Stony Brook University

Above, Brian Colle, who enjoys surf fishing, with a false albacore that he caught at the Shinnecock Inlet. Photo by B. Colle

By Daniel Dunaief

In August of 2014, Islip experienced record rainfall, with over 13 inches coming down in a 24-hour stretch — more than the typical rainfall for an entire summer and a single day record for New York state. The rain required emergency rescues for motorists whose cars suddenly died after more than 5 inches of rain fell in a single hour.

What if, however, that rain had fallen just 50 miles west, in Manhattan, where the population density is much higher and where people travel to and from work on subways that can become flooded from storms that carry less precipitation?

An image of an ice crystal Colle examined during a Nor’easter. Image from B. Colle

Brian Colle, professor of atmospheric sciences and director of the Institute for Terrestrial and Planetary Atmospheres at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, is part of a group that is studying flood risks in the New York metro area during extreme storms that could bring heavy rains, storm surge or both. The team is exploring mitigation strategies that may help reduce flooding.

“The risk for an Islip event for somewhere in the NYC-Long Island area may be about one in 100 years (but this is being further quantified in this project), and this event illustrates that it is not a matter of whether it will occur in NYC, but a matter of when,” Colle explained in a recent interview.

The group, which is led by Brooklyn College, received $1.8 million in funding from New York City’s Department of Environmental Protection and the Mayor’s Office of Recovery & Resiliency. It also includes experts from The New School, the Stevens Institute of Technology and Colorado State University.

The co-principal investigators are Assistant Professor Brianne Smith and Professor Jennifer Cherrier, who are in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Brooklyn College–CUNY.

Smith, who had worked with Colle in the past, had recruited him to join this effort. They had “been wanting to do studies of flooding for New York City for a long time,” Smith said. “When the city came out with this” funding for research, Colle was “the first person I thought of.”

Malcolm Bowman, a distinguished service professor at Stony Brook University, holds his colleague, whom he has known for a dozen years, in high regard. Colle is “a leading meteorologist on regional weather patterns,” he wrote in an email. 

Colle is interested in the atmospheric processes that produce rainfall of 2 or 3 inches per hour. “It takes a unique part of the atmosphere to do that,” he said. The three main ingredients are lots of moisture, lift along a wind boundary, and an unstable atmosphere that allows air parcels, or a volume of air, to rise, condense and produce precipitation.

Representatives from the local airports, the subway systems and response units have been eager to get these predictions, so they can prepare mitigation efforts.

Brooklyn College – CUNY project co-leads Brianne Smith (left) and Jennifer Cherrier at Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn in early September. Photo by John Mara

This group has taken an ambitious approach to understanding and predicting the course of future storms. Typically, scientists analyze storms using 100- to 200-kilometer grid spacing. In extreme rainfall events during coastal storms, scientists and city planners, however, need regional spacing of 20 kilometers. Looking at storms in finer detail may offer a more realistic assessment of local precipitation.

Researchers are anticipating more heavy rainfall events, akin to the one that recently caused flooding in Port Jefferson.

A warmer climate will create conditions for more heavy rains. Water vapor increases about 6 to 7 percent for every degree increase in Celsius. If the climate rises two to four degrees as expected by the end of the century, this would increase water vapor by 13 to 25 percent, Colle said.

The group includes experts from several disciplines. “Each of the scientists is highly aware of how integrative the research is,” Cherrier said. The researchers are asking, “How can we provide the best scientific foundation for the decisions” officials need to make. If, as predicted, the storms become more severe, there will be some “hard decisions to make.”

Smith suggested that a visible project led by women can encourage the next generation of students. Women undergraduates can appreciate the opportunity their female professors have to lead “cool projects,” she said. 

Raised from the time he was 4 in Ohio, Colle said he was a “typical weather geek” during his childhood. The blizzard of 1978 fascinated him. After moving to Long Island in 1999, Colle used to sit in a weather shed and collect ice crystals during nor’easters. He would study how the shape of these crystals changed during storms. An avid surf fisherman, Colle said there is “not a better place to observe weather” than standing near the water and fishing for striped bass, fluke, bluefish and false albacore. A resident of Mount Sinai, Colle lives with his wife Jennifer, their 16-year-old son Justin and their 13-year-old son Andrew.

As for his work on flood risks around the New York metro area, Colle said the group is producing monthly reports. The effort will end in December. “The urgency is definitely there,” he acknowledged. Heavy rainfall has increased the need to understand rain, particularly when combined with surge flooding.

A transportation study written over a decade ago describes storm surge and rainfall risk. That study, however, included a prediction of 1 to 2 inches of rainfall an hour, which is far less than the 5 inches an hour that hit Long Island in 2014.

“Once you start seeing that, there’s a lot of people who are nervous about that risk and want to get a best estimate of what could happen,” Colle said.

Cherrier described New York City as being “quite progressive” in gathering information and formulating data. “The city wants to be prepared as soon as possible.”

