Stony Brook University

A Stony Brook University student has alleged that a professor sexually harassed her. File photo

To translate the #MeToo social media movement into real world action, The Safe Center LI and #MeToo founder Tarana Burke, with Suffolk County legislators, business owners, nonprofits and cultural organizations will gather at Stony Brook University Jan. 28 in an effort to build greater support for the safety and empowerment of all women and girls.

“People are so appalled with what others have been getting away with for so long, and what level it’s rising to,” said Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket). “What’s important about the #MeToo movement is it’s an attempt at a cultural shift.”

Hahn is leading a roundtable discussion from 10:15 to 11:45 a.m. with Burke and nonprofits for 40 members of town, county and state government. They will share ideas about legislation that can create a safer environment for victims of abuse. It is not open to public or media.

At 12:45 p.m. student leaders will have lunch with Burke to discuss ways to protect university students. From 2 to 3:30 p.m., a public forum will be held in the Student Activities Center, where Burke will be questioned by three kids who have gone through i-tri girls, a free program across six school districts on the East End that empowers girls through the completion of a triathlon. A safe space will be opened from 3:30 to 5 p.m., where Crime Victims Center rape and trauma counselors will be available.

The discussion will lay groundwork for a 10X10X10 initiative, which will gather input from 10 youth-based
organizations like schools or nonprofits; 10 government officials; and 10 Long Island-based companies. It is modeled off British actress and activist Emma Watson’s HeForShe IMPACT 10X10X10 initiative, put in place to galvanize momentum in advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment.

The plan is for follow-ups to the event, and a website to pool the resources into one place, and showcase models, ideas and strategies to tackle the issue.

“We want to create models that can be shared and replicated across sectors,” said Cindy Morris, chief operating officer of i-tri girls. “There are people and organizations that are doing this beautifully, powerfully and with impact. We want to focus on education and empowerment, policy and best practices, and possible legislation ideas at all levels.”

From left, Brenna Henn and Meng Lin at a conference last year in New Orleans. Photo from Meng Lin

By Daniel Dunaief

The story of the genetics of skin pigmentation in humans may have even more layers than the skin itself, depending on how close people live to the equator. The conventional wisdom for skin pigmentation is that it is a relatively simple trait, with a small number of genes accounting for almost half of the variety of skin tones.

That, however, isn’t always the case. Pigmentation genetics likely becomes more complex in populations near the equator or with greater variation in pigmentation, like with the Khoisan living in southern Africa.

Above, Brenna Henn, right, with an elder in the Khomani San community who gave her a book on the language formerly spoken in the southern Kalahari Desert. Photo from Brenna Henn

“As you move further toward the equator, the distributions are wide,” Brenna Henn, an assistant professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution at Stony Brook University, said about the results she, along with collaborators from her lab and from Stanford University, recently published in the journal Cell.

Exploring the genetic determination of skin can serve as a model to understand the broad implications for various genetic variations for different populations as they confront a range of health challenges.

Henn has also worked with tuberculosis studies in South Africa. About one in three people in the world has a latent tuberculosis infection. Researchers have conducted studies to see which genes might be responsible for the different reactions to this disease. Tuberculosis susceptibility studies indicate that different genes may be responsible for infection in different populations, in areas including Russia, West Africa and South Africa.

According to Henn, scientists need to study and understand the disease in different populations to identify, through gene interactions, who will benefit from specific treatments in a vaccination campaign.

When Henn, who is a native of California, started the pigmentation study seven years ago when she was a graduate student at Stanford University, she had considerably different expectations. “When I was a post doc at Stanford, I expected the project to be quick because the genetics of pigmentation in Europeans was relatively well understood,” she explained in an email. When she started analyzing the results, she found that her hypothesis “was not true at all. There are so many different things involved.”

Calling this analysis the “tip of the iceberg,” Henn said she discovered many new genes beyond the ones scientists already knew contributed to skin pigmentation. She estimates that there are 50 if not more genetic sequences involved in skin pigmentation near the equator.

The range of skin pigmentation in South African populations reflected this increased genetic blueprint, with people in these areas demonstrating about twice the variation as people might encounter in a western European population.

These studies require the analysis of considerable data, through a field called bioinformatics, in which researchers analyze and process information through programs that search for patterns. “There’s a huge computational component” to this work, Henn said. “We don’t know where the genes are. We have to sample the entire genome” for as many as 500 people. “This blows up into a computational problem.”

Above, from left, Meng Lin and Brenna Henn at Lin’s graduation ceremony where she earned her PhD. Photo from Brenna Henn

Meng Lin, who worked in Henn’s lab for four and a half years and recently earned her doctorate, performs just such analyses. “We were hoping we’d be able to find some signals that had never been found before, to demonstrate the difference” in the genetic architecture, said Lin, who is now applying for postdoctoral research positions. “Given the prior studies on skin pigmentation traits, the complexity of the genetic architecture we found out was unexpected.”

