Stony Brook University

Minghua Zhang

By Daniel Dunaief

Minghua Zhang spent a sabbatical year in China trying to improve climate models, which included analyzing errors of current models.

A professor at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, Zhang focused on the Southern Great Plains of the United States. He explored how the current models did not accurately simulate convection, which created a warm and dry bias.

In convection, heat and moisture get carried upward. The models account for summer rainfall but do not calculate the organizational structure of the convective systems, which led them to simulate insufficient precipitation.

By adding in the new information, Zhang predicts in recent research published in the scientific journal, Nature Communications, that the projected warming in the region would be 20 percent less than previously thought. Precipitation, meanwhile, would be about the same as it is today, instead of the drying that was previously anticipated.

“The resolution of the models is not high enough to predict the change of the convection with a high degree of precision,” Zhang explained in an email.

He suggested that using 10 times the specificity of model calculations, he expects a clearer picture of the likely climate by the end of the 21st century. This is like looking through binoculars at a nondescript moving shape in the distance. By adding focal power to the lens, the image can become sharper and clearer.

The climate is a big picture view of trends over the course of many years. That is distinct from weather, which involves day-to-day variations and which meteorologists describe each morning and evening with colorful images of cold and warm fronts on local maps.

“You have many things you can’t see and now you have better binoculars,” he suggested. “This tiny thing in the binoculars can make a bigger impact. What we see is that these [variables] actually matter.”

Zhang suggested that a climate model that better accounts for summer rainfall still includes higher temperatures in this sensitive region. “The warming is going to be there and will be significant,” he said. If carbon dioxide emissions continue at their current rate, the warming will still be about five degrees by the end of the century, he suggested. That, he predicted, will still have a significant impact on agriculture.

Edmund Chang, a professor at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook who was not involved in this study, said this research addresses “a specific bias of the model that needs to be taken care of.” He added that researchers know that the “models are not perfect” and suggested that the “scientific and climate modeling community is trying to refine and improve” these tools.

Chang agreed that the refinement “doesn’t change the fact that we still project a large increase in the temperatures over the central United States.”

The Southern Great Plains region has some unique elements that make climate predictions challenging. It has considerable organized convection, which increases the occurrence of tornadoes. There’s also a large coupling between the soil moisture and the clouds, which means that whatever happens on the land has feedback for the atmosphere.

Zhang said his research focus is on climate simulation modeling. He knew the models had problems simulating convective events, which is why he started exploring this specific region. “The way the models are constructed, the granules are not small enough,” he said.

Chang expected that this work would “spur more research on trying to understand this mechanism. Model developers will need to try to find out how to improve the physical model.”

Zhang has been working for the last two years with scientists from Tsinghua University in China, which included his time on sabbatical. “When you are on sabbatical, you have more time to really think about problems,” he said.

Chang added that sabbaticals can provide some time to focus on specific scientific questions. During a typical semester that includes administrative responsibilities and teaching, professors “are very busy,” He said. “We really don’t have an extended period of time to focus on one project. The sabbatical gives us a chance to focus.”

Zhang hopes this study “motivates people to think about how to improve their models in describing” other climate systems.

One of the many challenges scientists like Zhang face in developing these climate models is that their computers are still not powerful enough to resolve elements like clouds, which not only dot the landscape and provide shade during the summer but also send the sun’s energy back into space.

The system he’s studying is “chaotic by nature,” which makes accounting for elements that change regularly challenging. He suggested that these studies were akin to the butterfly effect. Scientists have suggested that someone who went back in time and committed a seemingly trivial act, like killing a single butterfly, might return to his familiar time and surroundings to discover profound changes.

While that’s an exaggeration, that’s still the kind of system he said researchers are confronting as they try to account for, and weigh, climate defining factors. That’s why he’s looking for statistical, or probabilistic, predictions that are averaged over time periods.

The United States, China and the European Union are all pursuing more powerful computers for these kinds of applications, Zhang said.

Zhang, who is the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, has been involved in an advisory capacity with the United States Department of Energy in developing these models. A

s for this specific effort, Zhang said he was pleased that the paper pointed out a research direction to refine models for climate in this area. “What we see is that these things [including convection] actually matter,” he said. “That’s the main contribution of this paper.”