Stony Brook University President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. delivers his ninth state of the university address Oct. 3. Photo from Stony Brook University

As Stony Brook University President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. looks confidently to the future, the school’s budget deficit is still at the forefront of his mind.

On Oct. 3, Stanley delivered his ninth state of the university address on the Staller Center’s main stage to an auditorium full of faculty, staff, students and elected officials. During the speech, which lasted about an hour, the university president touched on several topics including enrollment growth, Stony Brook Medicine’s future and financial woes and successes — like the university’s positive economic impact on Long Island.

When it comes to tackling the budget deficit, Stanley did not specify the exact amount but said there is more work that needs to be done to lessen the financial shortfall. He said a hiring freeze still holds for 2018-19 because nothing has changed externally as the university has not received an increase of state support since 2010. He said fee increases and enrollment growth has helped alleviate some of the financial burdens, and the university is actively communicating with the state to seek an increase in allocations.

Stanley touted SBU’s presence as a driver for the local economy, citing about $7.2 billion generated from the hospital’s research; people hired and contracted; start-up companies involved with SBU’s incubator; and purchases of students and faculty in the area, the president said.

“We always take these things with a little grain of salt, but I think it’s an important thing that we need to talk about because again the state puts a significant investment into Stony Brook University,” he said. “We appreciate the investment we get from the state, but it’s really nice to talk about the return on that investment from the state.”

The university also saw positive results from The Campaign for Stony Brook fundraising efforts, which raised $630.7 million. He said many people ask him why money can’t be taken from those funds to help with the school’s budget deficit.

“Ninety-eight percent of that money raised is directly allocated to specific goals that our donors have on campus,” he said, adding the funds are usually put toward scholarships, endowed professorship, research projects or a specific campus building.

Stanley said the four-year graduation rate for the class entering in 2014 has reached 62 percent, which signifies a 17-point jump from a 45 percent graduation rate for the class entering in 2007. Among the factors he credited for the success is the Finish in 4 Grants Program. Initiated in spring 2015, the program assists students in good standing who are about to complete their studies but are confronted with personal circumstances that prevent it.

“We want to continue to build on this momentum, but it’s going to be important that we work very hard and continue to find the resources to support this very important program,” he said.

Stanley said a significant part of the university’s budget, $2.28 billion, is for Stony Brook Medicine.

“We are the destination, I believe, for quality care on Long Island,” he said. “We’re the only provider of a level one trauma center for Long Island. We have the only children’s hospital in Suffolk County.”

In the next few months, Stony Brook University Hospital will be opening the Medical and Research Translation building with a state-of-the-art cancer center, Stony Brook Children’s and Hospital Pavilion, and the Phillips Family Cancer Center in Southampton.

Leila Esmailzada, kneeling, with another BeLocal team member Caroline Rojosoa (in the black argyle sweater) distribute trial briquettes. Photo courtesy of BeLocal

By Daniel Dunaief

Leila Esmailzada set out to change the world but first had to perform a task that turns many people’s stomachs: clean someone else’s vomit off the floor.

The Stony Brook University graduate student, who is in the master’s Program in Public Health, traveled to Madagascar for a second consecutive summer with the nonprofit BeLocal Group to help several teams of student engineers put into place projects designed to improve the lives of the Malagasy people.

Before they could help anyone else, however, these students, many of them recent graduates from the College of Engineering, fought off a series of viruses, including a particularly painful stomach bug.

Esmailzada said she saw cleaning the vomit off the floor as part of the big picture.

“Compassion really plays into being abroad for your work and for your team, because you realize that everybody came here for a shared mission,” Esmailzada said. “What happens along the way is sometimes just a result of the path that brought them here.”

Briquettes lay out to dry in Madagascar. Photo courtesy of BeLocal

Indeed, beyond Esmailzada’s compassion, her ability to continue to accomplish tasks in the face of unexpected and potentially insurmountable obstacles encouraged BeLocal, a group started by Laurel Hollow residents Mickie and Jeff Nagel and Eric Bergerson, to ask her to become the group’s first executive director.

“I can’t say enough about [Esmailzada] being so resourceful over there,” said Mickie Nagel, who visited the island nation of Madagascar the last two years with Esmailzada. “She thinks about things in a different way. You can have the best product, but if you can’t connect it to the Malagasy and understand more deeply what they need, what their concerns or wants are” the project won’t be effective.

This past summer BeLocal tried to create two engineering design innovations that had originated from senior projects at SBU. In one of them, the engineers had designed a Da Vinci bridge, borrowing a model from the famous inventor, to help villagers cross a stream on their way to the market or to school. When the makeshift bridge constructed from a log or tree got washed away or cracked, the residents found it difficult to get perishable products to the market.

The first challenge the group faced was the lack of available bamboo, which they thought they had secured months before their visit.

“When the bamboo wasn’t delivered, I figured we were now going to do research on bamboo,” Nagel explained in an email, reflecting the group’s need to react, or, as she suggests, pivot, to another approach.

