Stony Brook University

20190102.01_New Childrens Signage and Lobby

By Margaret McGovern, M.D., Ph.D.

Dr. Margaret McGovern

Stony Brook Children’s Hospital offers the most advanced pediatric specialty care in the region, which means that the smallest babies, the sickest children and the most complex pediatric traumas all get sent to Stony Brook Children’s. 

Since 2010, when Stony Brook Children’s was first formed, we’ve been committed to the nearly half a million children in Suffolk County whose pediatric health care needs were underserved. Our goal was, and still is, to provide sophisticated pediatric care close to home for the many families who previously had to travel long distances.

Now with the completion and opening of our new building earlier this month, we are able to expand our capabilities to meet the growing health care needs of children and their families across Long Island. 

More than 180 pediatric specialists

As the leading children’s hospital on Long Island with more than 180 pediatric specialists in more than 30 specialties, we offer a full range of medical services to support the physical, emotional and mental development of infants, children and young adults. We also can provide leading-edge care for just about every diagnosis — from a simple fracture to a kidney transplant.

Groundbreaking clinical trials

Stony Brook Children’s also provides cutting-edge research, child-sized technological innovations, clinical trials and breakthrough techniques to benefit pediatric patients as Long Island’s only children’s teaching hospital.

A child-first, family-first philosophy

The new hospital was designed with patients at the center of our thinking and planning, to promote their safety, well-being and healing. It’s the only children’s hospital on Long Island with all single-patient rooms, which allows us to combine the best practices in modern pediatric medicine with a child-first, family-first philosophy. The hospital’s design and amenities are supported by research that shows that a child-friendly environment contributes to better outcomes for children.

Each room of the new hospital includes patient, family and health care provider areas. State-of-the-art hospital beds capture and download patient information directly into the patients’ charts. Every room contains a proprietary security system, interactive televisions, in-room refrigerators, kid-focused menus as well as multicolored wall lights controlled by patients to give them a greater sense of control over their environment during what can be a frightening time for them and their families.

Other child-friendly features include separate child and teen playrooms, common areas, including an outdoor garden, and a classroom with Wi-Fi so students can keep up with their studies.

There’s also a new Ronald McDonald Family Room to offer a welcoming place for family respite, comfort and support.

Uplifting local artwork that soothes and inspires 

We’ve enjoyed the support of Long Island’s artistic community in providing artwork with a Long Island nautical theme, complete with a play lighthouse and wall-sized live feed from the Long Island Aquarium. It’s truly an outstanding art collection for the entire community living in harmony with the building’s architecture and reflecting the healing mission of Stony Brook Children’s.

To learn more, visit www.stonybrookchildrens.org.

Dr. Margaret McGovern is the Knapp Chair in Pediatrics, dean for clinical affairs and Renaissance School of Medicine physician-in-chief at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

Ellen Pikitch, left, with Christine Sanora, taken in 2015 while the two scientists were researching Shinnecock Bay. Photo by Peter Thompson

By Daniel Dunaief

It’s one thing to make a commitment to a good idea; it’s another to follow through. Ellen Pikitch, endowed professor of ocean conservation science in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, is making sure countries around the world know where and how they can honor their commitment to protect the ocean.

In 2015, the United Nations had agreed to designate at least 10 percent of the oceans as Marine Protected Areas, which would restrict fishing and foster conservation. The goal of the proposal is to reach that figure by next year. 

Three years ago, with the support of the Italian Ministry of Environment and private donations, Pikitch started the labor-intensive process of finding ocean regions that countries could protect. 

Ellen Pikitch, right, with Natasha Gownaris at the United Nations Ocean Conference in June of 2017. Photo Courtesy of IOCS

She published the results of her analysis in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science. Her research could help countries move from the current 7.8 percent of oceans protected to the 10 percent target, and beyond that figure in the ensuing years.

The United States has met its target, although most of its marine protected ares are far from human population centers, so the coverage is uneven, Pikitch explained. The rest of the world has some gaps in high priority areas.

“I’m hoping that the study will light a fire under the policymakers so that they do meet their commitment,” said Pikitch. “It’s quite feasible for them to meet the goal. We’ve given [policymakers] advice in this paper about how exactly it could be done.”

The maps in the paper show areas that are within the current jurisdiction that are priority areas and are unprotected.