The greater bamboo lemur will struggle to survive amid a shorter rainy season. Photo by Jukka Jernvall

By Daniel Dunaief

An elusive primate is living on a shrinking island within an island. The greater bamboo lemur, which is one of the world’s most endangered primates, now inhabits a small section of Madagascar, where it can find the type of food it needs to survive.

The greater bamboo lemur, which was one of numerous lemurs featured in the 2014 iMax movie, “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar,” is finding that the time when it can eat the most nutritious types of bamboo is narrowing each year amid a longer dry season.

Patricia Wright has dedicated her life to helping lemurs in Madagascar. File photo from SBU

In a publication last week in the journal Current Biology, Patricia Wright, the founder of Centro ValBio research campus, driving force behind the creation of Ranofamana National Park and a distinguished professor of anthropology at Stony Brook University, along with several other researchers, including Jukka Jernvall from the University of Helsinki and Alistair Evans from Monash University, showed that the population of lemurs is threatened by a changing climate. The bamboo that sustains the greater bamboo lemurs depends on water to produce shoots that are higher in nutrition.

Indeed, when the rains come, the new bamboo shoots are “filled with protein,” said Wright. Jernvall, however, predicted that the driest season will get longer by a day each year. By 2070, rains necessary for bamboo growth and greater bamboo lemur survival will be delayed by as much as two months.

This is problematic not only for the current generation of greater bamboo lemurs but also for the more vulnerable younger generations, who need their lactating mothers to eat more nutritious bamboo to help them grow. Bamboo shoots typically come up from the ground about two weeks after the rains begin, in the middle of November. Bamboo lemurs, whose annual clocks are set to the rhythm of an island off the southeast coast of Africa that is the size of California, are born around the time of these bamboo-shoot-producing rains.

“Any village elder will tell you that the rains used to come at about Nov. 15 and continue until March 15,” Wright said. “That’s the way the world was, even in the 1980s and 1990s and probably many years before that. Suddenly, we started to get some evidence of climate changes and periods of a longer dry season.”

Above, a mother greater bamboo lemur holds her infant, which weighs about half a pound at birth. Photo by Jukka Jernvall

Wright is currently in Madagascar, where she says there is a drought right now. “No water for our research station means no electricity since we are near a hydroelectric power plant,” she explained by email. In fact, in some years, the rains start as late as January, which reduces the food offerings for the mother lemur, who weighs about 6.5 pounds, and her offspring, who need considerable nutrition to grow from birth weights Wright estimates are less than half a pound. The lemur mother “has to have nutritious shoots to feed her baby milk,” Wright said. “She can survive on leaves and trashy stuff in the culm, but she can’t raise her babies” on it.

Wright and Jernvall worked together in 2005 on a study of climate and another type of lemur called sifakas, whose name comes from the alarm sound it makes. In their earlier work, Wright and Jernvall found that aging sifakas with worn teeth could still produce offspring, but that their infants typically died if the weather was dry during the lactation season, Jernvall explained in an email.

“This alerted us about the potential impact of climate change,” he continued. “The bamboo lemur were an obvious concern because they are critically endangered and because they eat the very tough bamboo.”

Jernvall said the work on bamboo lemurs combines Wright’s efforts in Madagascar with climate modeling he performed with Jussi Eronen at the University of Helsinki and an analysis of dental features conducted by Evans and Sarah Zohdy, who is currently at Auburn University. Stacey Tecot, who is on sabbatical from the University of Arizona, also contributed to the research.

Wright believes some efforts can help bring these bamboo lemurs, who survive despite consuming large amounts of cyanide in their bamboo diet, back from the brink. Creating a bamboo corridor might improve the outlook.

Growing bamboo would not only benefit the lemurs, who depend on it for their survival, but would also provide raw materials for the Malagasy people, who use it to construct their homes, to build fences and to cover their waterways.

Bamboo corridors could be a “win-win situation,” where scientists and local communities grew and then harvested these hearty grasses, Wright continued. She has started a bamboo pilot study near one of the small populations of lemurs and hopes the lemurs can expand their range.

The greater bamboo lemur will struggle to survive amid a shorter rainy season. Photo by Jukka Jernvall

Like other animals with unusual lifestyles, the greater bamboo lemurs offer a potential window into an unusual adaptation. Through their typical diet, lemurs consume a high concentration of cyanide, which is stored in the bamboo. Understanding the bamboo lemur could provide evidence of how one species manages to remain unaffected by a toxin often associated with spies and murder mysteries.