When they finally got bamboo, they learned that it was cut from the periphery of a patch of bamboo that borders on a national park. Government officials confiscated the bamboo before it reached BeLocal.

“We were happy to see that law enforcement recognized and acted on the ‘gray area rules’ of conserving the national park, which shows that the hard work Madagascar is putting into conservation is actually paying off,” Esmailzada said. She eventually found another provider who could deliver the necessary bamboo a few days later. This time, an important material was cut down from a local farm.

While they had the bamboo, they didn’t know how to cure it to prepare it for construction. Uncured, the bamboo could have become a soggy and structural mess. “We did try to cure [it] a few different ways, but we really didn’t have the time needed to properly treat all of it,” Nagel said. “We didn’t anticipate the bamboo not arriving cured since it was what we had been working on for months.”

Nagel credits the bridge team with adjusting to the new circumstances, constructing two girder bridges over creeks for more market research.

The BeLocal team also worked on a project to create briquettes that are healthier than the firewood the Malagasy now use for cooking. The wood produces considerable smoke, which has led to respiratory diseases and infections for people who breathe it in when they cook.

The group produced briquettes toward the end of their summer trip and presented their technique to an audience of about 120 locals, which reflected the interest the Malagasy had shown in the process during its development.

This fall, BeLocal is working on ways to move forward with sharing the briquette technique, which they hope to refine before the new year. BeLocal wants to develop clubs at Stony Brook and at the University of Fianarantsoa in Madagascar that can work together.

While BeLocal will continue to share senior design ideas on its website (www.belocalgrp.com) with interested engineers, the group is focusing its energy on perfecting the briquettes and getting them to people’s homes in Madagascar.

Nagel admired Esmailzada’s approach to the work and to the people in Madagascar.

Esmailzada said she studied how people in Madagascar interact and tried to learn from that, before approaching them with a product or process. She believes it’s important to consider the cultural boundaries when navigating the BeLocal projects, realizing that “you are not the first priority in a lot of these villagers’ lives in general. You have to understand they won’t meet and speak with you. It’s a reasonable expectation to ask maybe three times for something before you think you can get it done.”

Esmailzada also developed a routine that allowed her to shift from one potential project to another, depending on what was manageable at any given time.

The Stony Brook graduate student is delighted to be an ongoing part of the BeLocal effort.

“I love working with an organization that has the passion and vision as large as BeLocal,” she explained. “This work is fulfilling because you are working toward the chance of improving the well-being of another person or community.”

On Sept. 22, Stony Brook University hosted CommUniversity Day. The free event was open to the local community members, employees, friends and neighbors to experience what SBU is all about. Activities included an instrument petting zoo, drowsy and distracted driving simulators, teddy bear clinics, Tai Chi demonstrations, Kazoo-niversity orchestra, rubber duck race and more.

By Daniel Dunaief

We have to walk before we can learn to run. It’s a common metaphor that suggests learning new skills, like playing the bassoon, requires a comfort level with notes and scales before taking on complex compositions.

As it turns out, the expression also applies literally and evolutionarily to the part of our anatomy that is so instrumental in enabling us to walk and, eventually, run — the foot.

Carrie Mongle. Photo courtesy of SBU

Carrie Mongle, a doctoral candidate in the Interdepartmental Doctoral Program in Anthropological Sciences at Stony Brook University, recently joined a host of other researchers, including former SBU scientist Peter Fernandez and current clinical assistant professor in biomedical sciences at Marquette University, in a study on the evolution of bones in the foot that made the transition to a bipedal lifestyle possible.

Published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), the work by Fernandez, Mongle and other collaborators explored the forefoot joints of ancient hominins, looking at primitive primates from as far back as 4.4 million years ago.

By comparing the toe joint shapes of fossil hominins, apes, monkeys and humans, they were able to find specific bony shapes in the forefoot that are important in the development of bipedal locomotion — or walking on two feet.

“This study demonstrates that early hominins must have been able to walk upright for millions of years, since the 4.4-million-year-old fossil Ardipithecus ramidus, but that they did not fully transition to a modern walk until much later, perhaps in closer relatives within our own group, Homo,” Mongle explained in an email.

While modern humans are most pronounced in doming, a few primates that walk on the ground have similar foot biomechanics to bipedalism and have similar morphologies in their toes. Those, however, aren’t expressed exactly the same way because their toe bones look different from hominins generally, she explained.

Like the drawings so often associated with a knuckle-walking ancestor that transition to a familiar outline of a person walking, the foot also went through various stages of development, balancing between the need to grasp onto objects like tree limbs and an efficient ability to walk, and then run.

“The foot is a complex assemblage of bones, so it makes sense that not all of them would have changed at exactly the same time,” Mongle suggested. “Our study supports the hypothesis that the transition to bipedalism was a gradual, mosaic process.”

