of community partnership as Michael Bernstein,” he said.

In September, SUNY announced a search committee that includes faculty, staff, Stony Brook Foundation members, students, administration, alumni and Stony Brook Council members. To aid the search, the committee set up the email address presidentialSearch@stonybrook.edu for comments and suggestions to be submitted.

U.S. State Sen. Ken LaValle announced he would not be running for re-election Jan. 10. File photo by Kevin Redding

Why have you decided this term would be your last?

I don’t know, it just feels right. If I can put in place something at [Stony Brook University], then I can retire knowing we’re in a good place. 

I look forward to spending more time with my wife and family, and less time driving on the Thruway.

I would like to do something academic — it’s a way of looking at things through a different lens.

Would you look to work at Stony Brook University?

That would be my choice. I would like to do something that’s always been on my radar — some kind of think tank, look at it in an academic way. My thoughts on generations, what is the difference between one generation to another. We know the events of WWII shaped what was called the greatest generation. But then there are millennials — who are millennials? You’re a millennial [he said, talking to me, a 25-year-old.] How are your thoughts shaped by your generation?

Some have said the climate of partisanship up in Albany has factored into your decision.

My personality has been to not get involved in that kind of stuff, I try to be kind and productive — there’s no doubt things have changed in the Legislature. I think you’ll see more people say it’s not a positive place — that’s how you start to lose good people. People will say, “Who the hell needs this?”

What are your plans for your last year in office?

I want to make sure all the preservation stuff is in place. That’s the kind of thing most near and dear to me. I want to leave things with the university and Brookhaven National Lab in a good place … I’m very focused, it’s always been 1st District first.

Does the preservation you’re talking about include the hundreds of acres over by the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant?

Yes, absolutely.

What other things are you working with on preservation, what about the university are you currently engaged with?

I want to make sure that work we have started over at the Gyrodyne site keeps moving forward, it’s linked to the economic vitality of the area. I’m meeting with union representatives, talking about the sewage treatment plant, talking about the 8-acre parcel that would go on there. We got to have further discussions about that project.

Do you have any misgivings about the Gyrodyne plans?

I’ve got to have further discussions. I want to make sure I have the opportunity to talk to people at the university, I want to make sure where the sewage treatment plant is going is going to be accepted in the community.

Do you have any advice for whoever ends up taking over the district? What qualities do you feel like the new senator will require?

I will work with that person, whoever it is in November, whatever party. I will try to help them, work with them. No. 1, they’ve got to have an understanding of who they’re representing. There is a large group that thinks the environment is very important. Whoever is going to replace me will have to have that mindset or have a background in it. 

It’s a big district, and there have been very few things I have missed. Whoever comes in will have to be very much involved in local events. Just look at Fishers Island, it’s closer to Connecticut, but it’s in the Town of Southold. There are 300 people living there, but you know, those people are just as important as any other part of the 1st District. They need to have an interaction with the people of the district.

I think right now the Senate majority, the Democrats, tend to represent New York City and New York City issues. We need someone who is going to fight for suburban and rural interests.

Though you still have a year left in office, how do you feel the shape of the district is in?

My personality has always been one to get things done. The district will be left in as good of a shape as can be.

 

Geoffrey Girnun hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Photo supplied by Geoffrey Girnun for a previous article

Federal prosecutors announced Jan. 14 that Geoffrey Girnun, 49, a former professor at Stony Brook University, has pled guilty to stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars in government funds from cancer-related research grants.

At federal court in Central Islip, Girnun, of Woodmere, pled guilty to stealing $225,000 in those grant funds. The ex-professor issued fraudulent invoices for research equipment to SBU from sham companies he created to conceal his theft of funds from cancer-related research grants issued by the National Institutes of Health and SBU. Prosecutors said this went to pay for things like Girnun’s mortgage.

Prosecutors said Girnun faces up to 10 years in prison as well as restitution, forfeiture and a fine, which are all to be determined by the judge at that time.

U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of New York Richard Donaghue said the ex-professor is being held responsible.