As a part of her efforts to improve the chances of survival for this lemur, Wright is considering moving some lemurs to a protected area. She needs permission from Madagascar officials before taking any such actions and recently met with Madagascar National Park official to discuss such remediation efforts.

In Madagascar, Wright said observing the bamboo lemur is challenging because it is such a “cryptic animal.” She has sat beneath a tree where a lemur is hiding for seven hours waiting for it to emerge, watching as a lemur brought in its legs and curled up its body to hide from the scientist’s inquisitive eyes. “I’d get really hungry, so they would win and I would leave,” Wright recalled.

She suggests that the data in the Current Biology article demonstrates the urgency to take action to protect these primates. “We are trying our best to help the bamboo lemur not go extinct,” she said. “Bamboo corridors should help, but we may have to irrigate the bamboo during November to January.”

From left, Gary Gerard, lead interventional/cardiac catheterization technologist, Stony Brook Southampton Hospital; Dr. Travis Bench, director, Cardiac Catheterization Lab, Stony Brook Southampton Hospital; Helen VanDenessen, nurse manager, Imaging, Stony Brook Southampton Hospital; and Dr. Dhaval Patel, cardiologist, Stony Brook Medicine. Photo from SBU

By Javed Butler, MD

Dr. Javed Butler

Stony Brook Medicine has opened the new Cardiac Catheterization (Cath) Laboratory at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital to improve access to lifesaving heart care for residents of the East End of Long Island.

The lab provides emergency and elective treatments delivered by Stony Brook University Heart Institute specialists, for easier, faster access to the highest standards of cardiac care. The standard of care for a person experiencing a heart attack is that the blocked artery should be opened within 90 minutes of contact with medical care. That procedure can only be done in a cardiac catheterization lab by highly trained personnel.

For the rapidly increasing population of the East End, the nearest cath lab was previously located at Stony Brook University Hospital, up to 70 miles and a 60- to 90-minute drive. Even transportation by ambulance or helicopter could result in a life-threatening delay.

The new cath lab, led by interventional cardiologist Dr. Travis Bench, is currently the only facility in the East End capable of providing clinically complex care to critically ill heart patients. Bench and his partner, Dr. Dhaval Patel, have East End cardiology practices in Southampton and Center Moriches.

The lab will save lives by providing more immediate intervention for serious heart events such as myocardial infarctions (heart attacks). A delay in restoring blood flow through an artery increases the likelihood for significant damage to the heart. By allowing physicians to open a blocked artery in Southampton, without having to first transport a patient to Stony Brook, damage to the heart can be minimized and total heart failure may be prevented.

At the Southampton cath lab, doctors will be able to perform percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), a nonsurgical procedure in which a physician inserts catheters through the skin to reach affected structures. The PCI treatments at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital include emergency and elective procedures.

The Southampton lab is staffed every day, around the clock, by Stony Brook Heart Institute’s interventional cardiologists with the most up-to-date knowledge and skills to diagnose and treat patients with heart disease.

For patients who need emergency catheterization, Stony Brook’s “Code H” protocol has produced an average “door-to-perfusion” time of 56 minutes, almost 45 minutes below the New York State regulated treatment guidelines. That is the level of care we strive for at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital. The systems and processes are in place and we look forward to taking care of our patients out east with that same dedication to quality and excellence.

To view a video and learn more about the Cath Lab at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, visit www.heart.stonybrookmedicine.edu.

Dr. Javed Butler is the co-director of the Heart Institute and chief of the Division of Cardiology at Stony Brook Medicine.

Heather Lynch at Spigot Peak in the Antarctic. Photo by Catherine Foley

By Daniel Dunaief

Counting penguins is like riding the highs and lows of Yankees rookie Aaron Judge’s home run streaks, followed by his series of strike outs. He’s not as bad as his strike outs suggest, although he’s also not a sure thing at the plate either.

Similarly, in local populations, the Adélie penguin, which waddles to and fro squawking on land and gliding gracefully through the water, isn’t as clear a barometer of changes in the environment. Also, like Judge, when populations rise and fall, people are eager to offer their explanations for exactly what’s happening, even if the sensational explanations — he’s not that good, no, wait, he’s the greatest ever — may overstate the reality.