“There is quite a bit of area that meets this description — more than 9 percent — so there is flexibility in how countries can use the results and reach or exceed” the 10 percent target by next year, Pikitch explained in an email.

To determine where nations can enhance their ocean protection, Pikitch, Assistant Professor Christina Santora at the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University and Stony Brook graduate Natasha Gownaris, who is now an assistant professor in environmental studies at Gettysburg College, pulled together information from 10 internationally recognized maps indicating the location of global marine priority areas.

“We are standing on the shoulders of giants, capitalizing or leveraging all the hard work that has gone into other maps,” said Gownaris. 

One of the most unexpected findings from the study for Pikitch is that 14 percent of the ocean was considered important by two to seven maps, but over 90 percent of those areas remained unprotected. A relatively small part of this area is on the high seas, while most is within exclusive economic zones, which nations can control.

To preserve this resource that continues to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while serving a critical role in the world’s food chain, conservationists have focused on marine protected areas because they provide the “one thing we felt was going to be the most effective single step,” said Mark Newhouse, the executive vice president for newspapers at Advance Publications and president of the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance. “It could happen overnight. A country could say, ‘This area is off limits to fishing,’ and it is.”

Countries can protect areas within their exclusive economic zones “more quickly than figuring out a way to solve global warming,” Newhouse added.

Santora explained the urgency to take action. “The situation in the ocean is worsening and we can’t wait to have perfect information to act,” Santora wrote in an email. “What we can do is put strong, effectively managed MPAs in the right places, with a high level of protection, that are well managed and enforced.”

Members of the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance, which counts Pikitch as its scientific officer, recognize that the 7.8 percent figure includes areas where countries have announced their intention to protect a region, but that doesn’t necessarily include any enforcement or protection.

“Intentions don’t protect the environment,” Newhouse said.

Ambassadors from several nations have reached out to OSA to discuss the findings. 

These diplomats are “exactly the people we want paying attention” to the research Pikitch and her team put together, Newhouse said.

Pikitch also plans to reach out proactively.

According to Pikitch’s recent analysis, the largest gaps in policy coverage occurred in the Caribbean Sea, Madagascar and the southern tip of Africa, the Mediterranean Sea and the Coral Triangle area, although they found additional widespread opportunities as well.

Pikitch calculated that an additional 9.34 percent of areas within exclusive economic zones would join the global marine protected area network if all the unprotected area identified as important by two or more initiatives joined the MPA network. 

“When effectively managed, when strong protections are put in place, they work,” Pikitch said.

Indeed, one such example is in Cabo Pulmo, Mexico, where establishing a marine protected area resulted in an 11-fold increase in the biomass of top predators within a decade. Many MPAs become sites for ecotourism, which can bring in hefty sums as people are eager to see the endemic beauty in their travels.

Pikitch hopes this kind of study spreads the word about the benefit of protecting the ocean and that policymakers and private citizens recognize that protecting sensitive regions also benefits fisheries, refuting the notion that environmentally driven policy conflicts with the goal of economic growth.

The groups involved in this study are already discussing the new goal for the ocean. Several diplomats and scientists would like to see the bar raised to 30 percent by 2030, although the United Nations hasn’t committed to this new target yet.

“Studies show that 10 percent is insufficient — it is a starting point,” Santora wrote. “I do think that targets beyond 2020 will increase.”

Pikitch said the ocean has always been one of her passions. Her goal is to “leave the world in better shape than I found it” for her children and six grandchildren.

 

Close to 100 veterans were on hand for a Veterans Day tribute at the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University Nov. 8.

Highlights of the tribute included a performance from New Lane Elementary School students who sang a number of patriotic songs for the veterans and performed the Armed Forces Medley dedicated to the five individual armed services.

Fred Sganga, executive director for the LISVH, spoke on the importance of veterans’ sacrifices.

“Today we honor more than 56 million Americans who proudly wore the uniform on behalf of a grateful nation,” he said. “We all know the burdens of young men and women that they bear in America’s fight against terrorism and tyranny.”

Thomas DiNapoli, New York State comptroller and keynote speaker for the ceremony, said the holiday is a reminder of the strength that comes when people join together in a just cause.

“Every day should be a day to thank our veterans,” he said. “So much of what we now take for granted in our nation was guaranteed by each of you. And the sacrifices of countless men and women who helped preserve democracy and freedom in America and around the globe.”

Since opening in October 1991, the LISVH has provided care to more than 10,000 veterans.