“With today’s guilty plea, Girnun has been held accountable for his unconscionable scheme to embezzle for his personal use hundreds of thousands of dollars in government funds that were intended to help find a cure for cancer,” he said in a release.

The professor had been arrested in September last year and was charged in a seven-count indictment with theft of state and federal government funds, wire fraud and money laundering. 

Girnun was featured in a March 25, 2015, TBR News Media article. At the time, the researcher was exploring the role of different proteins that either promote or prevent various cancers. The one particular protein in the liver cell he was studying is one that classically regulates the cell cycle, according to the article.

Girnun discovered that the protein promotes how the liver produces sugar, in the form of glucose, to feed organs such as the brain under normal conditions. In diabetic mice, the protein goes back to its classic role as a cell cycle regulator.

Girnun made the move to SBU from the University of Maryland in 2013 and said at the time he was inspired by the opportunity to create something larger.

“I want to build a program in cancer metabolism,” he said. “I want to build something beyond my own lab.”

An attorney for Girnun did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

 

Donghui Zhu

By Daniel Dunaief

About 5 percent of people who suffer from Alzheimer’s disease have a genetic mutation that likely contributed to a condition that causes cognitive declines.

That means the vast majority of people with Alzheimer’s have other risk factors.

Donghui Zhu, an associate professor of biomedical engineering in the Institute for Engineering-Driven Medicine who joined Stony Brook University this summer, believes that age-related decline in the presence of the element magnesium in the brain may exacerbate or contribute to Alzheimer’s.

Donghui Zhu

The National Institutes of Health believes the former associate professor at the University of North Texas may be on the right track, awarding Zhu $3.5 million in funding. Zhu believes magnesium helps prevent the loss of neurons, in part because of the connection between this element, inflammation and the development of Alzheimer’s.

Numerous other factors may also contribute to the development of Alzheimer’s. Diabetes, lifestyle, a specific sleep cycle and low exercise levels may all play a role in leading to cognitive declines associated with Alzheimer’s, Zhu said.

According to some prior research, people with Alzheimer’s have a lower level of free magnesium in their body and in their serum levels than people who don’t suffer from this disease, he added.

In the short term, he aspires to try to link the magnesium deficiency to neuronal inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease.

Zhu plans to use some of the funds from the grant, which will run for the next five years, on animal models of Alzheimer’s. If his study shows that a lower level of magnesium contributes to inflammation and the condition, he would like to add magnesium back to their systems. Magnesium acts as an antioxidant and an anti-inflammatory agent.

“If we supply a sufficient amount of magnesium, can we slow down or reverse the process of this disease?” Zhu asked. “We hope it would.”

Any potential cognitive improvement in animal models might offer a promising alternative to current treatments, which often only have limited to moderate effects on patient symptoms.

In the longer term, Zhu would like to contribute to an understanding of why Alzheimer’s disease develops in the first place. Knowing that would lead to other alternative treatments as well.

“I don’t think my group or we alone can solve this puzzle,” he said. “We are all trying to chip in so the scientific community can have an answer or solution for the public.”

Like people with many other diseases or disorders, any two people with an Alzheimer’s diagnosis don’t necessarily have the same causes or type of the progressive disorder.

Women represent two-thirds of the Alzheimer’s population. Zhu said this isn’t linked to the longer life span for women, but may be more of a by-product of the change in female hormones over time.

In his research, he plans to study female and male animal models separately, as he looks to understand how the causes and progression of the disease may differ by gender.

In the human population, scientists have linked drug addiction or alcoholism with a higher risk of developing Alzheimer’s. He plans to perform additional studies of this connection as well.

“It’s the consensus in the community that alcohol addiction will increase the risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease,” Zhu said. People who consume considerable alcohol have reduced blood flow to the brain that can endanger or threaten the survival of blood vessels.

“This is another topic of interest to us,” he added.

Zhu is collaborating with other experts in drug addiction studies to explore the link with Alzheimer’s. 

In his research, he hopes to link his background in biology and engineering to tackle a range of translational problems. 