Heather Lynch visits Cape Lookout in Antarctica during recent trip that included an NBC TV crew that produced a feature for ‘Sunday Night with Megan Kelly.’ Photo by Jeff Topham

“We have to be careful not to be overreactive,” said Heather Lynch, an associate professor of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University. “The concern is that, when we see increases or decreases, the implication is that there’s a miraculous recovery or a catastrophic crash.”

That, however, is inconsistent with Lynch’s recent results, which were published in the journal Nature Communications. Examining penguin data from 1982 to 2015, Lynch, Christian Che-Castaldo, who is a postdoctoral researcher in Lynch’s lab, and nine other researchers looked to see if there’s a way to connect the size of the population to changes in the environment. The study involved two teams of researchers, one supported by NASA and the other backed by the National Science Foundation.

“It’s a noisy system,” Lynch concluded. Managers of the populations of krill, small crustaceans that are the mainstay of the Adélie diet, try to use time series of key indicator species to understand what’s going on in the marine realm. In this article, Lynch said, local Adélie penguin populations may not be a clear signal of the health of the krill stocks because penguin abundance fluctuates for reasons she and her team couldn’t pinpoint.

These penguins, which Lynch has counted during her field work in the Antarctic, exhibit changes in population that can run contrary to the health, or stressed condition, of the environment.

“You can’t have your finger on the pulse” with the available data, Lynch said. “Part of our inability to model year-to-year changes is because we can’t measure the right things in the environment.”

The drivers of abundance fluctuations likely involve other animals or aspects of the krill fisheries they couldn’t model, she suggested.

“There’s a lot we don’t know about what penguins do under water, where they spend a large portion of their time and where they feed,” Grant Humphries, who was in Lynch’s lab for a year and now runs his own data science company in Scotland called Black Bawks Data Science Ltd, explained in an email. “The signals that drive year to year changes might actually lie there.”

Tom Hart, a researcher of the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford who was not involved in this study, explores local scale variation in penguin populations. Locally, Hart said in an interview by Skype, “Things are incredibly noisy. When you aggregate, you get good signals, but with some error.” He suggested that this research drives him on further, showing that “local influences are important” because there’s so much variance left to explain. Lynch’s research is “a really good study and shows very well what’s happening on the regional scale, but leaves open what happens below that,” he said.

Indeed, Lynch suggested that by putting sites together, researchers can look at larger areas, which provide a clearer picture on shorter time scales.

Michael Polito, an assistant professor in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences at Louisiana State University who was not involved in the study, suggests that this extensive analysis indicates that “you can still look at the relationship between the abundance of penguins and the environment in a robust way. Even though any individual time series may not be the best way to understand these relationships, in the aggregate you can use them.”

Managers who set fishery policies in Antarctic waterways are often concerned about harvesting too much krill, leaving the penguins without enough food to survive and feed their chicks.

The challenge with this result, Lynch acknowledges, is that it makes setting krill boundaries more difficult.

A strategy that involves resetting conservation targets based on annual monitoring appears unrealistic given these results, Lynch said. “From a practical standpoint, we threw in everything we could and could explain only a tiny fraction of the variation,” she said.

Hart added that this is “not an argument to fish away,” he said. “We need to understand what’s going on at a local scale and we’re not there yet.”

To get people involved, Lynch and her team created a science competition, called Random Walk of the Penguins, to see who could predict the overall penguin populations for Adélie, gentoo and chinstrap penguins from the 2014 to 2017 seasons.

The competition, which was a collaborative effort with Oceanites, Black Bawks Data Science and Driven Data included $16,000 in prize money, which was donated by NASA. Entrants could use data from the 1982 through the 2013 seasons. The contest drew competitors from six continents. Of the five winners, all were from different countries.

Humphries, who was the lead on the data science computation, said the results were “somewhat humbling” because competitors were able to make “decent predictions” using only the time series. “With long-term predictions and for determining the tipping points, there is still a lot of work to be done.”

Lynch is relieved that her co-authors supported the direction the article took. “I’m a skeptic by nature and more than happy to throw orthodoxy (or even my own previous work) under the bus,” she wrote in an email. “I do hope that others will use our model as a starting point and we’ll never go back to the old days where everyone looked only at ‘their sites.’”