 

From left, Fred S. Sganga and Harry J. Janson present a check from the net proceeds of the 18th annual Golf Classic to Jonathan Spier, deputy executive director at the Long Island State Veterans Home. Photo from LISVH

The Long Island State Veterans Home (LISVH) at Stony Brook University held its 18th annual Golf Classic at the Willow Creek Golf & Country Club in Mount Sinai on Sept. 19. Over 184 golfers enjoyed a picture perfect day and raised over $174,000 to benefit the veterans residing at the veterans home.

Fred S. Sganga, executive director of the LISVH, acknowledged the extraordinary leadership of Harry J. Janson, the chairman of the 18th Annual Golf Classic.  “Harry has served as our golf chairman for the past 11 years and has helped raise over $1.4 million for the veterans living at the home. Each year, Harry finds a way to take our golf outing to a new level, he said.”  

Janson, a U.S. Army Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient, is president of Janson Supermarkets, LLC and owner of ShopRite of Hauppauge and Patchogue. A resident of Setauket, Janson is involved in many charitable organizations and serves as a dedicated advocate for veterans and their families. 

“Harry Janson is ‘A veteran’s veterans’ and truly believes in the mission and vision of the Long Island State Veterans Home,” said Sganga.

“At the Long Island State Veterans Home, we take great pride in caring for America’s heroes from the greatest generation to the latest generation, and the $174,000 raised from our Golf Classic will go a long way to help our Home,” said Bob Smith, chairman of the LISVH Veterans Advisory Board. 

Added Sganga, “The proceeds raised from this event will be used to support the quality of life programs our veterans deserve.”

Next year’s Golf Classic will take place on Sept. 17 at the Willow Creek Golf & Country Club. For more information, call 631-444-8615.

Photo by Bill Ziskin/SBU Athletics

ALBANY: For the third time in four years, the Stony Brook men’s cross-country team got to raise the banner and the trophy as the Seawolves won the America East Championship on Nov. 2 at the UAlbany cross-country course.

 The Seawolves dominated the field to tally just 22 points as all five of its scorers finished within the top seven. This marks the lowest tally at the conference championship since 1999 when New Hampshire scored 15. In second place behind the Seawolves was UMass Lowell (54) and Vermont (75) rounded out the top three.

Highlights

 Vann Moffett (Niantic, Conn.), Cameron Avery (Christchurch, New Zealand) and Luke Coulter (Jamesport) led the Seawolves charge as the trio placed 2-3-4.

Moffett finished the 8-kilometer course in 23 minutes, 42.63 seconds to earn runner-up honors while Avery and Coulter clocked in at 23:44.31 and 24:04.32 to back him up at third and fourth.

Robert Becker (Hurley) and Chris Biondi (Pine Bush) rounded out the scoring five with impressive sixth and seventh-place finishes.

Becker crossed the line in 24:08.51 while Biondi earned a time of 24:11.29.

Freshman Evan Brennan (Ballston Lake) also had an incredible run at his first-ever conference championship, taking 13th overall in 24:28.24 and was named the America East’s Most Outstanding Rookie.

Also running for the Seawolves were Kyle Kelly (West Islip) 15th, 24:32.62, Conor Malanaphy (Blauvelt) 22nd, 24:49.47, Aiden Smyth (Huntington Station) 23rd, 24:49.75 and Greg Mangarelli (Middletown, N.J.) 31st, 25:01.69.

 “This was a full team performance today, all 10 guys gave all they had,” said head coach Andy Ronan. “Our two guys up front Cameron (Avery) and Vann (Moffett) led the way with two very strong efforts and the supporting cast of Luke (Coulter), Rob (Becker), Chris (Biondi) and Evan (Brennan) in particular were outstanding. But all around it was a special effort by all the guys that ran. This meet is always difficult to win particularly if you are expected to. I thought the guys did a great job handling that expectation today and I am very proud of the way they did handle it.” 

Up next, the team returns to action in two weeks when they travel to Buffalo for the NCAA Regional Championships on Nov. 15.

William Farr. Photo by Anja von der Linden

By Daniel Dunaief

It’s not exactly a symphony, with varying sounds, tones, cadences and resonances all working together to take the listener on an auditory journey through colors, moods and meaning. In fact, the total length of the distortion is so short — about 0.1 seconds — that it’s a true scratch-your-ear-and-you’ll-miss-it moment.