Mongle got involved in this study after discussions with Fernandez, who was at SBU two years ago when the work began. Fernandez suggested to her that, “If we team up together, we can combine our interests and answer some questions about this feature,” she recalled.

Fernandez and Mongle found this dome shape developed in the foot bone even as this early fossil still maintained the ability to grasp tree limbs or other objects.

Fernandez and several other researchers involved in the study collected the data from the fossils, while Mongle, who focuses on cranial morphology and teeth in her own research, performed the evolutionary modeling. “My role in this research was in analyzing and explaining the evolutionary models, which allowed us to reveal the timing and sequence of events that produced the modern human forefoot,” she explained.

As for her doctoral research, Mongle is broadly interested in updating the hominin family tree. She uses mathematical models to look at variations in the fossil record. She is currently studying a cave in South Africa, where researchers have been recovering fossils since the 1930s.The cave has a considerable number of teeth that are all blended together from a period of between 2.5 million and 3 million years ago.

The teeth could tell a more complete story about how human ancestors divided up the food and local resources available to them. If different species were in the same space, they might have divided up into different groups to relieve competitive stress.

Frederick Grine, the chairman in the Department of Anthropology at SBU, offered a strong endorsement of Mongle’s research.“I have no doubt whatever that her work on the cranium and the dentition will provide invaluable insights into human phylogeny,” he wrote in an email, calling her an “exceptionally gifted research scientist” and described her as having an “extremely keen intellect.”

One of Mongle’s overarching research questions is, “How did we become human?” Reconstructing the phylogenetic tree is an important part of that exploration.

While it isn’t central to her thesis work, Mongle appreciated the opportunity to explore the transition to bipedalism, which is one of the “major turning points” in the development of humans.

Mongle explained that several possibilities exist on why human ancestors might have stood upright and walked on two feet.

“One of the prevailing theories is that upright walking may have evolved because climate change led to a loss of forests,” she wrote in an email. “As a consequence of walking upright, we now have free hands to carry tools.

Bipedalism evolved from a type of locomotion that was already efficient, so the question of its evolution remains open and is “hotly debated,” Mongle explained.

The next steps, literally and figuratively, are to study other bones in the feet. “We only looked at one particular part of the foot,” she said. “We would like to expand these approaches to using other bones in the forefoot,” seeking patterns and changes that would also contribute to a bipedal lifestyle.

Mongle, who started her doctoral research in 2012, hopes to graduate from the program next May, at which point she will be looking for postdoctoral research opportunities.

SUNY students work together with the nonprofit Nechama to repair roofs in Puerto Rico. Photo from Joseph WanderVaag

As Puerto Rico continues to recover a year after Hurricane Maria left devastation in its wake, some college students reflected on lasting memories of their missions to the island to offer help and support.

Joe VanderWaag helps to repair a roof in Puerto Rico. Photo from Joseph VanderWaag

This past summer more than 650 State University of New York and City University of New York students along with skilled labor volunteers helped to repair homes on the island through Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s (D) New York Stands with Puerto Rico Recovery and Rebuilding Initiative, according to the governor’s website. During a 10-week span, five deployments of volunteers worked on the island with the goal of repairing the roofs of 150 homes. By the end of the summer, the volunteers fixed the roofs of 178.

Peter Velz, SUNY assistant vice chancellor for external affairs, said since October 2017 the university system was working on engagement with Puerto Rico. On March 16 students from SUNY Alfred State and Geneseo went down for a week.

He said he believes the interaction with the homeowners was probably the most impactful for the students, and the residents they met in Puerto Rico tried to pay them back the best they could.

“It wasn’t paying them back financially,” Velz said. “Kids would make them bracelets or kids would make them pictures or the families would make them lunch. I really think that was probably the most lasting impact for the students, was working in the homes with the homeowners and providing them shelter.”

Rebecca Mueller, one of 21 Stony Brook University students who volunteered, traveled to the island in July, as did Joseph VanderWaag, who attends Suffolk County Community College’s Ammerman Campus.

“I wish there was more that we could do. But I think that the main goal for the organization, while we were there, was to make it livable at that point.”

— Rebecca Mueller

Mueller, 23, of Coram, a graduate student working toward her master’s in social work, said when she received an email from SBU looking for students to travel to Puerto Rico she knew she had to help.

“I knew things there still weren’t that great from hearing different stories, and I felt like not as much help was given to them as it should have been,” she said. “So, when I saw an opportunity where I could actually help to do something, I knew I couldn’t pass it up.”

VanderWaag, 20, of Smithtown, who is in his last semester at SCCC, echoed those sentiments.

“It was so devastating to see that these were our citizens not really getting any help,” he said.

Traveling to Catano and surrounding towns where her group was working, Mueller said she saw houses with no roofs, windows or doors. She worked on three homes during her stay, and said the students would climb to the top of roofs and roofers with the nonprofit NECHAMA — Jewish Response to Disaster showed them what to do.