The Stony Brook University Seawolves football team won their homecoming game 38-24 against the University of New Hampshire Wildcats. At the Oct. 14 game, Veronica Fox was crowned homecoming queen and PP Pandya was named homecoming king.

Stony Brook University students grab a cup of coffee with campus police officers during Coffee with a Cop Oct. 4. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Instead of handing out tickets, officers at Stony Brook University were handing out free food.

Stony Brook University police officers and students mingled over pastries and coffee on campus Oct. 4 as part of a nationwide effort to better connect officers with the citizens they serve.

Half a dozen members of the university’s police department spoke with passing students as well as faculty outside the Student Activities Center on a number of topics, from current events to police training to food, during the college’s second “Coffee with a Cop,” an initiative that began in 2011 in Hawthorne, California and was adopted by local districts last year.

Community relations team Officer Joseph Bica answers a student’s questions. Photo by Kevin Redding

“This is a great way for students to get to know a police officer as an individual,” Eric Olsen, assistant chief of police at Stony Brook University said. “The media largely groups cops as one thing and it sort of dehumanizes them. We think this is a great concept.”

Community relations Officer Jared King, a former patrol officer who regularly pulled people over and made arrests, said he was excited to show off a more down-to-earth side to the police force.

“Nobody really knows the nice side of police work, which is interacting positively with people during the day, walking the beat, meeting and talking with people,” King said. “Here, we get to meet everyone during the day and talk about what’s going on on campus, address their questions, whatever they bring to the table.”

Jhinelle Walker, an anthropology major in her second year, made the rounds to each officer and asked several questions, even asking about their uniform colors. She commended the event for “bridging a gap.”

A student and Stony Brook University campus officer have a discussion during Coffee with a Cop. Photo by Kevin Redding

“I think this is a wonderful idea because often there’s a miscommunication that comes between people in the community and police officers,” Walker said. “We have to understand they’re regular people with lives. Here, students get to know who they are, what they do and can clear up misconceptions.”

A mechanical engineering major, Sagardeep Singh, said, “It’s good to get to know the cops better. They’re just trying to do their job and want to get familiarized with us students.”

Patrick Bazemore, another officer, fielded questions about recent national events and how he became an officer.

“I love dealing with people,” Bazemore said. “Everything is about communication and interaction. That’s how you move forward in life.”

This event is far from the department’s only outreach to the campus community,Olsen said. Officers regularly take part in a game night with the students and hold a one-credit citizen’s police academy, a course designed to provide insight into the daily functions and responsibilities of law enforcement personnel.

“It’s great to know how the students think of our cops,” Olsen said. “We always need to get input from people to know if we need to improve or change. And it’s a pleasure to do this style of policing.”

Michael Bernstein. Photo from SBU

By Michael A. Bernstein

From Ivy League institutions such as Harvard University to state institutions such as the University of Connecticut and several SUNY campuses, including Stony Brook, all are facing financial constraints that are prompting them to review or institute program suspensions ranging from academics to athletics. For Stony Brook, that means making difficult decisions to address budget reductions throughout all academic and administrative units.

Investments in more than 240 new faculty hires, coupled with a tuition freeze followed by a modest increase and no adjustments in state support to cover negotiated salary increases have created a structural operating deficit at Stony Brook. While we continue to work to develop new revenue sources and redouble our efforts to increase both state and philanthropic support, it is incumbent upon us to build a strong, stable foundation for continued excellence at our university.

Our budget issues are real. Strategic change is the only way to maintain our quality and offer the best and most efficient options for our students. Serious and consistent program review is necessary to ensure we are spending our scarce resources wisely, building upon our high-quality programs as well as those for which there is high student demand. This is why our program changes focus on those areas with low enrollments. In response to this, only a small number of assistant professors in the tenure track and lecturers have been directly affected.

Similar review is happening throughout West and East campuses, resulting in the suspension of admission to five programs — three in the College of Arts and Sciences and two in the School of Health Technology and Management. We have also mobilized resources to invest in areas such as Africana studies, art and creative writing and film as well as a variety of areas in the social and natural sciences.

These measures reflect our urgency to maximize our resources as we continue to support and invest in programs of excellence and impact; engage in cutting-edge research, scholarship and art-making that attract external funding and recognition; and do everything possible to empower students, meet their demands and ensure they receive an outstanding education at both the undergraduate and graduate level.