And yet, astrophysicists like William Farr, an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Stony Brook University and a group leader in gravitational wave astronomy with the Simons Foundation Flatiron Institute, are thrilled that they have been able to measure distortions in space and time that occur at audio frequencies that they can convert into sounds. These distortions were made millions or even billions of years ago from merging black holes.

Farr, in collaboration with a team of scientists from various institutions, recently published a paper in Physical Review Letters on the topic. 

While the ability to detect sounds sent hurtling through space billions of years before Tyrannosaurus Rex stalked its prey on Earth with its mammoth jaw and short forelimbs offers some excitement in and of itself, Farr and other scientists are intrigued by the implications for basic physical principles.

General relativity, a theory proposed by Albert Einstein over 100 years ago, offers specific predictions about gravitational waves traveling through space.“The big excitement is that we checked those predictions and they matched what we saw. It’s a very direct test of general relativity and its predictions about a super extreme environment near a black hole,” said Farr. There are other tests of general relativity, but none that directly test its predictions so close to the event horizon of a black hole, he explained.

General relativity predicts a spectrum of tones from a black hole, much like quantum mechanics predicts a spectrum line from a hydrogen atom, Farr explained.

The result of this analysis “provides another striking confirmation of the theory of general relativity and also demonstrates that there are even more exciting things that can be done with gravitational wave astrophysics,” Marilena Loverde, an assistant professor of physics at the C. N. Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics at Stony Brook University, explained in an email. Loverde suggested that Farr is “particularly well-known for bringing powerful new statistical techniques to extract science from vast astrophysical data sets.”

Farr and his colleagues discovered two distortions that they converted into tones from one merger event. By measuring the frequency of the first one, they could predict the frequency for all the other tones generated in the event. They detected one more event, whose frequency and decay rate were consistent with general relativity given the accuracy of the measurement.

So, what does the merger of two black holes sound like, from billions of light years away? Farr suggested it was like a “thunk” sent over that tremendous distance. The pitch of that sound varies depending on the masses of the black holes. The difference in sound is akin to the noise a bear makes compared with a chipmunk: A larger black hole, or animal, in this comparison, makes a noise with a deeper pitch.

He used data from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, which is a twin system located in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington. LIGO had collected data from black hole merger events over a noncontinuous six-month period from 2015 to 2017.

Farr chose the loudest one, which came from 1.5 billion years ago. Farr was using data from the instrument, which collects gravitational waves as they reach the two different locations, when it was less sensitive. Given the original data, he might not have discovered anything. He was, however, delighted to discover the first tone.

If something that far away emitted a gravitational wave sound that lasts such a short period of time, how, then, could the LIGO team and Farr’s analysis be sure the sound originated with the cosmic collision?

“We make ‘extreme’ efforts to be sure about this,” Farr explained in an email. “It is one reason we built two instruments (so that something weird happening in one does not fool us).” He said he makes sure the signal is consistently recorded in both concurrently. To rule out distortions that might come from other events, like comets slamming into exoplanets, he can measure the frequency of the event and its amplitude.

Black holes form when stars collapse. After the star that, in this case, was likely around 25 times the mass of the sun, exploded, what was left behind had an enormous mass. When another, nearby star becomes a black hole, the two black holes develop an orbit like their progenitor stars. When these stars become black holes, they will emit enough gravitational waves to shrink the orbit, leading to a merger over a few billion years. That’s what he “heard” from the last second or fraction of a second.

Farr expects to have the chance to analyze considerably more data over the next few months. First, he is working to analyze data that has already been released and then he will explore data from this year’s observations, which includes about 25 more mergers.

“The detectors are getting more sensitive,” he said. This year, scientists can see about 30 percent further than they could in the first and second observing runs, which translates into seeing over twice the total volume.

Farr has been at Stony Brook for almost a year. Prior to his arrival, he had lived in England for five years. He and his wife, Rachel, who have a 3½-year-old daughter, Katherine, live in Stony Brook.

As for his work, Farr is thrilled that he will have a chance to study more of these black hole merger sounds that, while not exactly Mozart, are, nonetheless, music to his ears. “Each different event tells us different things about how stars form and evolve,” he said.

Stock photo

By Saul Hymes, M.D.