Rebecca Mueller, above right, and a friend get ready to patch leaks with cement. Photo from Rebecca Mueller

Two of the buildings she worked on had second stories before Hurricane Maria, but the upper levels were destroyed by the storm, and the volunteers had to turn what was left into roofs by scraping up tiles, finding cracks, grinding them to open them up and then sealing with cement. The volunteers then primed and sealed the new roofs to make them waterproof.

“I wish there was more that we could do,” Mueller said “But I think that the main goal for the organization, while we were there, was to make it livable at that point. Because they couldn’t even live in the houses because every time it rained water was pouring through the ceiling.”

Mueller said she also helped to clean out one man’s bedroom that was unlivable after water damage from the storm. The room had mold and bugs, and his bed, clothes and other items needed to be thrown out.

VanderWaag said the homeowners he met didn’t have a lot of money so whenever there was a leak they would go to the hardware store for a quick fix to patch the roof. When the students weren’t working, he said they would talk to community members about the hurricane’s devastation and the response from the U.S.

“They are a mixture of upset, angry and feeling just almost betrayed,” he said.

VanderWaag said he’ll always remember how appreciative the homeowners were and how one woman cried after they were done. Her husband who was in his 70s would try his best to fix the leaks by carrying bags of concrete up a ladder and patching the leaks.

“It was a huge burden lifted off their shoulders,” VanderWaag said.

“They are a mixture of upset, angry and feeling just almost betrayed.”

— Joseph VanderWaag

Mueller said one family cooked lunch for her group and others working on the house next door every day. She said the students had time to sightsee, and when one tour guide heard what they were doing, he offered to take them on a free tour of the south side of the island. Both she and VanderWaag also visited Old San Juan and saw historic military forts during their trips.

“It really was a life-changing experience,” Mueller said. “Even the people I met from the other SUNY schools, we became so close so quick.”

Pascale Jones, SBU international programs coordinator, joined students for a week to help out. She said when she saw the students in action, she was amazed at how much they already knew about construction and found the whole experience to be humbling.

Originally from Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Jones said she is used to seeing a certain level of devastation but was surprised to see the state of some of the homes.

“It’s Puerto Rico and these are U.S. citizens,” Jones said. “So, I did not expect this devastation so long after the hurricane’s passing. To think, U.S. citizens are living in a way that I would almost equate to a third world country.”

Stony Brook University’s Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., left, and Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky, right, present the daughters of MRI diagnostic inventor Paul Lauterbur with a street sign that will be placed on a road leading up to the new MART building. Photo by Kyle Barr

Since its invention as a diagnostic tool in the early 1970s, MRI has touched the lives of many patients, helping doctors to diagnose innumerable diseases and injuries, but Selden resident Sharyn Lauterbur-DiGeronimo remembers it as a connection to her late father.

A plaque dedicated to Paul Lauterbur will be displayed in Stony Brook University’s new MART building. Photo by Kyle Barr

She recalls one day finding baby clams as a 9 year old in Setauket Harbor, and holding them up to her dad, Paul Lauterbur. They were perfect for what he needed to create the first two-dimensional image using nuclear magnetic resonance. The scientist’s daughter said she has a connection to MRI, feeling that she had influenced her father’s desire to find a way to diagnose without causing harm to a patient.

“My dad used to have two lab rats, one I called Notch because he had a notch in one ear,” Lauterbur-DiGeronimo said. “I thought they were pets. One day Notch wasn’t there, and my dad had to explain what happened. They cut him open because he was a research rat. I completely freaked out, and I said there’s got to be a way to see inside without having to do that. I think that disturbed him a great deal.”

On Sept. 5, Stony Brook University Hospital remembered and gave back to the Lauterbur family by hosting a ceremony in the upcoming hospital Medical and Research Translation Building. The hospital and co-sponsor, the Long Island branch of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, presented a bronze plaque to be displayed inside the MART building commemorating the first 2-D NMR image. The university and IEEE also surprised the Lauterbur family by announcing they would be renaming the road leading up to the MART building Lauterbur Drive.

Lauterbur, who worked as a chemistry professor at SBU, is also known as the father of MRI. The story goes that the late professor was munching on a hamburger in a Pennsylvania restaurant when he had a “eureka” moment. In his mind’s eye, he saw a way to use his research in nuclear magnetic resonance to display objects in multidimensional detail. He rushed out of the restaurant and wrote the idea into a spiral notebook.

“Quite simply, the MRI is one of the most important medical discoveries of the 20th century,” said Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., university president. “Lauterbur’s transformative work truly changed the course of modern medicine and trajectory of Stony Brook University.”

“You knew [Lauterbur] was doing an experiment because the lights would dim, the floor would shake, and the electrical bill was too high.”

— Tim Duong

Lauterbur published his ideas and the first example of a 2-D scan in the science journal, Nature, in 1973. In 2003 he was the co-recipient of a Nobel Prize for his work in nuclear magnetic resonance which led to the creation of MRI as a diagnostic tool before he passed away in 2007.