As an institution, we remain focused on our missions in education, research, scholarship, art-making, professional service and community engagement. And, as a public university with an exceptionally talented faculty and staff committed to serving a diverse student body, we must be outstanding stewards of the public’s trust and resources, constantly examining how best to invest in areas of strength, promise and need.

Michael A. Bernstein is the provost and senior vice president for academic affairs at Stony Brook University.

SBU President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. delivered his annual address to the university community Sept. 27. File photo from Stony Brook University

During his annual address, Stony Brook University’s president celebrated the past and looked forward to the future.

President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., delivered his State of the University Address to the Stony Brook campus community Sept. 27.

He said the first graduating class of 1961 consisted of approximately 40 students. In 2017, the university granted 7,313 degrees and certificates, including master’s and doctoral degrees that did not exist the first year.

The number of buildings has also changed on campus from a few to 136 structures.

Stanley said the students attending the university come from more diverse backgrounds compared to bygone decades. Diversity he said is something Stony Brook is committed to.

“We hope to reflect the diversity of the state we live in as well as the country we live in,” he said.

Stanley said while the number of international students has increased since 1957, this is the first year the amount of freshmen from other countries has decreased. He said he has received feedback that a number of international students are hesitant to study in the United States due to changes in immigration policies. The president is a supporter of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals plan instituted by former President Barack Obama (D). He said students protected by DACA at the university come from tough economic backgrounds yet succeed academically and epitomize the American Dream. He said SBU is committed to working with legislators to create a pathway for the students.

Stony Brook University President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. File photo

“Stony Brook University I hope has communicated to the campus and the world our support for these students,” he said.

Stanley said the university is trying to change the way it recruits in order to create more diversity within the crop of faculty members, as well.

Another development at Stony Brook through the years has been the change in athletic success. The president said most teams originally operated as club sports, then developed into Division 3 and eventually Division 1 teams.

Stanley touched on the addition of Southampton Hospital as part of the Stony Brook University medicine family, which occurred this past summer.

“It’s really going to improve service at both hospitals,” he said.

The president said with a $1.7 billion budget, Stony Brook University Hospital serves 400,000 patients and offers a Level I trauma center, while the newly dubbed Stony Brook Southampton Hospital serves 100,000 with a $175 million budget.

He said the university is currently working on the Medicine and Research Translation Building and construction is scheduled to be completed in spring of 2018. The eight-level 240,000-square-foot building and 225,000-square-foot new Bed Tower will create opportunities for scientists and physicians to work side by side in the hopes of advancing cancer research and imaging diagnostics.

Stanley also addressed the university’s $24 million deficit, and he said he knows SBU can overcome it. The president said the biggest issue was the failure of the state as the university has not been included in state allocations in recent years

“I absolutely support faculty and staff getting raises, they are completely appropriate,” he said.

Despite the deficit, hundreds of faculty members and students have been welcomed to Stony Brook University while the number of administration positions has decreased. The president said administrators are “working harder than they ever been before to help the university.”

Stanley has asked department heads to look at their needs when an instructor leaves, and to consider if the workflow can be adjusted if the position cannot be filled. The goal, he said, is to have the least amount of impact on students.

The president said The Campaign for Stony Brook to raise funds for scholarships and research is $559.2 million toward a $600 million goal. It strives to reach the goal by June 30, 2018.

On Saturday, Sept. 23 Stony Brook University invited the local community, employees, friends and neighbors to experience CommUniversity Day and celebrate its 60th anniversary. The free event was filled with exploration, food, hands-on activities and performances highlighting the many things the university has to offer. Attendees visited a variety of themed campus “neighborhoods” to discover more about Stony Brook University.

Laurie Shroyer, center, with Gerald McDonald, left, who was chief of surgery survive at the VA Central Office and is now retired, and Fred Grover, right, a professor of cardiothoracic surgery in the Department of Surgery at the University of Colorado. Photo from Laurie Shroyer

By Daniel Dunaief

To use the pump or not to use the pump? That is the question heart surgeons face when they’re preparing to perform a surgery that occurs about 145,000 times a year in the United States.

Laurie Shroyer. Photo from SBU

Called coronary artery bypass graft, surgeons perform this procedure to improve blood flow to a heart that is often obstructed by plaque. Patients with severe coronary heart disease benefit from a technique in which an artery or vein from another part of the body is inserted into the heart, bypassing the blockage.

