Times of Middle Country

Geoffrey Girnun hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Photo from Girnun

By Daniel Dunaief

He hopes to use their addictions against them. By taking away what they depend on for survival, he would like to conquer a disease that ravages and, all too often, kills its victims.

Geoffrey Girnun, an associate professor in the pathology department and the director of cancer metabolomics at Stony Brook University, is looking closely at the addictions cancer has to certain pathways that normal cells do not. “It is really about starving the cancer,” he explained. “Perhaps what you feed the patient can starve the cancer.”

Cancer has a ramped-up metabolism that handles nutrients differently, Girnun explained. Differences between normal cells and cancer can provide scientists and doctors with opportunities to develop selective treatments.

Using mouse models, Girnun is exploring the role of different proteins that either promote or prevent various cancers. Recently, he has been studying one particular protein in the liver cell. This protein classically regulates the cell cycle, which is why finding it in the liver, which has non-dividing cells under normal conditions, was unusual.

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

“We’re using genetic and pharmaceutical mechanisms to dissect out whether increases in liver cancer associated with obesity in diabetics is dependent on this protein,” Girnun said. If he and other scientists can figure out how the protein that functions in one way can take on a different role, they might be able to stop that transformation.

“It’s like a linebacker becoming a quarterback,” Girnun said. He wants to figure out “how to turn it back” into a linebacker.

Girnun is exploring the metabolic pathways and signatures for liver cancer. If doctors are targeting one particular pathway, they might develop “personalized therapy that would help avoid treatments that wouldn’t be effective.”

Girnun’s peers and collaborators said he has contributed important research and insights in his laboratory.

Girnun is “considered a rising star, especially in the area of the downstream signaling events that modulate gluconeogenic gene expression,” explained Ronald Gartenhaus, a professor of medicine and co-leader of the Molecular and Structural Biology Program at the University of Maryland Cancer Center. Gartenhaus, who has known Girnun for seven years and collaborated with him, said metabolomics is “rapidly exploding with novel insights into the perturbed metabolism of cancer cells and how this information might be exploited for improved cancer therapeutics.”

What encouraged Girnun to consider the professional move to Stony Brook was the opportunity to create something larger. “I want to build a program in cancer metabolism,” he said. “I want to build something beyond my own lab.”

When he first spoke to the leadership at Stony Brook, including Ken Shroyer, the head of the pathology department, Yusuf Hannun, the director of the Cancer Center, and Lina Obeid, the dean of research at the School of Medicine, he felt as if he’d found a great match.

Girnun has been so busy working with other researchers that managing collaborations has become a part-time job, albeit one he finds productive and exciting.

Hannun said Girnun has identified “key investigators who are working on developing the field of nutrition and metabolomics.” Girnun is heading up a symposium on May 13th that focuses on innovations in basic and translational cancer metabolomics. The keynote speaker is Harvard Professor Pere Puigserver.

While Girnun changed jobs, he hasn’t moved his family yet from Baltimore. Every week, he commutes back and forth. Girnun and his wife Leah have five children, who range in age from preschool to high school. He hopes his family will move within the next year or so.

Girnun enjoys Stony Brook, where he said he has an office that overlooks the Long Island Sound and where he can run. When he’s hiking on Long Island, he said he has a chance to “think through my experiments.”

His commute from several states away shows “how much I was sold on Stony Brook,” he said. “We believe Stony Brook is moving up to the next level.”

He remains focused on the applications of his research toward people. “Something may be cool mechanistically, but, unless it’ll have a biologically meaningful result and affect how patients are treated or diagnosed, to me, it doesn’t matter,” he said.

Kyle Johnson takes a cut during batting practice. Photo by Bill Landon

The Newfield baseball team is on the hunt for a postseason spot this year, and with several returning players from last years’ varsity squad, key seniors among them are shortstop Joseph Pepe and pitching ace Brandon Alberto, they may be able to do it.

Pepe, a returning All-League player, will likely fill the role of lead-off hitter as he did last season, and Newfield head coach Paul Pedersen expects him to be in the conversation of top player in League IV.