People near the equator would likely need to have pigmentation that balanced between producing vitamin D from sunlight with protecting their skin from too much exposure to ultraviolet light. In areas such as in Africa, the ultraviolet light can be so strong that “the primary selection factor would be to avoid the photo damage from the strong UV, which favors melanin enriched dark skin pigmentation for photo protection,” Lin explained in an email.

Generally, people further from the equator, such as Scandinavian populations, have lighter skin because they need to process the limited vitamin D they can get, particularly during the darker months. That, however, isn’t the case for the Inuit people, who have darker skin in an area that gets limited sunlight. “Anyone who lives there should be under pressure for light skin,” Lin said. The Inuit, however, are darker skinned, which might be because their diet includes fish and fish oil, which is a rich source of vitamin D. “That would relax the selection force on lighter skin color,” she said.

With people able to travel and live in a wide range of regions across the Earth, selection pressures might be harder to decipher in the modern world. “Travel across continents is a recent” phenomenon, Lin said. The history of such travel freedom is “way too short for changing the genetic components.” Selection pressure occurs over tens of thousands of years, she added.

Diversity and the intake of vitamin D interact closely with each other. They can have impacts on the balance point. Using vitamin supplements could relax the selection on lighter skin, so the balance might shift to a darker population, Lin explained. Other modern lifestyles, such as wearing clothes, staying indoors and consuming vitamin D could complicate this and relax the strength of selection in the future, she added.

A native of China, Lin lives in Port Jefferson Station and enjoys applying math and computer skills to biology. “It’s great fun to solve the questions we have by developing and applying computational methods to existing data,” she said.

After five years at Stony Brook, Henn is transitioning to a position at the University of California at Davis, where she hopes to continue this ongoing work. “We want to follow up on how quickly these selective events occur,” Henn said. She’d like to discover how long it takes for the genetic average of the population to shift.

Furie, above sailing on her 26-foot boat that is moored at Manhasset Bay, is navigating the American Journal of Pathology toward new waters. Photo by Richard Furie

By Daniel Dunaief

Martha Furie has a job no other woman has held in the 122-year history of a highly regarded scientific periodical. A professor of pathology and molecular genetics and microbiology at Stony Brook University, Furie is the new editor-in-chief of the American Journal of Pathology, taking over the top editorial job at a journal where she has been a contributor since 1993.

Martha Furie. Photo by SBU

“As a woman, it is certainly gratifying to see an accomplished and capable woman such as Martha being chosen to lead the way,” said Kari Nejak-Bowen, an assistant professor in the Department of Pathology at the University of Pittsburgh, School of Medicine, in an email. “Seeing women such as [Furie] in positions of power and visibility will empower other female scientists to dream that they can accomplish similar goals.”

Richard Mitchell, a senior associate editor at the journal and a professor of pathology and health sciences and technology and vice chair for education at Brigham and Women’s Hospital also applauded the choice. Furie “was probably the very best person we could recruit for the job and is someone who has the energy and vision for leading us into the challenging future,” Mitchell said.

From 1986 through 2014 Furie ran a lab that focused on the study of the body’s immune response to infections from Lyme disease and tularemia, which is cause by a bacterium that is classified as a potential agent of bioterrorism. In 2014, she became the director of the Graduate Program in Genetics at Stony Brook.

Kenneth Shroyer, the chair of the Department of Pathology at SBU, described the periodical Furie starts leading in 2018 as the “top pathology journal.”

As she takes the helm of the journal, Furie plans to navigate the periodical toward more translational research. “The Journal has been very focused on understanding the basic mechanisms of disease,” she said. “Research in all areas is getting much more translational: The bench-to-bedside thinking is where funding agencies are focusing their efforts,” and it’s also where the periodical she now leads is heading.

The tagline for the journal, which Nejak-Bowen said helped pioneer the current understanding of cell death, used to be Cellular and Molecular Biology of Disease. Furie changed that to Discoveries in Basic and Translational Pathobiology.

Shroyer believes the new direction should help the journal compete and redefine its niche for a wider range of readers. While Furie is excited about the opportunity, she acknowledges the increasingly challenging nature of the business. “Scientific publishing is a tough area right now,” she said. “There are fewer people in research because funding has diminished,” while, at the same time, more journals are competing to highlight research discoveries.

She will try to raise the journal’s profile for research scientists. Furie plans on expanding the journal’s social media presence and will do more marketing, while working with expert associate editors and getting them more involved in soliciting submissions. She also plans to make collections of highly cited papers in targeted areas and intends to use these to market the journal to attendees at specialized conferences.

Furie will spend this month contacting each of the associate editors and will solicit suggestions for people who might like to join the publication. She will also seek ideas for the journal. Mitchell suggested that Furie would likely benefit from these interactions. She is a “very good listener and is thoughtful in the questions she asks,” he said. “She is very discerning in assimilating the answers she gets back.” Shroyer expressed confidence in Furie’s leadership, citing a string of accolades and accomplishments in an SBU career that began in 1986.