Dr. Saul Hymes

Make sure you and your loved ones are ready for the flu season by getting vaccinated. While the best time to get vaccinated is October or November, you can get vaccinated before the flu season and even in December or later. We don’t yet know what type of season we will encounter, so it’s better to be safe than sorry.

Cold or flu: How can you tell?

Influenza, or the flu, is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses and tends to be more severe than a cold. A cold is caused by a different virus and has milder symptoms. People with the flu will usually have fever, muscle aches and more fatigue.

The flu can also cause very severe complications including pneumonia and can lead to hospitalization and death. More mild cases may be indistinguishable from a cold and the duration can be the same (about 5-7 days). There may be times when you’re uncertain if you have the flu or a cold, so it’s good to know that there’s a test to diagnose the influenza virus, which most doctors’ offices and ERs are able to perform.

Treating the flu vs. a cold

Both are treated with rest and lots of fluids, while the pain and fever associated with either can be treated with medicines like acetaminophen and ibuprofen. Influenza may also be treated with a direct antiviral medication, Tamiflu. However, depending on risk factors and the person’s age, not all people with influenza need Tamiflu. This should be discussed with your physician. 

Who is at risk? 

People who are over the age of 65, adults and children with conditions like asthma, diabetes, heart disease and kidney disease need to get a flu shot. Pregnant women and people who live in facilities like nursing homes are also encouraged to get a flu shot. In fact, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone six months of age and older should get their yearly flu vaccine. There are documented benefits from this, including reductions in illnesses, related doctors’ visits and missed work or school. Even an imperfect vaccination can contribute to fewer hospitalizations and deaths from influenza. 

Dispelling the myths

Some people think that the flu shot can cause the flu. Not true. While some people get a little soreness or redness where they get the shot, it goes away in a day or two. And the nasal mist flu vaccine might cause nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat and cough. But the risk of a severe allergic reaction is very rare — it’s less than one in four million. 

Others say the flu shot doesn’t work, which is also not true. Most of the time, the flu shot will prevent the flu. In scientific studies, the effectiveness of the flu shot has ranged from 70 to 90 percent when there’s a good match between circulating viruses and those in the vaccine. 

Habits that can help

Help keep the flu at bay. Avoid those who are ill. Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze. If you don’t have a tissue, then cough or sneeze into your elbow or shoulder (not into your hands). Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly. Stay home from work if you’re sick. Keep your children out of school and after-school activities if they’re sick.  

At Stony Brook University Hospital, we also encourage visitors who may be experiencing symptoms not to visit their loved ones in the hospital until they are healthy. 

If you would like to get a flu shot, we can refer you to a provider in your area. Call Stony Brook Medicine’s HealthConnect at 631-444-4000 or visit your physician or local pharmacy.

Dr. Saul Hymes is an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics and specialist in pediatric infectious disease at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital.

Elected officials and Stony Brook Medicine faculty and staff at the Stony Brook Children’s Hospital ribbon-cutting ceremony Oct. 17. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

Stepping into the main lobby of the new Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, which is slated to open for patient care Nov. 17, it’s apparent that young patients will come first. The downstairs lobby is decorated in soothing tones with a fun nautical theme and one wall features a live feed of fish swimming at the Long Island Aquarium.

Children sit by the live feed from the Long Island Aquarium in the downstairs lobby of Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

In anticipation of the Nov. 17 opening, Stony Brook Medicine held a ribbon-cutting at the site with staff and elected officials in attendance Oct. 17. According to Stony Brook Medicine, the 71,500-square-foot, 114-bed hospital will be the only children’s hospital with single-patient rooms on Long Island.

“We’re really trying to get everything into a child-friendly environment, and this is sort of like the icing on the cake to have our building and to get the pediatric inpatients out from the 11th floor of what is predominantly an adult hospital into this proper space that was designed for kids and their families,” said Dr. Margaret McGovern, professor of pediatrics and physician-in-chief at Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, during a tour and interview two days before the ribbon-cutting.

With a full-service health care program that includes a Level 1 pediatric trauma center, neonatal intensive care unit and more, McGovern said Stony Brook Medicine treats an array of pediatric conditions.

“In general the acuity is high,” she said. “These are kids who really need to be in the hospital. It’s everything from an infection to a broken bone.”

McGovern said the single-bed rooms will provide infection control, comfort, privacy and security. The children’s hospital will be located on floors 4, 5, 6 and 7 in the new Medical and Research Translation building, also known as MART, which combined with using wristbands with devices, will provide extra security for children.