Stefan Judex, a professor and interim chair in the Department of Biomedical Engineering at Stony Brook, is excited about the potential for Zhu’s work.

Zhu is “a fast rising star in the field of biomaterials and fills a gap in our department and the university,” Judex explained in an email. “He is well-equipped to apply his unique research skills to a number of diseases, ultimately aiding in preventing and treating those conditions.”

In addition to his work on Alzheimer’s, Zhu also pursues studies in several other areas, including nano-biomaterials, biodegradable or bio-resorbable materials, regenerative medicine for cardiovascular and orthopedic applications, and drug delivery device and platforms

During his doctoral studies and training at the University of Missouri in Columbia, he focused on dementia and neuron science, while his postdoctoral research at the University of Rochester involved engineering, where he did considerable work on tissue engineering and biomaterials.

Zhu decided he had the right training and experience to do both, which is how he picked up on tissue engineering, regenerative medicine and neuroscience.

“They are not totally exclusive to each other,” he said. “There are many common theories or technologies, methods and models we can share.”

Adults don’t generate or create new neurons. He hopes in the future that an engineering approach may help to reconnect neurons that may have lost their interaction with their neighbors, in part through small magnesium wires that can “help guide their reconnection,” which is, he said, a typical example of how to use biomaterials to promote neuro-regeneration.

In his lab, he works on the intersection between engineering and medicine. The interdisciplinary and translational nature of the research attracted him to the new Institute for Engineering-Driven Medicine at Stony Brook.

He described Stony Brook as the “total package for me” because it has a medical school and hospital, as well as an engineering department and entrepreneurial support.

He has already filed numerous patents and would like to form start-up companies to apply his research.

Judex wrote that he is “incredibly pleased and proud that Dr. Zhu joined” Stony Brook and that it is “incredible that he received this large grant within the first few months since his start.”

In his career, Zhu would like to contribute to new treatments.

“Some day,” he said, he hopes to “put a real product on the market.”

 

Al Kirby, right, and his wife, Dawn, look on as Dr. Henry Tannous donates blood. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

Stony Brook University Hospital doctors and staff members joined a Marine veteran to get a head start on National Blood Donor Month, which runs through January.

“Today is a good reminder of how we can all join together in turning a catastrophic event into a remarkable get together with a lot of potential to save numerous lives.”

— Dr. Henry Tannous

At a Dec. 23 press conference at the hospital, Al Kirby, 52, announced a blood drive to show his gratitude to SBUH doctors and staff members. The Shirley resident’s life was saved Christmas Day 2018 at Stony Brook after 10 hours of surgery where 27 units of blood were needed. Kirby’s doctors, wife, children, friends and family members joined him for the announcement.

“Today is a good reminder of how we can all join together in turning a catastrophic event into a remarkable get together with a lot of potential to save numerous lives,” said Dr. Henry Tannous, co-director of the Stony Brook University Heart Institute and chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery.

According to SBUH officials, one blood donation can potentially save three lives.

“This crucial act of kindness will allow more families like the Kirbys to spend more holidays together,” Tannous said.

Kirby was loading up his car with gifts after a visit to his in-law’s house when he felt an intense stabbing pain in his chest, a rapid heartbeat and a burning sensation in his throat. His wife, Dawn Kirby, called 911 and asked the emergency responders to bring her husband to SBUH. His wife after the press conference said she credits the doctors and those who donated blood for saving her husband’s life and is grateful for his recovery.

“Every day is like Christmas,” she said.

Emergency department providers and the Heart Institute’s Cardiac Catheterization Lab’s team ruled out a coronary blockage and discovered Al Kirby had a severe aortic dissection. It took seven hours in the operating room for doctors to repair the rupture of his main aortic vessel. The procedure also prevented further dissection. The seven-hour operation was followed by another three hours to stop the internal bleeding.

“To me, the doctors are gods here and the staff are beyond angels, because of you I’m alive.”

— Al Kirby

Tannous said the medical team didn’t let their guard down and pushed on until they found a diagnosis. For the operation, he said medical staff members had to leave their families abruptly, and the cardiovascular operating room team worked tirelessly through the night.