Above, Furie welcomes students and faculty to the graduate program’s retreat in 2016. Photo by Constance Brukin

Furie was the president of the American Society for Investigative Pathology from the middle of 2011 through the middle of 2012. She was also the recipient of the Robbins Distinguished Educator Award in 2017, which recognizes people whose contributions to education in pathology had an important impact at a regional, national or international level.

Furie and Nejak-Bowen co-organized and co-chaired the ASIP Scientific Sleuthing of Human Disease for High School Teachers and Students in April 2017. With this effort, Furie has already had some success in changing the direction and target audience of an ongoing program. The session, which provides high school teachers with concepts of human disease that they can incorporate into their classroom, now includes high school students.

“This has really revitalized the program, as the students are inquisitive and very engaged with the material,” Nejak-Bowen explained. Furie was “instrumental in encouraging this change in focus, and is passionate about building an improving this session every year.”

The opportunity Furie has as editor-in-chief of the Journal of Pathology “continues her role as a national leader that she’s established,” Shroyer said.

Furie said she benefited from a diverse staff at Stony Brook, that included women like current Professor Emeritus Gail Habicht, when she first arrived. One of the best pieces of advice she received from Habicht was to understand that you can have a family and a successful career.

“You might not be able to do it to the same standard of perfection you did before you had children, but you can have a meaningful career and raise successful children and be happy doing both,” recalled Furie, who has two sons, Jon and Dan, and a 10-month-old grandson Tyler, who lives in Bedford, New York. She is married to Richard Furie, the chief of the Division of Rheumatology at Northwell Health, whom she met in a physics class at Cornell over 45 years ago.

Nejak-Bowen said Furie “leads by example when it comes to work/life balance.” Nejak-Bowen urges women scientists to find a mentor who can offer advice through all stages of a career. She has long considered Furie “a friend, mentor and inspiration.”

Based on Furie’s track record, Shroyer is confident in her continued success and anticipates that the journal will “thrive under her direction.”

Recent volunteers with the Stony Brook University’s food pantry gather at the location. Photo by Greta Strenger

Stony Brook University is ahead of the curve when it comes to ensuring students are well nourished.

In December, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) unveiled a proposal of the 2018 State of the State that includes the No Student Goes Hungry Program. The five-point plan was conceived to combat hunger and food insecurity for students in kindergarten through college. If legislation is passed, all State University of New York and City University of New York schools will be required to offer a food pantry on their campuses or enable students to receive food through stigma-free means — something SBU has been doing since 2013. Currently half of all SUNY and CUNY campuses offer food pantries, according to the governor’s office.

“This program is essential to the success of future New York leaders and this administration remains committed to removing barriers to healthy food options, while providing a supportive, effective learning environment for students across this great state,” Cuomo said in a statement.

According to Hunger on Campus, a report and survey conducted by a number of national campus organizations, 48 percent of college-aged respondents to surveys experienced food insecurity within 30 days.

A student volunteer stocks the shelves of the food pantry with nonperishable items donated by SBU community members. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

SBU clinical assistant professor Donna Crapanzano, pantry co-director since 2016, said associate professor Carlos Vidal of the School of Health Technology and Management brought the idea to the university in 2011. Since it opened in 2013, the pantry has provided food donated by members of campus organizations to 4,100 food-insecure students, faculty and staff members. Currently open 10 hours a week in the university’s Information Technologies Study Center at the Grey College building, approximately 20 student volunteers man the pantry, and there are plans to expand operating hours in the spring.

“I think it’s a great initiative,” Crapanzano said. “One of the things that’s really important to me, and I joke about this all the time with students, is I believe the first thing of your day should be breakfast. You can’t get a good day started if you’re not fueled up, and your brain doesn’t work without having fuel. So, [Cuomo’s] initiative is starting with pre-school and going through 12th grade and then to extend that because you’re still a student, you’re still being educated. We know that food is a primary source of you not only succeeding in your academics but eventually succeeding in the workforce.”

To use the SBU food pantry, one only needs to provide a school identification card.

“One of our goals was to really make it an environment where you don’t have to have any other reason other than being a SBU student, faculty or staff, because one day may be different from another day,” Crapanzano said. “It’s not based on overall finances, it’s based on what the needs are in your life at the time.”

The professor said she and fellow director Richard Sigal, SBU’s assistant director for college housing for Roth Quad, have worked with a nutritionist to provide balanced choices to pantry visitors, and each guest to the pantry receives a fruit, vegetable, protein and a carbohydrate. The food pantry asks for nonperishable food items that contain less than 30 percent of the overall daily intake of sodium and 25 grams or less of sugar. If donated food includes higher amounts of salt and sugar, it is placed on a “junk” table where volunteers will remind a person taking it to make sure it is balanced with something nutritious. Crapanzano said one example is cutting Ramen noodles with another type of pasta or beans.