Each patient’s room will have a pull-out sofa for parents to sleep, refrigerator, safe and workspaces for both families and hospital staff. Each room also has a private bathroom with a shower that is wheelchair accessible.

Children in one of the play areas in Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

Dr. Carolyn Milana, interim Chair in the Department of Pediatrics, said that the single-patient rooms will allow medical staff to easily have private conversations with families, as the current rooms have two patients each and can only be divided with a curtain. She said at times medical teams have to step out of a room to have a conversation with parents. 

“This will allow the whole team to come in and really have a conversation with the family in private, and it’s quieter,” Milana said.

The children will also have a remote to control the lighting over artwork hung on the walls, and medical teams will be able to pull up records and patient care educational materials right up on the room’s television screen.

Maureen Cole, RN, associate director of nursing, Children’s Hospital and Women’s Services, said that the rooms were designed after receiving feedback from families on an advisory council.

“They were very instrumental in some of the additions that we have made, and then the children gave a lot of feedback, too, because we have a youth advisory council who have been touring the building,” she said.

Cole said children even offered advice on how they should be spoken to and who should be in the room when conversations occur about their care.

In addition to the private rooms, McGovern said the hospital was designed for respite with play spaces and rooms and even a teen lounge. The building will also have an adolescent unit on a separate floor from younger children and a classroom with Wi-Fi. 

The Ronald McDonald House, a nonprofit which provides support to improve the health of children, has a family room in the hospital so parents can sit and relax and even do work. A washer, dryer and shower across from the room is also available to families.

The building includes an elevator for patients being transported for procedures that is separate from visitors. The special procedure unit will provide services such as sedated MRIs, pediatric endoscopies and bone marrow procedures for both in- and outpatients.

McGovern said nearly 10 years ago Stony Brook Medicine declared themselves a children’s hospital because they recognized the need to expand children’s health care programs in Suffolk County.

“There are about 450,000 kids in Suffolk County,” she said. “That is absolutely a population that can support a children’s hospital. So we’ve been building the number of pediatric providers who are on our full-time faculty — now there’s almost 180 of them, 30 different pediatric specialties.”

McGovern said there are also more than 250 nurses on staff and Child Life Services employees and social workers.

The exterior of Stony Brook Children’s Hospital. Photo from Stony Brook Medicine

“Everyone likes to work in a place that has been thoughtfully designed to help them do their best work,” McGovern said. “I think that has resonated, also, with our staff and keeping good staff. We’re recruiting great physicians here. Pediatricians like to work at children’s hospitals because it says a lot about the commitment of the organization to children’s health to have a children’s hospital. I think that has helped us be successful recruiting doctors here from the best training programs in the country to come and join us to help us take care of the kids in Suffolk County.”

According to Stony Brook Medicine officials, the cost of the construction was $73 million and was part of Stony Brook Medicine’s $450 million expansion, which includes a 10-story hospital pavilion and new cancer center. To help with the cost state Senators Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and John Flanagan (R-East Northport) secured $50 million from the state. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and the State University of New York, under the leadership of former Chancellor Nancy Zimpher, helped to secure more funds through a $35 million NYSUNY 2020 Challenge Grant.

More contributions came from donors with $25 million from 3,584 contributors to the Children’s Hospital Building Fund, which was supported with two matching gifts of $10 million from an anonymous donor and $2.5 million from the Knapp Swezey Children’s Challenge. An additional $50 million was from a historic $150 million gift to Stony Brook University from Jim and Marilyn Simons.

Delaney Unger, 13, from Selden was on hand for the Oct. 17 ribbon-cutting. An Osteosarcoma survivor, who received a unique amputation called rotationplasty in the spring of 2017, was a patient at Stony Brook Children’s.

“I must say, I am a little jealous of the new beautiful Stony Brook Children’s Hospital,” Delaney said. “I can attest that not only will the children who stay here get the best possible care, but they will also do so in a fantastic new facility designed with them in mind.”

Before the official opening, the hospital invites the community to see the new building Nov. 2 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Pre-registration is preferred at stonybrookchildrens.org/openhouse.

From left, Luisa Escobar-Hoyos, Lucia Roa and Ken Shroyer Photo by Cindy Leiton

By Daniel Dunaief

The prognosis and treatment for cancer varies, depending on the severity, stage and type of disease. With pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma, the treatment options are often limited and the prognosis for most patients by the time doctors make a diagnosis is often bleak.