“A 9 hour and 52 minutes surgery is surely a test of what’s humanly possible,” Tannous said.

The doctor said the blood bank was a “powerful ally” that had the operating room team’s backs. He added that if one link was missing in the system, the operation wouldn’t have been as successful as it was. Half of those who suffer from the same medical condition die within 24 hours.

Dr. Puja Parikh, interventional cardiologist and co-director of the Transcatheter Aortic Valve Replacement Program at SBU Heart Institute, said that since the surgery she has been working with Kirby on controlling his blood pressure and that he is doing well. Uncontrolled blood pressure and underlying aortic aneurysms are risk factors of the condition, even though it’s not known what caused the veteran’s medical emergency.

Kirby said the staff has increased the size of his family.

“To me, the doctors are gods here and the staff are beyond angels, because of you I’m alive, and I thank all of you for donating blood, which allowed someone like me … to be here speaking today,” Kirby said.

After the press conference, the veteran’s family and Stony Brook Medicine team members headed to the blood bank to donate where Tannous was the first to roll up his sleeves.

For more information on how to donate to the Stony Brook Blood Bank, call 631-444-3662 or visit www.stonybrookmedicine.edu/patientcare/bloodbank.

Dr. David Fiorella and Dr. Eric Niegelberg are spearheading the Mobile Stroke Unit Program. Photo provided by Stony Brook University

By Daniel Dunaief

In June, Diana Squitieri of Holbrook wasn’t making sense. Her son Joe noticed that she was also stumbling while her face was drooping.

When he brought her to his car to take her to the hospital, she became so disoriented that he asked his wife, Erin, to call 911. That decision, and the new vehicle that arrived, may have saved her life.

A Stony Brook University Hospital mobile stroke unit, which went into service two months before Squitieri’s symptoms developed, immediately started assessing her symptoms.

Each of the two units is a mobile stroke emergency room, which allows Stony Brook doctors to determine whether the patient has a blocked vessel or bleeding in the brain.

If the process of getting to the hospital and determining her condition had taken any longer, Joe Squitieri is convinced he “could have been burying her.”

For bringing these two stroke units to Suffolk County, the TBR News Media is pleased to recognize the team of medical professionals at Stony Brook Medicine who provide life-saving care for stroke victims.

The Squitieri family. Photo provided by the Squitieri family

Suffolk County is “one of only a few places in the entire United States to have these units,” said Dr. David Fiorella, the co-director of the Stony Brook Cerebrovascular Center.

Stony Brook hopes to add a third unit within the next year.

Through the end of September, the two units had received 550 calls. Of those, about half of the patients had a stroke. Some received anti-clotting drugs while in transit to the hospital, while an evaluation of others en route alerted surgeons to the need for rapid intervention.

Every minute during a stroke could endanger as many as two million brain cells, Fiorella said. That means cutting down on the time to receive medicine or to have surgery potentially saves millions of brain cells, which can improve the quality and quantity of a person’s life.

Squitieri is one of 23 people transported in the stroke unit who had an emergency surgical procedure to remove the clot.

Numerous people contributed to bringing these mobile units to Stony Brook, including Eric Niegelberg, the associate director of Operations for Emergency Services and Internal Medicine; Michael Guido, the co-director of the Stroke Center; Eileen Conlon, the RN coordinator of the stroke unit; and Carol Gomes, the interim CEO of Stony Brook Hospital.

Niegelberg appreciated Fiorella’s efforts.

“It was only through [Fiorella’s] leadership and perseverance that we were able to launch this program,” Niegelberg said in an email. Fiorella spent considerable time meeting with county legislators, EMS committees and EMS agencies to rally support for this program.

Fiorella appreciated the joint effort that made this lifesaving service possible. He was grateful that Gomes “saw the value” of this service. “Without her dedication, this would never have happened.”

Gomes believes the stroke units provide “an extraordinary medical service” while improving the quality of life for the community, she wrote in an email.

The mobile stroke units, which have four specialized personnel on board, are equipped with technology that allows Stony Brook neurologists to examine and diagnose each patient.