“We do our best to educate the guests who come to know what are better ways for them to make a healthy eating choice when they can,” she said, adding that volunteers adiscuss food labels with pantry guests so they know what to look for when they shop on their own.

“It’s not based on overall finances; it’s based on what the needs are in your life at the time.”

— Donna Crapanzano

Crapanzano said every academic year an intern works with the directors. Since the fall semester of 2017, SeungJu Lee, a graduate student in social welfare, has been collaborating with them on projects such as creating more community outreach.

“I didn’t know we had this pantry at first, [until] I became a social work student,” Lee said. “Many students aren’t aware about our food pantry. So we’re trying to do many promotions and give awareness of food insecurity and the food pantry.”

The graduate student said it has been a positive experience for her, and she has met many people from the university community.

“The food pantry is an informal place where we welcome guests and make small talk with them,” Lee said, adding that volunteers and patrons often will discuss classes.

One experience she said she will always remember is a conversation with a college staff member who donated food, telling Lee she once needed help from various social welfare agencies and now wanted to pay it forward.

Crapanzano said there have been a number of people who have used the pantry in the past and have later come back to volunteer.

“It’s full circle,” she said. “You help out somebody and then they return the help, and then you develop a relationship that you know helped that person get a little bit further because they just needed something at that time.”

Stony Brook University professor Patrice Nganang was released Dec. 27 after being detained in Cameroon for three weeks. Photo from the Free Patrice Nganang Facebook page

A writer, poet and professor is enjoying freedom once again.

Cameroon police detained Patrice Nganang, professor of Cultural Studies and Comparative Literature at Stony Brook University, as he was leaving the country for Zimbabwe at Douala International Airport early in December. The detainment came after the Cameroonian-native and United States citizen published an article on the website Jeune Afrique. In the piece in question, the professor was critical of Cameroon President Paul Biya’s administration’s approach to the ongoing instability in Anglophone regions of Cameroon. Many have criticized the government’s response to citizen’s protests regarding marginalization in the regions

Robert Harvey, a distinguished professor at SBU, said Nganang’s wife Nyasha notified him Dec. 27 of her husband’s hearing suddenly being changed from Jan. 19 to the morning of the 27th and that he was released and all charges dropped.

“No doubt all the pressure mobilized from various sectors helped,” Harvey said.

Dibussi Tande, a friend of Nganang’s for 10 years and one of the administrators of the Facebook page, Free Patrice Nganang, which has gained more than 2,200 followers, echoed Harvey’s sentiments.

“It is a feeling of relief and pride in the amazing work done by a global team of human rights activists, journalists, civil society organizations, friends, family, etc., to bring pressure to bear on the government of Cameroon to set him free,” Tande said.

In a phone interview after his release, Nganang agreed that the pressure from outside of Cameroon, especially from the United States, played a part in his being set free earlier and being treated well while in prison. He even was given meals from outside of the jail and didn’t have to eat prison food.

“The pressure not only led to my early release, it was also such that it gave me a better condition in jail so it made it possible for me to have a more humane condition,” Nganang said.

Among the charges Nganang faced were making a death threat against the president; forgery and use of forgery, due to the professor having a Cameroonian passport despite being a U.S. citizen, as the country does not recognize dual citizenship; and illegal immigration due to not having the proper papers as a U.S. citizen.

Dedicated to writing about the conditions in the Anglophone regions of Cameroon, Nganang said he was in the country for two weeks interviewing people. He said those in the western and English-speaking region of Cameroon must adhere to a 6 p.m. curfew, and the border to Nigeria is locked. He feels as a writer it’s his job to travel to the country and let people know what is going on there.

He said he always understood he might be arrested one day, “because of the kind of work I do. I’m very critical, I’m outspoken, I write editorials, etc. I’ve expressed my opinions freely for 20, 30 years. So I have always been prepared to face justice at a certain point because Cameroon is obviously a tyranny.”

According to a statement from a spokesperson for U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley), the congressman’s office had been in contact with the U.S. Department of State, Nganang’s family and Stony Brook University administrators during the professor’s detainment.

“In the face of an increasingly oppressive government, Professor Nganang has worked tirelessly for a better future for his country and family,” Zeldin said. “As Professor Nganang fights for the freedom of all Cameroonians, we fought for his. I look forward to his safe return home to his loved ones and the Stony Brook University community.”

Nganang is on leave from the university this academic year to attend to family business in Zimbabwe and to pursue a fellowship at Princeton University in the spring. During Nganang’s detainment, through a U.S. embassy representative, he sent a message to Harvey asking him to let his former students know that he hadn’t forgotten about their letters of recommendation.

Nganang said when he arrived at the airport in Washington D.C., he was greeted by a crowd of people, and he was given a ride home to Hopewell, New Jersey. The professor said he was grateful for the help he received from elected officials and representatives of the U. S. Embassy, and the support of his family, friends and neighbors. When he arrived home, he found friends at his house shoveling the driveway and filling his refrigerator.