Doctors can perform the surgery with a heart-lung machine, which is called on pump, or without it, which is called off pump.

Recently, a team of researchers led by Laurie Shroyer, who is a professor of surgery and the vice chair for research at the Stony Brook University School of Medicine, published a study in the New England Journal of Medicine that compared the survival and health of 2,203 veterans five years after surgery, with or without the pump.

Contradicting some earlier research that showed no difference in the health and outcomes after the surgery, the study revealed that using the pump increased the survival rate and reduced the rate of other health problems.

Along with the other research articles in this area, this study “should help in deciding the relative value and risks of each technique,” Frederick Grover, a professor of cardiothoracic surgery in the Department of Surgery at the University of Colorado, explained in an email.

The study Shroyer led, which is known as the Rooby trial, showed that on-pump patients had a five-year mortality of 11.9 percent, compared with 15.2 percent for the off-pump patients, Shroyer explained.

The five-year rate of medical complications, including death, nonfatal heart attacks and revascularization procedures was also lower for the on-pump group than the off-pump group, at 27.1 percent compared to 31 percent, respectively.

Consistent with these findings, the overall use of off-pump procedures has declined, from a peak of 23 percent in 2002 to 17 percent in 2012, down to 13.1 percent in 2016, according to data from the Society of Thoracic Surgeons Adult Cardiac Surgery Database Committee.

At one point, surgeons had considered an off-pump approach to be safer, but when other trials didn’t show a benefit and when the current Rooby trial demonstrated on pump had better outcomes, it “likely influenced many surgeons to use the off pump less often for specific reasons, considering it is a somewhat more difficult technique except in the most experienced hands,” Grover wrote.

The explanation for the difference five years after surgery are “not clear,” Shroyer explained in an email. The article suggests that the off-pump patients had less complete revascularization, which is known to decrease long-term survival.

Grover explained that the outcomes may have been better for the on-pump procedures in the Rooby trial for several reasons, including that the surgeons in the different trials had different levels of experience.

Leaders of the study suggested that patients and their surgeons needed to consider how to use the information to inform their medical decisions. Participants in the study were men who were veterans of the armed services.

“The data can likely be extrapolated to the general population since it is not an extremely high-risk population, but it is all male so would primarily extrapolate to males,” Grover suggested. Additionally, patients with specific conditions might still have better outcomes without the use of a pump.

“Our manuscript identifies an example for ‘patients with an extensively calcified aorta, in whom the off-pump technique may result in less manipulation of the aorta, potentially decreasing the risk of aortic emboli or stroke,’” Shroyer wrote in an email. Grover also suggested people with severe liver failure also might want to avoid the pump to prevent additional harm to the liver.

Shroyer and her team have already submitted a proposal to the VA Central Office Cooperative Studies Program. “Pending approval and funding, 10-year follow-ups will be coordinated appropriately,” Shroyer said.

Grover described Shroyer as a “spectacular investigator with a very high level of knowledge of clinical research” and, he added, a “perfectionist.” When he met Shroyer, Grover said he was “blown away by her intelligence, experience, background and energy.” He interviewed her many years ago to direct a major VA Cooperative Study. After the interview and before the next meeting, he called another interviewer and asked if he, too, agreed to hire her on the spot.

Grover recalled a trip back from Washington to Denver 15 years ago after they had been in a 10-hour meeting with no scheduled breaks. She took out her laptop on the airplane and asked him to write up results for a new grant.

“I was beat and finally said if she didn’t let up, I was going to jump out of the airplane just to get away from her,” he recalled. She shut her computer, ordered drinks and they enjoyed a peaceful flight back.

A resident of Setauket, Shroyer lives with her husband Ken, who is the chair of the Department of Pathology at Stony Brook School of Medicine. The professor said she loves the Staller Center, which she considers one of the greatest kept local secrets. She appreciates the opportunity to hear classical music performances by the Emerson String Quartet and by cellist Colin Carr.

When she entered biomedical research in 1992, it was unusual for women to rise to the level of full professor at an academic medical center. She strives to be an outstanding mentor to her trainees, including women and under-represented minorities, so that they can achieve their potential, too. As for her work, Shroyer’s hope is that the Rooby research “will provide useful information to guide future changes in clinical care practices” and, in the longer term “to improve the quality and outcomes for cardiac surgical care.”

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