The outcomes for patients are better because of the earlier delivery of care, Fiorella said. Hospital stays are also shorter, lowering the cost of care.

Squitieri and her son Joe are thankful that the mobile stroke unit arrived at her home when it did.

Diana Squitieri recalled being scared during her stroke and said the crew took “wonderful care of me.”

Joe Squitieri called the stroke unit a “godsend.”

 

 

John Tsunis and Fred Sganga along with Suffolk County and New York State officials, stand by vets who were at the Battle of the Bulge. Photos by Kyle Barr

At the Long Island State Veterans Home, John Tsunis, the owner of the Holiday Inn Express at Stony Brook and board member of the vets home, briefly choke up when speaking of his father, Charles, a World War II veteran and soldier during the Battle of the Bulge, consisting of over a month of fighting from December 1944 to January 1945. 

The Long Island State Veterans Home honored four Battle of the Bulge veterans Dec. 16. Photos by Kyle Barr.

His father called the Battle of the Bulge “a hell on ice,” and Tsunis described when his father had been forced behind enemy lines where he and two of his fellow soldiers were pinned down by an enemy machine gun, helping to save several men, which earned him the Bronze Star.

“My dad took the lead and they were crawling around, keeping their heads low because there was a machine gun shooting over their heads,” he said. “He kept on crawling, not knowing what to do, until he came over some dead Germans, and under their bodies was a German bazooka. He told one of his buddies to load him up, took aim at the machine gun nest and knocked it out.” 

In what was one of the bloodiest battles Americans fought in World War II, the last major German offensive on the Western Front saw 19,000 U.S. soldiers killed, 47,500 wounded and 23,000 captured. The pocket created by the Germans’ push into American lines gave the battle its name. The day’s ferocious fighting was displayed in a video of historic footage shown to the gathered local officials, staff and veterans. 

The veterans home honored four veterans who experienced the battle up close and personal, James Lynam, Philip DiMarco, Frank DePergola and Thomas Struminski. Each was given a plaque, while both state and county officials presented proclamations to each in turn. Tsunis accepted the honor in place of his father who died nearly 20 years ago. He also helped name and hand out plaques honoring four men at the home who fought in one of the most consequential battles of the war.

DePergola, DiMarco, Lynam and Struminski were all there during the battle, and now that each is over 90 years old, they are some of the only people in the U.S. who can remember firsthand what happened.

Lynam’s children Kathy Corrado and William Lynam said their father didn’t speak much about the battle as they were growing up. However, once they were older, their father, a Brooklyn native, would emotionally relate snippets of the ferocious fighting.

The Long Island State Veterans Home honored four Battle of the Bulge veterans Dec. 16. Photos by Kyle Barr.

“A Tiger tank almost ran over him, and he said they just couldn’t get the gun down low enough to get him,” Corrado, a Stony Brook resident, recalled.

William Lynam said such stories put graphic imagery in his head.

“[My father] said [that] when the panzer division was coming, and these guys were trying to dig into ground that was frozen … he remembers so distinctly the sound of the panzers, the Tiger tanks rolling over a field of cabbage, crushing the heads of cabbage and they were all imagining skulls of men were being crushed as they were coming through,” he said.

Others in the audience remembered the horrors of that day up close. Alfred Kempski, a World War II veteran living in the vets home, pointed to a black-and-white image of the Battle of the Bulge, of American soldiers in long greatcoats, M3 submachine guns and M1 Garands clutched in gloved fists, the soldiers peering forward in snow up to their knees. 

“25,000 GIs were killed at night, the Germans came in at 2 o’clock in the morning and shot them all, they were sleeping,” he said. “The snow was so deep, we had a hell of a time finding the bodies. I was only 19 then, and when I think of it now …”

 

Interns Nylette Lopez (rear) and Stephanie Taboada characterize catalysts as they attempt to convert carbon dioxide and methane into synthesis gas this past summer at Brookhaven National Laboratory. Photo from BNL.

By Daniel Dunaief

This article is part two in a two-part series.