“Coming out of jail after four weeks of a harsh ordeal and facing such an outpouring of love — my phone hasn’t stopped ringing since then because all my neighbors are concerned — guess what, it made a difference,” Nganang said.

Updated to include quotes from Patrice Nganang Jan. 4. 

John T. Mather Memorial Hospital in Port Jefferson is set to join Northwell Health. File photo from Mather Hospital

A historic change at a nearly 90-year-old Port Jefferson institution has been finalized.

John T. Mather Memorial Hospital will officially finalize an affiliation agreement with Northwell Health Dec. 21, according to a Mather board member, who asked not to be referred to by name. Leadership from Mather Hospital signed a letter of intent to join Northwell, New York’s largest health care provider, in August, though the sides had not yet finalized the terms of the agreement at that time. It is the first time in the hospital’s history it will be affiliating with a larger health system, and a signing ceremony is set to take place Thursday, Dec. 21, at 3 p.m. in a conference room at the hospital. The board member said he expects Northwell Health president and chief executive officer Michael Dowling as well as Mather board of directors chairman Ken Jacoppi to attend the signing.

Mather Hospital is set to join Northwell Healht. Photo from Huntington Hospital

“We’re very pleased Northwell has committed to making an investment in our community and bringing their extraordinary capabilities to our community,” the board member said. “They’ve committed to preserve our culture of patient safety.”

The board member said part of the agreement is that Mather’s board and CEO will remain in place through an initial period of five years, allowing the hospital to remain “largely self-governing” during that time with collaboration and cooperation from Northwell. The Mather board member did not specify the total length or any other specifics of the agreement. A spokesperson from Mather confirmed the ceremonial signing will take place Dec. 21 and that the agreement has been reached, but declined to confirm any details relating to the contract.

The board member summed up what the change might mean for hospital patients going forward.

“In the near term the experience should not change at all,” he said. “We happen to believe that’s a good experience, generally speaking. In the long term Northwell has greater capabilities than we do and we’ll gain those. They’re committed to supporting our residency program as well.”

In August, state Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) voiced opposition to the agreement, saying he would have preferred Mather affiliate with Stony Brook University Hospital.

“I don’t think it’s a good decision,” LaValle said at the time. “For 50 years-plus there’s been a culture in place if people needed tertiary care they would go from Mather to Stony Brook. Stony Brook will still be in place, will still offer services and people if they choose can go to Stony Brook.”

Mather Hospital vice president of public affairs Nancy Uzo said in August Stony Brook was considered an option for affiliation and offered an explanation by email.

“Our goal through this process is to ensure that our communities continue to have access to advanced, high-quality care and superior satisfaction close to home, and to serve the best interests of our medical staff and employees,” she said.

Dowling commented similarly about Mather Hospital’s reputation around the letter of intent signing in August, and as to why Northwell would be a good fit for Mather.

“Mather Hospital is known for patient-centric care both in the community and throughout the industry,” he said. “That deeply embedded sense of purpose is the type of quality we want to represent Northwell Health, along with an excellent staff of medical professionals and physicians. Together, Mather and Northwell will play a crucial partnership role expanding world-class care and innovative patient services to Suffolk County residents.”

A public relations representative from Northwell did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

This story was updated Dec. 19 to include a Mather spokesperson’s confirmation of the signing ceremony.

BeLocal winners from left, Yuxin Xia, Luke Papazian, Manuela Corcho, Johnny Donza and their thesis advisor Harold Walker. File photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Yuxin Xia and Johnny Donza

Johnny Donza wants to use the training he’s received as an engineering undergraduate at Stony Brook University to help people 8,600 miles and another continent away in Madagascar.

The group leader of a senior project, Donza is working with Yuxin Xia, Luke Papazian and Manuela Corcho to design and hopefully help build a bridge that will cross a stream on the outskirts of the village of Mandrivany. People living in that village had been walking across a log that has broken to buy and sell food or get to a hospital.

“I wanted to be involved in something that would make an impact,” said Donza, who is studying civil engineering with a concentration in structural engineering. This project presented an opportunity to help “people on the opposite side of the world. I thought that was pretty cool.”

Donza’s project is one of 15 senior design efforts that arose from a collaboration between Stony Brook and a group called BeLocal. The company sent Stony Brook graduates Acacia Leakey and Leila Esmailzada to collect video footage this summer in Madagascar. They hoped to return with the kind of information about the needs and resources of the people they met.

“These projects create the perfect opportunity for students to manage a real engineering project,” Harold Walker, professor and chair of the Department of Civil Engineering, explained in an email. Walker is Donza’s senior advisor on the project. “The experience the students have with these projects will be invaluable as they start their engineering careers.”