“MRI changed medical diagnostics around the world, and all that began right here at Stony Brook,” Tom Coughlin, the president-elect at IEEE-USA said.

Many who work with MRI technology said they owe their careers to Lauterbur.

“You knew [Lauterbur] was doing an experiment because the lights would dim, the floor would shake, and the electrical bill was too high,” said Tim Duong, director of MRI research at the hospital.

The half-sister of Lauterbur-DiGeronimo, Elise Lauterbur, 33, is a doctoral candidate in Stony Brook’s Ecology & Evolution Department and is working on her dissertation on the biochemistry and physiology of mammalian cyanide adaptation, particularly with Madagascar lemurs. She said it took years growing up before she truly understood what her father’s work had meant to the world.

“When I went with him when he was getting awards, I had people coming up to me saying, ‘Oh, your dad saved my sister’s life,’ or ‘Your dad is the reason I can still type on a computer,’” she said. “When my dad finally won the Nobel Prize it sunk in that his work had changed people’s lives in ways most scientists never manage.”

It would take years of tests for Lauterbur’s theories to turn into the prolific MRI machine, but the technology has improved immeasurably since then. Lauterbur-DiGeronimo said her father would appreciate that.

“When they were doing tests with it I’d spend like four hours in one, with a break for two hours in between sessions,” Lauterbur-DiGeronimo said. “The MRI I had last week took about 15 minutes.”

The new MART building, which is scheduled to open in 2019, will be used for cancer biology research, clinical research, biomedical informatics and imaging, according to dean of the School of Medicine, Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky.

Delaney Unger and her parents, Melissa and Noah, look on at a Sept. 10 press conference as SBU doctors explain the procedure Delaney underwent after doctors diagnosed her with osteosarcoma. Photo by Rita J. Egan

A young dancer has come through a cancer battle with the poise and grace of a prima ballerina.

More than a year ago, 12-year-old Delaney Unger, of Selden, was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, a rare type of bone cancer, in her left distal femur. Now cancer free, she reunited with the Stony Brook University Hospital doctors who provided her a way to dance with her St. James studio again at a Sept. 10 press conference.

Delaney Unger demonstrates how to take off the prosthetic she received after having her knee amputated. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Dr. Fazel Khan, an orthopedic oncologist surgeon, said doctors diagnosed Delaney with cancer above her left knee joint in December 2016. While given a few treatment options, including knee replacement, she and her family decided in order to have an active life she would undergo rotationplasty surgery, also known as the Van Ness procedure, which involves partial amputation followed by use of a prosthesis.

Khan said the operation involved amputating Delaney’s diseased knee, then doctors rotated her ankle 180 degrees and placed it in the position of the knee joint. It was attached to the remaining thigh to create a functional, natural joint. This results in a shorter leg with the foot and toes facing backward.

“The beauty of that solution is that you now control your ankle as if it’s your knee,” Khan said, adding it takes a lot of training and perseverance on the patient’s part to adjust.

Delaney’s mother, Melissa, said when her daughter began experiencing pain in her knee she and her husband, Noah, thought she had overworked it between dancing and gymnastics — maybe pulling a muscle. A pediatrician sent Delaney for an X-ray that showed a mass on her femur and an appointment was made with an oncologist.

“At that point, everything stopped,” Unger said. “Our world would forever be classified as before cancer and after cancer.”

During the press conference, Delaney demonstrated how easy it was to remove and put on her prosthesis that she has worn for the past year. It fits over her backward foot and extends up the thigh.

Khan said while knee replacement works well for people who are older, it may not be the best solution for younger people who are active.

“All my patients inspire me, but I’ve never seen somebody that is 11 years old, and now 12 years old, who has been so strong, so inspiring and so courageous in all of this.”

— Dr. Fazel Khan

“You can wear a prosthesis after [the amputation], and you can jump around or dance on that prosthesis as much as you like, and if it wears out, you can put a new prosthesis in there.” Khan said.

Plastic surgeon Dr. Jason Ganz, who worked with Delaney, said he has kept in touch with the family through emails and videos. He said it was wonderful to see how far she has come since the diagnosis, and she looked incredible.

Khan said he was inspired by Delaney who decided that despite cancer she would not give up on her dancing dreams.

“All my patients inspire me, but I’ve never seen somebody that is 11 years old, and now 12 years old, who has been so strong, so inspiring and so courageous in all of this,” the surgeon said.

Unger said Delaney used crutches for approximately a month after the operation and could walk unassisted after two months. In May 2018, she danced in St. James-based Chorus Line Dance Studio’s annual recital.

“Delaney has always had lots of confidence, drive and determination,” her mother said. “All of these traits have helped her to fight her battle and come through the other side.”

Delaney said she hopes sharing her story will help children going through the same thing. Using social media, she has been able to connect with others who had the same type of cancer and underwent the Van Ness procedure. She said even though having an ankle for a knee and wearing a prosthesis took time adjusting to, now it feels normal and sometimes she forgets she has one.