Local medical and research institutions are aware of the challenges women face in science and are taking steps to ensure that women receive equal opportunities for success in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (or STEM). Times Beacon Record News Media reached out to members of each institution and received an overview of some initiatives.

Brookhaven National Laboratory 

The Department of Energy-funded research facility has created a number of opportunities for women, including Brookhaven Women in Science. This effort has been active for over four decades and its mission, according to Peter Genzer, a BNL spokesman, is to support the development of models, policies and practices that enhance the quality of life for BNL employees and emphasize the recruitment, hiring, promotion and retention of women.

BWIS offers annual awards, outreach events and various networking opportunities in the lab and community, while the lab’s Talent Management Group partners with BWIS to bring classes and speakers to discuss issues specific to women.

In October, the group hosted Kimberly Jackson, a vice chair and associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Spelman College, who gave a talk titled “Realigning the Crooked Room in STEM.”

The Leona Woods Distinguished Postdoctoral Lectureship Award at BNL, meanwhile, celebrates the scientific accomplishments of female physicists, physicists from under-represented minority groups and LGBTQ physicists and to promote diversity and inclusion. BNL awarded the lectureship this year to Kirsty Duffy, a fellow at Fermi National Accelerator Laboratory.

For the past five years, BNL has also partnered with a local chapter of Girls Inc., which helps to “encourage young women towards careers” in STEM, Genzer explained in an email.

BNL has also collaborated with the Girl Scouts of Suffolk County to organize a new patch program that encourages Girl Scouts to work in scientific fields. As of September, county Girl Scouts can earn three new Brookhaven Lab patches, and the lab hopes to extend the program nationwide across the Department of Energy complex.

BNL also provides six weeks of paid time off at 100 percent of base pay for a primary caregiver after birth or adoption and one week of full pay for a secondary caregiver. BNL is exploring plans to enhance support for primary and secondary caregivers, Genzer said.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory has taken several recent steps as part of an ongoing effort to encourage gender diversity.

In October, a group of four CSHL administrators traveled to the University of Wisconsin in Madison to discuss mentoring. The goal was to train them on how to design and deliver mentoring training regularly to the faculty, postdocs and graduate students on campus, said Charla Lambert, the diversity, equity and inclusion officer for research at CSHL. The first version of the training will occur next spring. The ultimate goal is to ensure the research environment at CSHL emphasizes good mentoring practices and is more inclusive for all mentees.

CSHL has also hosted a three-day workshop in leadership practices for postdoctoral researchers and junior faculty since 2011. The workshop, which is run through the Meetings & Courses Program, trains about 25 postdoctoral researchers and junior faculty each year and has about one per year from CSHL, addresses how to hire and motivate people, while providing constructive feedback.

Lambert said family-friendly policies were already a part of CSHL policies, which include a child care facility. Members of the faculty receive extra funding when they travel to conferences to provide additional child care.

Lambert, who is a program manager for extramural Meetings & Courses overseeing diversity initiatives, has worked to get the demographic data for participants centralized, analyzed and used in developing policies. She believes this kind of data centralization is an area for potential improvement in the research division, where she is working to ensure an equitable distribution of resources among CSHL scientists.

Throughout her nine-year career at CSHL, Lambert said she has worked with the meetings and courses division to make sure the 9,000 scientists who visit the facility each year include women as invited speakers. She also works to reach course applicants from a wide range of institutions, including outside of prestigious research schools.

Ultimately, Lambert is hoping to help change the culture of science among the researchers with whom she interacts from a wide range of institutions. She feels that those people who leave the STEM fields because something about the culture of science didn’t work for them represent a “huge loss” to the field and creates a “survivorship bias.”

Stony Brook University 

For Stony Brook, gender diversity is “very important,” said Latha Chandran, the vice dean for Academic and Faculty Affairs at the Stony Brook University Renaissance School of Medicine. 

Chandran said more men entered the field of medicine 14 years ago. That has completely changed, as women have outnumbered their male counterparts in medicine for the last three or four years.