Acacia Leakey, on left

Walker said he initially expected to have one team of four to five students work with BeLocal in Civil Engineering. Instead, 13 students signed up. Walker spoke with Leakey and they decided to divide the students into three teams, each of which is working on different types of bridges. “If the bridge design can be implemented locally in Madagascar, this will improve the safety of river crossings and also provide the community [with] greater access to education and other opportunities,” he continued. “A bridge may seem like a simple thing but it can really be transformative.”

In addition to the bridge project Donza and his teammates are developing, Stony Brook teams are working on projects including rice storage, rat control, rice processing and briquette manufacturing.

Eric Bergerson, one of the three founders of BeLocal along with Mickie and Jeff Nagel of Laurel Hollow, said the group was thrilled with the range and scope of the projects. The response is “overwhelming,” Bergerson said, and “we couldn’t be happier.” Bergerson is the director of research at the social data intelligence company TickerTags.

For their project, Donza’s group is exploring the use of bamboo to create the bridge. “Deforestation in the region is a major problem,” which reduces the ability to find and use hardwood, Donza said. “Bamboo grows rampantly, so there’s plenty of bamboo we can use.”

To gather information about the structural details about this material, Donza and his team are testing bamboo they harvested from the Stony Brook campus. Leakey, who is earning her master’s at SBU after she did a Madagascar senior design project last year, said using bamboo creates a useful supply chain. “It’s such a sustainable resource,” said Leakey, who speaks regularly with Donza and other project managers who are seeking additional information about how to use local resources to meet a demonstrated need in Madagascar.

The Stony Brook team is working to model its structure after the Rainbow Bridge, which is an ancient Chinese bridge. The Rainbow Bridge has a longer span and has a more exaggerated arch than the one Donza and his classmates are designing. The group plans to build a structure that will hold several people at the same time. During monsoon season, the stream below the bridge also floods. The design may need to include nails or bolts, creating a durable, longer-lasting bond between pieces of bamboo.

The team is also waiting to collect information about the soil around the stream, so they know what kind of foundation they can construct. In their design, they are trying to account for a likely increase in the population and future windy conditions.

Donza said he and his team are excited to make a meaningful contribution to life in Madagascar. “We’re not just doing this to graduate,” he said. “We’re doing this because we have a chance to help people. They need this bridge.”

Leila Esmailzada

The BeLocal approach to the collaborations with Stony Brook involves learning what people need by observing and interacting with them, rather than by imposing expectations based on experiences elsewhere. Esmailzada said they spoke with women about various materials because women were the ones using the charcoal and firewood.

At some point, BeLocal may also foster an exchange that allows students from Madagascar to come to Stony Brook to learn from their American counterparts while also sharing first-hand information about what might work in Madagascar. “It’d be great if we could get people to come” to Stony Brook, Bergerson said. “We’re just developing relationships with universities now.”

Leakey said Stony Brook students have shown genuine interest in life in Madagascar and, as a result, have found some surprises. People across various disciplines assume incorrectly that developing nations progress along the same technological path that America did, which leads them to the inaccurate expectation that Madagascar is 100 years behind the United States. When engineering students learned that “people in Madagascar have smartphones” with Twitter and Facebook accounts, “their jaws fall. It’s important to recognize that so you can realize it isn’t a simple story that you’re innovating for and that there is this mixture of technology that’s familiar in a lifestyle that’s unfamiliar.”

Even while these projects are still in the formative stages, with students continuing to gather information and refine their projects, Walker suggested they have already provided value to engineering students. “The students have already learned a great deal,” Walker explained. They appreciate how their classroom skills “can really transform the lives of people across the world.”

Above, Stony Brook Medicine’s Puerto Rico medical relief team. Photo from SBU

By Kenneth Kaushansky, M.D.

Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky

As the holidays arrive, our thoughts turn to giving — and giving back to those who need our help. Stony Brook Medicine’s Puerto Rico medical relief team did just that, spending two weeks on the devastated island to treat patients and give a much-needed break to health care workers there.

We got word, after Category 5 Hurricane Maria swept through, of the conditions in Puerto Rico. Pharmacies were in ruins. Patients with chronic illnesses who needed to see their primary care physicians could not get appointments. Health care professionals couldn’t tend to their own families, nor repair their damaged homes, because their services were needed around the clock.

Relief efforts for those in Puerto Rico took on many forms. In my role as chair of the Greater New York Hospital Association board of directors, I served as part of an organization that teamed up with the Healthcare Association of New York State to establish the New York Healthcare’s Puerto Rico Hurricane Relief Fund to assist hospitals, health care workers and their families in Puerto Rico. The fund is a vehicle for New York’s hospital community to show its support for frontline caregivers and their families who have suffered significant losses.

I’m proud how Stony Brook Medicine also responded to this human health crisis. As part of a 78-member relief team of personnel from hospitals around the region, Stony Brook organized a team of health care professionals that was deployed to Puerto Rico. They signed on to spend two weeks living and working 12-hour days in less-than-ideal conditions, with widespread shortages of food, water and electricity.