Delaney Unger dancing in her May 2017 recital. Photo from Stony Brook University

The soon-to-be 13-year-old said she continues to study ballet, tap, jazz lyrical, contemporary and hip-hop, and plans to try out for Selden Middle School’s kickline team. Delaney said sometimes the prosthesis affects her dancing as she can’t balance as well on her left leg; however, its more flexible now, so she choses to do her leg hold with her left side. She also said she can kick fine with both legs.

Delaney thanked the doctors who helped her and had kind words for the Stony Brook hospital staff.

“The child life specialists helped to put a smile on my face every day,” she said, adding Friday was her favorite day because therapy dogs would come to visit.

While dancing still takes up a considerable part of her life, she has new dreams.

“[The doctors] have inspired me to want to become a pediatric oncologist,” Delaney said. “I want to help other children do their treatments, and I want to research causes and new treatments for cancer.”

Her mother said Delaney has already been an inspiration to many.

“People have said that her attitude and outlook on life, even now going through cancer, has helped them,” the mother said. “They’ll stop and think, ‘Say, wait a minute, Delaney is going through this right now, I can handle this problem today.”

This post was updated Sept. 13 to correct the date of Delaney’s performance.

Ute Moll. Photo courtesy of Stony Brook University

By Daniel Dunaief

In the battle against cancer, human bodies have built-in defenses. Cancers, however, can hijack those systems, turning them against us, not only allowing them to avoid these protective systems, but converting them into participants in a process that can often become fatal.

Such is the case for the p53 gene. One of the most closely studied genes among researchers and clinicians, this gene eliminates cells with damaged DNA, which could turn into cancer. Mutations in this genetic watchdog, however, can turn this genetic hero into a villainous cancer collaborator. Indeed, changes in the genetic code for p53 can allow it to produce a protein that protects cancer from degradation.

Ute Moll. Photo courtesy of SBU

Ute Moll, professor and the vice chair for research in the Department of Pathology at the Stony Brook University School of Medicine, has made important strides in studying the effect of mutations in this gene over the last five years, demonstrating how the altered gene and the protein it creates are an important ally for cancer.

Moll published her most recent finding in this arena in the journal Cancer Cell. The Stony Brook scientist, working with an international team of researchers that included collaborators from her satellite lab at the University of Göttingen, advanced the work on previous results.

This research, which is done on mice that develop tumors through a process that more closely resembles human cancer growth, is a “very good mimic in the molecular and clinical features of human colon cancer,” Moll said.

The main research was done on a faithful mouse model of human colorectal cancer that produces mutant p53, Moll explained. She then confirmed key findings in human colon cancer cells and in survival analysis of patients.

This model allowed Moll to “study tumors in their natural environment in the intact organism with its tumor surrounding connective tissue and immune system,” Ken Shroyer, the chairman of the Department of Pathology at SBU School of Medicine, explained in an email.

The tumors that develop in these mice are driven by mutant p53 and are dependent on it for their continued growth. “These tumors overexpress mutant p53 at high levels,” which makes them a “formidable drug target for their removal,” Moll said.

By deleting the mutant p53 gene, she was able to slow and even stop the progression of the cancer. “We can show that when we remove mutant p53 either genetically or pharmacologically, we are cutting down invasiveness.” Mice with deleted mutants had fewer and smaller tumors and showed over a 50 percent reduction in invasive tumor numbers, she explained.

Finding ways to mitigate the effect of mutant p53 is important for a wide range of cancers. The mutated version Moll studied is the single most common p53 mutation in human cancer, which has a mutation that switches an amino acid for an incorrect one. This amino acid change destroys the normal function of the p53 gene.

The mutation she studies represents about 4.5 percent of all cancers. That amounts to 66,000 cancer patients in the United States each year.

More broadly, mutations in p53 in general, including those Moll didn’t study, are involved in half of all human cancers, Shroyer explained, which makes it the “single most common cancer mutation.”

Yusuf Hannun, director of the Stony Brook University Cancer Center, suggested that the work Moll did could have important clinical implications.“The deciphering of this mechanism clearly indicates new cancer therapy possibilities,” Hannun wrote in an email. The models she worked with are “quite promising.”

In addition to finding ways to stop the progression of cancer in mice with this damaged gene, Moll and her colleagues also used an Hsp90 inhibitor, which blocks a protein that protects the mutant protein from being degraded.

Inhibiting this protein has other positive effects, as the inhibitor eliminates other co-mutant proteins that could also drive tumors. “We are hitting multiple birds with one stone,” Moll said.

Hsp90 inhibitors are a “complicated story” in part because they have strong side effects in the liver and the retina. Researchers are working on the next generation of inhibitors.

A class of anti-cholesterol drugs called statins, which Moll called “one of the blockbuster drugs of medicine,” also has mutant p53 degrading effects, which work against some mutants, but not in others. The benefits are inconsistent and involve confounding variables, which makes interpreting their usefulness difficult, she added.