Chandran cited a number of statistics to indicate changes at the medical school. For starters, women faculty constituted 38 percent of the total in 2011. This April, that number climbed to 48.1 percent. That puts Stony Brook in the top 79th percentile of medical schools in terms of female representation.

While the overall numbers are higher, women are still underrepresented in the top tiers of the medical school, as 18 percent of the department chairs are women. She hopes more women can lead departments and that they can serve as role models that others can aspire to follow.

As for harassment, Chandran said Stony Brook was above the national mean in 2011. For almost all categories, Stony Brook is now below the national mean.

In 2011, Stony Brook created We Smile, which stands for We can Eradicate Student Mistreatment in the Learning Environment. The goal of this program is to educate people about harassment and to ensure that any mistreatment is reported. Through this effort, Stony Brook medical students are aware of the policies and procedures surrounding reporting.

Stony Brook is also addressing any bias in admission procedures by prospective applicants, who receive a standardized scenario to address with an admissions officer. In 2025, admissions officers will not have any information about the qualifications of the individual and will evaluate his or her response during interviews only based on response to scenarios.

Stony Brook University has almost finalized its search for a chief diversity candidate. Chandran expects that the medical school will “continue to make progress.”

Students Joseph Masseli and Nicole Bittlingmaier remove custom trays from a 3D printer. Photo from Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine

Recently, the Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine, which offers treatment to more than 15,000 patients a year, officially opened a state-of-the-art center for digital dentistry on the SBU campus, the Center for Implant and Digital Technology.

While computer-aided design and manufacturing technologies have existed for some years, these advances in dentistry can still be out of reach for many patients. The cost of CAD/CAM equipment remains a barrier for many dentists, limiting the accessibility for those interested in offering these services.

Jasmine Sze and Mojtaba Wali begin the milling process for a crown within the Center for Implant and Digital Technology. Photo from Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine

Traditionally crowns and bridges were made using uncomfortable impression trays. The entire process can now be done digitally and quickly within the CIDT. From start to finish, the creation of a dental restoration can be completed entirely onsite and in less than 24-hours.

Non-invasive, high-tech scanners are used to electronically capture images of a patient’s teeth and gums in real-time. This information is then immediately transferred to sophisticated software used by dental practitioners to design crowns and bridges three-dimensionally. Finally, designs are translated to in-house 3-D printers or milling machines for the production of the final restoration to be delivered to the patient.

The School of Dental Medicine has continuously been at the forefront of the adoption of digital dentistry technology and education and was chosen in 2017 to be one of five academic institutions nationally to implement a digital dentistry curriculum by the American College of Prosthodontists.

“The Center for Implant and Digital Technology is not only a means of providing invaluable educational opportunities for the next generation of dental professionals, but also an example of Stony Brook School of Dental Medicine’s role as a pioneer and innovator in the digital dentistry space,” said Dr. Mary Truhlar, Dean. “This Center allows us to provide excellent, state-of-the-art care to the Long Island community.”

According to Dr. Ann Nasti, Associate Dean for Clinical Education, “the addition of the CIDT is mutually beneficial for the education of future dental professionals, and for the quality of care provided to patients.”

“Our patients will quickly receive high-quality, precise dental appliances to enhance function, guide surgeries, and restore their smiles,” explained Dr. Truhlar. “Simultaneously, our students are educated using the latest technology and are well-prepared to enter a dynamic and changing profession.”

CAD/CAM technology can make dental care more accessible to many patients. The high-precision of scanning and design eliminates the need for multiple impressions, saving on materials and time spent at appointments to the dentist. Replicating restorations in the event of a chipped crown or lost appliance is also simple thanks to digitally stored records.

While the latest advances in treatment are significant improvements in patient care, the School of Dental Medicine will use the center for translational research.

“I believe that through digital dentistry, I can make a difference in treating patients with craniofacial anomalies,” said student-researcher Shradha Duggal. Duggal is currently studying 3-D printed prosthetic devices used to correct the defects of the lip and palate in terms of more efficiently and comfortable treating patients.

Other research projects underway at the School of Dental Medicine include the generation of data that will be used to improve the design and performance of dental implants.