Our 23 care providers — three physicians, two nurse practitioners, nine nurses, four paramedics, four nursing assistants and one pharmacist — split up after arriving in Puerto Rico. Most were stationed in the city of Manatí, while the rest went to the city of Fajardo and then to the U.S. Navy hospital ship USNS Comfort. They worked closely with military personnel, federal agencies and the people of Puerto Rico. They saw more than 2,000 patients and helped local health care workers get some rest and get back on their feet.

Our team returned home in November to cheers and hugs from their co-workers and loved ones who met them at Stony Brook University Hospital. Despite the hardships and long hours, they spoke of the deeply fulfilling experiences they had in Puerto Rico. Their trip embodied the reasons why people choose a career in health care in the first place — to be of service and to provide excellent care.

Stony Brook Medicine’s mission is to deliver world-class, compassionate care to patients and families. And sometimes that mission extends well beyond our own four walls. We are making a difference, not only here at home but in communities around the world.

All of us at Stony Brook Medicine are so extremely proud of our Puerto Rico relief team. The work they did was heroic, generous in the extreme and so worthwhile. Our thanks also go to their families and to their Stony Brook colleagues who stepped up to cover extra shifts while the team was away.

Having heard many of their experiences, I cannot say enough about the team members and their devotion. I know they have returned much better for the experience and are now safely back to continue their efforts to improve the health of our patients.

Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky serves as dean of the School of Medicine and senior vice president of Health Sciences at State University of New York at Stony Brook.

Above, Israel Kleinberg, right, with Mitch Goldberg, president of Ortek Therapeutics

By Daniel Dunaief

What if dentists could see developing cavities earlier? What if, once they discovered these potential problems, they could help their patients protect their teeth and avoid fillings? And, to top it off, what if they could do this without exposing their patients to radiation from X-rays?

The Electronic Cavity Detector

That’s exactly what Israel Kleinberg, a longtime Stony Brook University dental researcher and the founding director of the Division of Translational Oral Biology at SBU, recently developed. Called the electronic cavity detector, this new tool was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration.

The device monitors mineral loss in enamel of molars and premolars. Powered by a battery, the handheld ECD uses electrical conductance to diagnose and monitor lesions. Tooth enamel does not conduct a signal. A lesion or crack in the enamel, however, will allow the ECD to record an early indication of a developing cavity.

“The ECD can detect lesions that are microscopic and [detect them] much sooner than X-rays,” Kleinberg explained in an email. Other research has shown that “X-rays are not very effective for diagnosing incipient enamel caries [cavities], though the technique is very useful for diagnosing deeper lesions.”

Ortek Therapeutics, a small company based in Roslyn Heights, supported the research to develop the technology over the last 10 years. Ortek is developing plans to commercialize the ECD, which could be available at a neighborhood dentist’s office by the middle of next year.

Mitch Goldberg, the president of Ortek, said the response to a positive reading on the ECD will depend on the dental practitioner. A very low conductance number could suggest a dentist pay further attention to the specific tooth. It might also lead a dentist to suggest improving oral care, brushing better or prescribing a fluoride rinse, among other options.“If the number is higher, the dentist will decide the appropriate treatment option, which could include minimally invasive procedures,” Goldberg said.

Goldberg, whose firm invested over $1 million in the work, is excited about the prospects for the ECD, for which Ortek filed and received a patent and then went through the FDA approval process. “It’s a painless” way to monitor teeth, Goldberg said. “There’s no radiation [involved].”

To be sure, he said the ECD won’t replace X-rays, particularly for teeth that already have a crown or other dental work or that are already known to have cracks or fissures. Still, Goldberg said this device could help monitor back teeth, where tiny lesions would not be causing a patient pain. The examination itself will require a short exam by either a hygienist or a dentist, who can put a probe in the bottom of a groove and gently move it along the tooth.

Any dental professional could be “trained on this in about 15 minutes,” Goldberg said. “They do similar types of work when they are probing and cleaning” teeth. Practitioners would likely understand the approach quickly, he said.

To operate the device, a dentist places a lip hook in the patient’s mouth. The dentist then puts a cotton roll between the tooth and the cheek, then air dries the tooth, Kleinberg explained in an email. The dentist lightly touches the tooth with the ECD probe and testing is completed in seconds.

Israel Kleinberg

Kleinberg, who has been developing this device for 14 years, suggested that the most common potential causes of false readings might be failure to dry the surface and operator error. The researcher developed this product with Stony Brook University Research Assistants Robi Chatterjee and Fred Confessore.

The partnership with Stony Brook has been a “win-win” for Ortek. Indeed, Kleinberg also developed a product called BasicBites. The chewable BasicBites provide a pH environment that supports healthy bacteria in the mouth. At the same time, BasicBites makes it harder for the bacteria that eats sugars and produces acids that wear away minerals on teeth to survive. The product make it tough for the acid-producing bacteria to eat food leftovers stuck between or around teeth.