Moll said her recent article in Cancer Cell has triggered a number of email exchanges with a range of people, including with a patient whose cancer involved a different type of mutation. She has also had discussions with researchers on several other possible collaborations and has started one after she published her recent work.

The scientist is hopeful that her studies will continue to contribute to an understanding of the development and potential treatment of cancer.

Degrading mutant p53 has shown positive results for mice, which indicates “in principle” that such an approach could work down the road in humans, she suggested.

Stony Brook University’s Larry Swanson, Malcolm Bowman and Carl Safina have been chosen to be part of the new state Ocean Acidification Task Force. Photo from Stony Brook University

Stony Brook University will be well represented on the new state Ocean Acidification Task Force examining the effect of acidification on New York’s coastal waters. The legislation was drafted by Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), chair of the Assembly Standing Committee on Environmental Conservation.

The university has three representatives on a 14-member team that will explore the impacts of acidification on the ecology, economy and recreational health of the coastal waters, while also looking to identify contributing factors and make recommendations to mitigate the effects of these factors.

“We have some of the best people in ocean acidification science who will be part of the process.”

— James Gennaro

Englebright said he was pleased to have the SBU representatives on the task force.

“We have these extraordinary scholars and researchers at the university who have a lot to contribute, and I hope that we’re able to listen closely to their advice regarding new policy and potentially new law to protect our coastal ecosystem and marine water.”

Larry Swanson, associate dean of the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences will join Malcolm Bowman, distinguished service professor and Carl Safina, endowed research chair for nature and humanity, both also from SoMAS. The task force, which will have its first meeting some time in September at SBU, was signed into law in 2016 and is operating under the direction of Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and the New York State
Department of Environmental Conservation.

“We will make recommendations to the Department of Environmental Conservation and the Legislature and will share information about what our understanding of the state of knowledge of ocean acidification is, what are the impacts that we know about in New York state waters,” Swanson said, adding the group will suggest factors to monitor for consequences of acidification.

The composition of the group reflects its wide-ranging mandate, with members including Karen Rivara, owner of Aeros Cultured Oyster Company and former president of the Long Island Farm Bureau.

“We have a very significant shellfish industry that’s potentially in jeopardy. We need to understand what ocean acidification is doing to that industry.”

— Larry Swanson

Ocean acidification has been increasing at a rapid pace amid the increasing output of the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide. Since the industrial revolution more than 200 years ago, ocean acidification has increased by about 30 percent, as absorbed carbon dioxide is converted into carbonic acid. The rate of change of ocean acidification is at a historic high and is 10 times faster than the last major acidification, 55 million years ago, according to a press release announcing the formation of the task force.

The task force, which will allow the public to provide input through a website it is developing and at its meetings, will focus on gathering existing data about the waters in and around Long Island, collecting additional information and offering the New York State Legislature suggestions for future policies.

The group will “figure out how to make science into policy-ready proposals,” said James Gennaro, chair of the task force and deputy commissioner at the DEC. Gennaro is pleased with the composition of the group.

“We have some of the best people in ocean acidification science who will be part of the process,” Gennaro said.

Swanson believes it’s important to consider understanding what is going on in the interior bays, including the Great South Bay and the Long Island Sound, as well as the New York Bight which is a curved area from Long Island to the north and east, and includes areas south and west to Cape May, New Jersey.

Some of the questions Swanson said he believes the group will explore include, “Can we measure changes based on what we know from historical information, how bad are those changes and what are the likely consequences?”

“This is very much a local water, coastal water, embayment improvement initiative.”

— James Gennaro

Improving the ecology of the ocean doesn’t have to be at the expense of the local economy, and vice versa, Swanson suggested.

Indeed, New York’s marine resources support nearly 350,000 jobs and generate billions of dollars through tourism, fishing and other business.

“We have a very significant shellfish industry that’s potentially in jeopardy,” Swanson said. “We need to understand what ocean acidification is doing to that industry. We can do things like control effluent going into the Great South Bay and Peconic Bay.”

Protecting and preserving the environment will “have a payoff” for the economy, Swanson added.

While the problem is global, monitoring agencies should oversee local impacts, Swanson and Gennaro agreed.

“This is very much a local water, coastal water, embayment improvement initiative,” Gennaro said, who added he is “eager” to get started.

The task force will meet no less than four times. The public will be able to follow the task force on the website that SBU and the DEC
are creating.

It is “imperative to do all we can to make sure we stay ahead of [and] act on” ocean acidification, Gennaro said.

Swanson suggested that local action can have consequences. People sometimes suggest that whatever policymakers do in New York will be a drop in the bucket compared to the overall problem of ocean acidification.

“If that’s the drop that causes the bucket to overflow, that’s an important drop,” Swanson said. “We can certainly make suggestions that we ought to do things on a national and global level.”

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