“This year we have better leadership; people are stepping up — we’re a stronger team,” Pepe said. “We open up against Half Hollow Hills West with three in a row, so that’ll set the tone of the season.”

Bobby Vath tosses the ball. Photo by Bill Landon
Bobby Vath tosses the ball. Photo by Bill Landon

Alberto, a four-year varsity player earning academic All-League honors last season, is one of the dominating pitchers in the league.

“He is a strike machine who can throw middle 80’s with multiple pitches for strikes, and is one of the most competitive personalities I have ever coached,” Pedersen said. Alberto will be attending the New York Institute of Technology on a baseball scholarship next year.

Alberto said that he was pleased with the dedication of the players; how hard they’re all working this early in the season. Alberto said Half Hollow Hills West is the team to beat in the league.

“They have a good pitching staff, good defense, good hitting,” he said. “So they’re the top dog.”

J.J. Lindgren, a senior outfielder and pitcher and returning All-League player, has a nice combination of power and speed, and according to Pedersen, will be one of the best players in a league that is stacked with talent. He will be playing at SUNY Old Westbury next year.

Pedersen also sees this years’ Wolverines team as being a tighter group of kids who have been working hard from the first day of practice, with two freshmen, Bobby Vath and Kyle Johnson, earning a spot on the varsity roster. Vath shows confidence on the mound with command of his pitching.

“He throws multiple pitches for strikes and understands the importance of hitting spots, changing speeds and getting ahead of batters,” the head coach said. “I think he is going to prove to be an asset to the program as he clearly shows that he knows what he’s doing on the mound.”

Brandon Alberto hurls a pitch during practice. Photo by Bill Landon
Brandon Alberto hurls a pitch during practice. Photo by Bill Landon

Pedersen expects sophomore third baseman and pitcher Tom Desena to serve as a power bat in the lineup and added that juniors Kyle Wappaus and Frank Diantonio both show a solid skill set behind the plate with the ability to hit the ball in big spots.

With a roster 18 players strong, including nine seniors, six juniors, one sophomore and two freshmen, the team has the senior leadership and veteran potential to improve on last season’s 7-13 overall record.

Pedersen said he has several notable returning players, including senior pitcher and infielder Justin Barnhill; senior outfielder and catcher Danny Towne; senior catcher and pitcher Jared Prevete; senior pitcher, first baseman and outfielder Jared Consiglio; senior infielder and pitcher Joe North; and senior outfielder Michael Ruggiero; all will be looking to contribute both offensively and defensively to the program.

“I think the biggest difference this year is the kids seem to be doing all the right things in the gym and there really doesn’t seem to be the ‘me first’ attitude,” Pedersen said. “There are definitely players that are more talented than others on the team, but every player will compete for a spot and earn their playing time.”

Newfield opens the season with two nonleague games against Miller Place, before beginning league play against Half Hollow Hills West on Tuesday, April 7.

Bellone signs Anker's legislation into law

Sarah Anker introduced the legislation to require the warning signs last year. File photo by Erika Karp
Suffolk County retailers who sell liquid nicotine will now have to display a sign warning customers of the possible dangers associated with the product.

On Monday, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone (D) signed the legislation into law, which officials say is the first of its kind in the nation. The bill was sponsored by Legislator Sarah Anker (D-Mount Sinai) and seeks to educate consumers about liquid nicotine — an ultra-concentrated nicotine substance used in e-cigarettes. The product could be poisonous if swallowed, inhaled or if it comes in contact with skin. Anker pitched the legislation in December following the death of a Fort Plain, N.Y., one-year-old who ingested the product.

“This potent and possibly toxic product requires regulation, and without leadership from the federal Food and Drug Administration, Suffolk County must move forward to protect our residents with the required warning sign,” Anker said in a press release.

Calls to poison control centers regarding liquid nicotine poisoning have increased throughout the last few years, according to the press release. In 2012, there were fewer than 100 cases of nonlethal liquid nicotine poisoning; in 2013, the number rose to 1,300; and in 2014, the number jumped to 4,000.