Kleinberg, who has been with Stony Brook for 44 years, still works full time and shows no signs of slowing down. The researcher is the founding chairman of the Department of Oral Biology and Pathology. He stepped down from that position in 2009. Goldberg said he speaks with Kleinberg several times a week and calls his partner in cavity fighting an “inspiration,” adding that Kleinberg is considered the grandfather of oral biology.

Goldberg said he has a great sense of satisfaction when he goes to a pharmacy. “I take a glance at some of the products on store shelves that came out of Stony Brook and Ortek and it does give me tremendous pride,” he said.

Goldberg said he can’t disclose the market size for the ECD. He added that there are over 100,000 general dentists in the country who treat people of all ages. “There’s a tremendous opportunity for us,” he said, suggesting that dentists could check for any signs of early tooth decay before putting on a sealant.

Taking a similar approach to the BasicBites work, Kleinberg, with support from Ortek, is also researching skin-related technology for fighting MRSA-related infections and body odor. Goldberg said unwelcome bacteria often contribute to unpleasant smells that come off the skin. Ortek is also promoting the growth of healthy bacteria that reduce those scents.

While still in the early stages of development, Kleinberg has “developed a patented cutaneous or skin microbiome technology that promotes the growth of beneficial bacteria while crowding out harmful microbes,” Goldberg said. By exploring the microbiome, Kleinberg can promote the growth of better bacteria in the feet and under the arms.

New one-stop clinic opens in Commack to provide care for 9/11 first responders

First responder John Feal gets a checkup at the Stony Brook WTC Wellness Program center, which opened a new facility in Commack, Nov. 28. Photo from Stony Brook WTC Wellness Program website

Accessing medical treatment on Long Island has become easier for 9/11 first responders.

Stony Brook WTC Wellness Program celebrated the official opening of its new one-stop health clinic in Commack Nov. 28. The program relocated from Islandia to the Stony Brook Medicine Advanced Specialty Care building, located at 500 Commack Road. The move allowed the program to expand from a monitoring facility into a 20,000-square-foot, integrative clinic where World Trade Center responders can receive more comprehensive medical treatment under one roof.

Dr. Benjamin Luft, program director and principal investigator, said the clinic is dedicated to caring for approximately 10,000 patients suffering from illnesses after volunteering at Ground Zero after 9/11. He said the responders suffer from a wide variety of conditions and the new location will provide the medical staff more resources. Among the new services available will be blood testing and imaging, which weren’t available in Islandia and caused patients to have to go elsewhere.

“This is ideal for the World Trade responder patient population, and the reason why is these patients who have been so severely affected by the World Trade Center disaster have a compendium of various abnormalities and disorders which are directly related to 9/11,” Luft said. “These included diseases ranging from psychiatry diseases to respiratory and gastrointestinal problems, to cancer.”

“The program is now a state-of-the-art facility that not only monitors you, but treats you and gives you top-notch medical care all in one facility.”

— John Feal

The doctor said the program has a research team dedicated to studying neurocognitive problems, autoimmune issues and cancer-related illness. The new Commack location has an in-house laboratory that will make accessing patients’ samples and processing them easier. He said many of the illnesses related to the disaster were not initially recognized, and the number of patients has grown approximately 8 to 10 percent each year since the monitoring clinic first opened on the Stony Brook University campus shortly after 9/11.

The day of the Commack grand opening, the Stony Brook WTC Wellness Program honored John Feal, a first responder and founder of the Fealgood Foundation. A Nesconset resident and Commack native, he said having the clinic where he grew up is special to him. Feal and members of his organization worked tirelessly to get the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act passed in Dec. 2010 and again in 2015. The act enables first responders, volunteers and survivors of the Sept. 11 attacks to receive health monitoring and financial aid.

Luft said at first the program treated many patients who lacked medical insurance coverage. “So when they got sick, they didn’t have health insurance or have someone to take care of their acute problems,” he said. “We established our clinic to do that at no additional costs to the patients.”

Feal, who was a patient at the Islandia clinic and recently had his physical in Commack, said he was impressed with the new location.

“The program is now a state-of-the-art facility that not only monitors you, but treats you and gives you top-notch medical care all in one facility,” Feal said.

He said having a one-stop clinic is important to many, especially for those who have become too frail to travel. Aging is an issue as many are now in their mid-50s or older.

“As we get further away from 9/11, the illnesses are getting worse,” Feal said. “One, because of age and, two, because with these illnesses, some latency periods and manifestations in the body take this long.”

The first responder said it was humbling to be honored for his work Nov. 28.

“We’re talking about human life, and I’m never going to apologize for anything I ever said or did, because at the end of the day I only care about helping those who are sick from 9/11,” Feal said. “And so many people are getting sick. It’s not ending anytime soon.”

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