Researchers at the Renaissance School of Medicine’s Pathology Department at Stony Brook University have been testing for the presence of a protein called keratin 17, or K17, by staining tissue specimens or needle aspiration biopsy specimens. This measures the proportion of tumor cells that have high levels of expression.

This protein is typically active during embryological development or in stem cells, which are a type of cell that can differentiate into a wide range of other cells. It is also active in pancreatic cancer.

Ken Shroyer, department chairman; Luisa Escobar-Hoyos, assistant professor of pathology; and Lucia Roa, assistant professor of pathology recently published a paper in the journal Scientific Reports in which they documented how the level of this protein can indicate the prognosis for patients. K17 above a certain level typically suggests a worse prognosis.

The Stony Brook scientists want to understand why some pancreatic cancers are more aggressive than others, with the hope that they might be able to develop more effective ways to treat the most aggressive form of the disease.

In the recent research, the level of K17 not only indicated the prognosis for the most aggressive form of the disease, but it is also considered a “cause of making the tumors more aggressive,” Escobar-Hoyos added, which confirmed their previously published research and which unpublished data also supports.

Shroyer suggested that this research paper has been a validation of their plan to pursue the development of K17 as a way to differentiate one form of this insidious cancer from another.

While other cancers, such as cervical cancer, have proven quicker and easier to use K17 for its predictive power, the current work reflects the lab’s focus on pancreatic cancer. As such the research is a “great step forward to generate our first pancreatic cancer paper,” Shroyer said. His lab had previously published papers on other biomarkers in pancreatic cancer.

Escobar-Hoyos indicated that she and Shroyer anticipate that K17, which is one of a family of 54 different types of keratins in the human body, likely plays numerous roles in promoting cancer.

Indeed, K17 may promote the invasiveness of these cells, allowing them to spread from the original organ, in this case the pancreas, to other parts of the body. They are testing that concept through ongoing work in their lab.

The researchers believe that K17 may accelerate metastasis, but that line of thinking is “still at a relatively early stage,” Escobar-Hoyos said.

This protein may also change the metabolism of the cell. They believe K17 blocks the uptake of certain drugs by enhancing specific metabolic pathways. 

Additionally, K17 causes the degradation of p27, which is a tumor suppressor that controls cell division.

The researchers used two different ways to monitor the levels of protein, through mRNA analysis and through immunohistochemical localization. In the latter case, that involved staining the cells to look for the presence of the protein.

Roa, who is the first author on the paper, stained the slides and worked with Shroyer to score them.

The assistant professor, who came to Long Island with her daughter Laura who earned her bachelor’s degree and master’s in public policy at SBU, had been a pathologist and medical doctor when she lived in Colombia. She learned the IHC staining technique at Yale University just after she graduated from medical school and worked for six years as a postdoctoral fellow on several projects using IHC.

Roa is thrilled that she’s a part of a supportive team that could help develop techniques to improve patient diagnosis and care.

“We care deeply about developing a tool that will help us to treat patients and we value working together to accomplish this,” Roa explained in an email.

At this point, Shroyer and his team have identified key factors that cause K17 to be overexpressed. They are pursuing this line of research in the lab.

“We think K17 expression is dictated by something different than genetic status,” said Escobar-Hoyos. “This is speculation, but we think it might be triggered based on a patient’s immunity.”

After this study, the pathology team is looking to validate their results through different cohorts of patients. They are working with the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network and their scientific collaborators at Perthera Inc. to process tissue sections from these cases for K17 staining in their lab.

They are also at the early stages in the development of a collaboration with investigators at MD Anderson Cancer Center.

“If we can validate that K17 IHC testing is able to predict a response to the standard of care, then we’ll have permission to start a prospective analysis linked to a clinical trial,” Shroyer said.

Shroyer’s team is trying to understand how K17 becomes activated, what happens when they block that activation, and how it impacts the survival and tumor growth in animal models of pancreatic cancer.

In collaborations with other researchers, they are exploring how K17 impacts the therapeutic vulnerability of pancreatic cancer to over 2,000 FDA-approved compounds.

“There are a discrete list of compounds that are able to kill K17 positive cells,” Shroyer said. He is aiming to start phase 0 trials to validate the molecular model. If the data is sufficiently convincing, they can apply to the FDA to begin phase 1 trials.