The Suffolk County Department of Health Services will enforce the law and provide the downloadable warning signs. The law will take effect 90 days from filling with the Office of the Secretary of State.

Businesses in violation of the law could receive an up to $250 fine for a first offense. Fines increase to $500 for a second offense and $1,000 for a violation thereafter.

Last year, the county prohibited the sale of e-cigarettes and liquid nicotine to anyone younger than 21 years old.

Legislator Kara Hahn, center, speaks about her domestic violence bill as officials look on. Photo by Phil Corso

This story was last updated on March 25.

The Suffolk County Legislature stood united Tuesday as it approved a new bill that will change the way police and advocacy agencies approach domestic violence by taking a new look at different risk factors.

The bill, which County Executive Steve Bellone (D) said he will sign into law, emphasizes a three-pronged approach: directing county police to assign grades of recidivism risk to offenders, providing domestic violence victims with self-assessment opportunities, and linking them up with advocates to deliver more resources. County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket), who introduced the bill, plugged the measure alongside Bellone, Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville) and other Suffolk leaders just hours before the Legislature voted Tuesday evening, with 16 legislators in favor and one absent at the time of the vote.

“One out of four women in the United States will experience some type of domestic violence during her lifetime, and every year more than 1,500 of these women will be killed by their abusers,” Hahn said. “Key to addressing this issue is to realize that over half of domestic violence victims who are murdered, or are the victim of an attempted murder … did not accurately perceive his or her risk.”

According to the state Division of Criminal Justice Services, 38 domestic violence-related homicides have been reported in Suffolk County between 2009 and 2013.

The legislation plays off of a Portland, Ore., police initiative that assesses risk for intimate partner violence — an initiative that Suffolk police used on a limited basis. The 20-question assessment, lawmakers argued, helps victims see how much danger they are in while also linking them up with advocacy groups near them.

As far as the offenders go, Bellone and Sgt. Kelly Lynch, commanding officer for the Suffolk County Police Department’s Domestic Violence Bureau, said cops will use a new danger assessment tool to identify at-risk victims and assign a level of risk to previous offenders on a scale of one to 13, with the highest number meaning they are most likely to repeat an offense.

“This computer program automatically collects and analyzes data from internal police records and produces a score that will identify offenders who are most likely to ‘recidivate’ in domestic violence offenses,” Lynch said. “Domestic violence officers will use this tool to contact the victims and families who are associated with these high-risk offenders.”

Bellone called the legislation both a personal and professional endeavor for Hahn and described domestic violence as one of the most important issues facing the county.

“As the police are some of the first people to come into contact with victims of domestic violence, it is important that they have access to proven assessment tools and the most effective resources to best serve and protect victims,” he said. “This legislation will do just that.”

Laura Ahern, executive director of the Crime Victims Center at Parents for Megan’s Law, said the 20-question self-assessment will better identify certain risk factors, making violence more predictable and preventable. She said lawmakers must pay close attention to the victims of such crimes and help empower them to prevent future incidents.

“This is an enormous step,” Ahern said. “All three components of this bill empower domestic violence victims. The police department will then use objective means to assess, identify and help these victims.”

A senior citizen was seriously injured on Monday night as he crossed Nesconset Highway near the Smith Haven Mall.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department, Medford resident Harold Edelman, 70, was walking south across the busy highway, near Hallock Road, at 11:15 p.m. He was struck by a 2012 Nissan Cube that had been going east on Nesconset Highway.

Edelman had serious head injuries and was listed in critical condition at Stony Brook University Hospital, police said. The Cube’s driver, 38-year-old Oakland Gardens resident Julie Chung, was not hurt.

Police impounded the car for a safety check and detectives are investigating the crash.

Anyone with information may contact the detectives at 631-854-8452. All calls will be kept confidential.

A man who was seriously injured after his car crashed into a pole last week has died.

Police previously reported that 21-year-old Gregory Watson, a resident of Lake Grove, was driving a 1999 Nissan SX on March 17, heading south on Hawkins Avenue, when he lost control of the car. At about 1:35 p.m., he struck a pole at the intersection with Terry Avenue.

Watson was being treated for serious injuries at Stony Brook University Hospital, according to the Suffolk County Police Department, after the single-car crash.

But police reported on March 24 that Watson had died of his injuries.

Anyone with information about the crash may contact the SCPD’s 4th Squad detectives at 631-854-8452.

Narcan, a drug that reverses opioid overdoses, can be administered either through the nose or intravenously. File photo by Rohma Abbas

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) is hosting a free Narcan training seminar later this month, with the goal of teaching local residents how to administer the drug that reverses opioid overdoses.

At the Comsewogue Public Library on March 31, starting at 7 p.m., community members will also learn how to identify an overdose and administer the lifesaving medication.

The seminar will take place in the community room of the library, located on Terryville Road in Port Jefferson Station, and participants must be 18 years or older.

Hahn said in a press release that the training is important “because it is often the family and friends of a victim who are first on the scene when someone is overdosing.”

Those who wish to attend must pre-register by calling the legislator’s office at 631-854-1650.

Abdelgheni Dakyouk mugshot from SCPD

Police have arrested the man they say is responsible for an early morning hit-and-run in Coram that killed a pedestrian.

According to the Suffolk County Police Department, East Patchogue resident Abdelgheni Dakyouk, 48, has been charged with leaving the scene of a fatal incident without reporting.

Shortly after the crash on Route 112 on Saturday, March 14, police reported that the victim had been walking north between Granny Road and Route 25 when he was hit by a light-colored, possibly tan vehicle. The incident occurred just before 6 a.m. and the driver, whose car had front-end damage, fled north.

Police arrested Dakyouk on March 18, following an investigation by detectives from the SCPD’s Vehicular Crime Unit.

Attorney information for Dakyouk was not available. He was scheduled to be arraigned on March 19.

Officials have not yet named the victim, who was pronounced dead at the scene. But two days after the crash, police announced they had “tentatively identified” him as a 37-year-old Medford resident, awaiting positive identification by detectives and the Office of the Suffolk County Medical Examiner. Police said they had notified the person’s next of kin.

A young boy stands in a pothole on Woodhull Avenue in Port Jefferson Station to demonstrate its size. Photo from Dawn Andolfi

The Brookhaven Town Highway Department is recouping from the cold and moving on to a new task: filling those pesky potholes.

“This proved to be an exceptional winter,” Highway Superintendent Dan Losquadro said in a Monday interview. “This year was worse than last year in terms of icing.”

The winter also proved to be costly. Losquadro estimated the department spent double the $3.6 million budgeted amount for snow removal, despite town officials injecting the budget line with an additional $1 million. Now, as the weather is warming up, the department is moving forward with repairing the roads.

A car swerves to avoid a pothole on Mount Sinai-Coram Road in Mount Sinai. Photo by Barbara Donlon
A car swerves to avoid a pothole on Mount Sinai-Coram Road in Mount Sinai. Photo by Barbara Donlon

Losquadro said the frequent below-freezing temperatures made the ground freeze deeper and is leading to potholes “literally forming overnight.” He said the warm daytime temperatures and colder nights aren’t helping the situation either, as the warming and refreezing of the ground allows liquid to get into cracks and expand.

Although the holes aren’t finished forming, repairs are on the way.

Losquadro said local asphalt plants are opening soon, which will benefit the department, as workers will no longer have to travel to and from Deer Park and Bay Shore to retrieve the materials.

“They were only able to [pick up] two loads a day, which doesn’t go a long way,” Losquadro said.

Despite the town’s effort, the potholes have been a nuisance for some residents. Mt. Sinai Bagel Cafe owner Marcus Argyros was driving on Mount Sinai-Coram Road on Monday when he popped a tire.

“I didn’t swerve and because it was in the middle of the road, I hit it and it popped my tire,” Argyros said, as he worked to put a spare tire on his car. “It’s like Mario Kart with all the potholes right now.”