He hopes this study is the first of many steps the lab will take in providing clues about how to diagnose and treat pancreatic cancer, which has been an intractable disease for researchers and doctors.

“This paper helps establish and confirm that K17 is an important and promising prognostic biomarker in pancreatic cancer,” Shroyer said. “For us, this is foundational for all the subsequent mechanistic studies that are in progress to understand how K17 drives cancer aggression.”

Panelist discuss race and its relationship to the businesses in the Village of Port Jefferson. Photo from Barbara Ransome
the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce hosted Stony Brook University at Due Baci Italian Restaurant for a panel and discussion about race and its relationship to the businesses in the Village of Port Jefferson. Photos from Barbara Ransome

Back in May, a Stony Brook University alumnus was restricted from entering the Port Jefferson bar and restaurant Harbor Grill for wearing what the bouncer had, at the time, thought was some kind of gang paraphernalia. The person in question, Gurvinder Grewal, was in fact wearing a turban, headwear of religious importance among those who practice Sikhism. Telling the bouncer this, he was restricted anyway.

Nearly four months later, on Sept. 24, the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce hosted Stony Brook University at Due Baci Italian Restaurant for a panel and discussion about race and its relationship to the businesses in the Village of Port Jefferson.

The event was moderated by Jarvis Watson, the chief diversity officer at SBU. Panelists included Robbye Kinkade, clinical professor in the School of Health Technology and Management; Chris Tanaka, assistant director of LGBTQ Services; Shaheer Khan, president of the undergraduate student government; and Yamilex Taveras, a political science senior and president of the Latin American Student Organization.

University officials said the framework for the discussion was centered around running a business near a diverse public university.

“We have a diverse population on campus, and we wanted to give the Chamber members a sense of who might be walking through their doors,” said Judy Greiman, the chief deputy to the president at SBU, said in a release. “It’s important for these shops to understand that differences exist, that we have buying power and that we all want to feel welcome,”

The panel walked through changing demographics at the university. Slides presented to the businesses documented that while the number of fall enrollment has steadily increased since 2012, the campus has become increasingly diverse.

Those on the panel relayed their own experiences shopping in Port Jeff. Kinkade spoke of  how, several years ago, she walked into a shop and was profiled. While there were several other customers in the store shopping around, she said an employee came up to her asking if she needed help, then continued to follow her around the entire time she was there. She noticed none of the white customers were getting the same treatment. While that shop has since closed,  she, a person of color, said she largely stopped shopping in Port Jeff after that experience. 

With the positive reception of the panel, she said she may intend to shop more in the village.

“I have nothing but the utmost praise for those folks, the members who attended,” added Kinkade. “I think for the chamber of commerce to want to come together and talk about this issue, is kudos to them. It was a bold, brave step.”

Joan Dickinson, the SBU community relations director, and Barbara Ransome, the director of operations for the chamber, had communicated together after the May incident. Ransome said they were looking for a way to present to local businesses on how to be more inclusive. They decided on a panel presentation including several officers and students from the university. Around 40 people, mostly Port Jeff business owners, came for the presentation.

The chamber director said the meeting was one of the most well received she’s had in her years at the chamber.

“The direct feedback that I was getting from people there was amazing — they felt there was so much information, with such sincerity and such genuine sharing,” she said. “They felt comfortable enough they were speaking because they felt they were in a safe space.”

This comes as Stony Brook and Port Jefferson are becoming steadily more intertwined. A PJ/SBU shuttle was first piloted last spring semester with a total ridership several thousand students coming into Port Jeff in its two-and-a-half-month tenure. Ransome called Stony Brook an increasingly vital partner with the village with the number of students who come down to eat and shop. She added this has been a change from previous years.

The SBU officials said those Port Jefferson businesses trying to be more welcoming to all walks of life should look toward examining dress code policies, revise their mission statements and hiring practices toward being more inclusive, and even look to include gender neutral bathrooms. 

Yet, even the smallest gesture makes a big difference. Panelists suggested simply posting a notice in front of the shop that all people are welcome, that those who enter don’t have to fear being profiled, can go a long way.

“It’s important that we need to be inclusive to all potential customers,” Ransome said. “One of the most important things I thought is we need to help educate and we need to examine our best business practices, so we can continue at our optimal level of service to our community.”

This post was updated Oct. 4 to amend Dickinson’s title as well as add context to several quotes in the original article.