In an effort to complete all of the repairs, Losquadro said the town is extending workdays by two hours.

Marcus Argyros changes his tire on the side of the road after hitting a pothole. Photo by Barbara Donlon
Marcus Argyros changes his tire on the side of the road after hitting a pothole. Photo by Barbara Donlon

While residents can try to get reimbursed, the likelihood of it happening during this time is unlikely, as the potholes are to be expected.

Losquadro urges residents to call the town when a pothole is visible so they can write it down and fix it as soon as possible.

As for next winter, Losquadro is already planning. He said he would ask for an increase in the snow removal budget, as he wants to avoid being in this situation again.

Nikki Ortega moves around a West Islip player in the semifinal game last season. File photo by Desirée Keegan

With four sets of sisters on the squad this year, the Middle Country girls’ lacrosse team is hoping its strong chemistry will help propel it into the postseason and beyond.

The Mad Dogs weren’t used to the success they had last year. While the girls have made it to the first or second playoff round before, last season the team made it to the semifinals, where a last-second goal helped West Islip nab a 12-11 win.

“We’ve never gotten that far,” senior midfielder and attack Nikki Ortega said. “It was really great, and we learned a lot, but now we know what we need to do to win and get to the county championship. I think last year was an eye opener to how much we have to work to get to where we want to be this year.”

While the girls thought most schools doubted their talent, sophomore midfielder Rachel Masullo said her teammates always believed in their potential.

“Everyone kind of looks down on us, but we definitely showed people that we’re actually good and that we can do big things,” she said.

The big things the team did last season led to a No. 1 preseason ranking, but the athletes aren’t focused on that. They’re just looking to improve upon last season’s 12-6 overall and 10-4 Division I record, as they have their sights set on something even bigger — states.

“I think they have an underlining drive this year of unfinished business; something to prove,” head coach Lindsay Dolson said. “No one cares about [the ranking], we just have to play our best lacrosse each and every day, get better and take it one game at a time.”

Jamie Ortega crosses into West Islip's zone. File photo by Desirée Keegan
Jamie Ortega crosses into West Islip’s zone. File photo by Desirée Keegan

Nikki Ortega’s younger sister Jamie, a sophomore midfielder, feels that unfinished business could be accomplished this season.

“I feel this year is our year because we connect so well on and off the field,” she said.

Rachel Masullo’s twin sister Amanda, also a midfielder, agrees.

“Even though we just started practicing I feel like we can beat whoever we want to if we have the right mind-set,” she said. “We have that connection and we’re comfortable. On the field we always know where each other is going to be; we don’t even have to say anything. If I pass it somewhere, I know my sister’s going to be there, or one of the [other] sisters is gong to be there. I think it’s our best quality in the team.”

Other pairs of sisters on the squad include returning eighth-grader Jennifer Barry and her sister Ava, who transferred back from St. Anthony’s, and sophomore returner Haley Timarky and her sister Emily.

According to the players, practices have been intense as the girls focus on limiting turnovers, transitioning on defense and continually building stamina.

The team did lose two seniors in defender Gabrielle Redding, who the girls depended on and were confident could make the stops, and the Masullo twin’s older sister Paige, an attack. Even so, they feel comfortable with the roster and will look to Nikki Ortega to lead the way.

“She’s always been an impact player since she’s been with me,” Dolson said of her six-year returner. “She’s really stepped up and is one of the leaders they look to.”

And the girls want to go far for her.

“I would love to go out with a bang for Nikki’s last season,” Rachel Masullo said. “Nikki deserves it. She works really hard and she should be paid for it. She should get rewarded.”

Nikki Ortega is humbled by her teammates’ sentiments but also wants the team to go far for her own reasons.

“They’re all like my little sisters so for them to want it for me is unbelievable, but I hope to accomplish it not only for me, but for them as well, because I know everyone has been working really hard for this,” she said. “It’s only the second week of practice and already we see a difference compared to all of the other years starting off. Our motivation is to get to states, and that’s what we hope to achieve.”

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