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Anthony Frasca

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‘Jeopardy!’ host Alex Trebek, left, pictured with former contestant Kevin Foley of Mount Sinai, has been diagnosed recently with pancreatic cancer. Photo from Alex Foley

By Anthony Frasca

After multiple Emmy award-winning “Jeopardy!” host, Alex Trebek, announced that he had stage 4 pancreatic cancer, the news has drawn attention to the disease and raised questions related to the latest advances in diagnosis and treatment of pancreatic cancer.

Dr. Aaron Sasson, director of the Pancreatic Cancer Center at Stony Brook University and chief of the Surgical Oncology Division, said little has changed when it comes to a doctor’s ability to diagnose the cancer any earlier.

“But we have made improvements in imaging of pancreatic cancer,” he said. “That is, the quality of CT scans and MRIs has improved over the years.”

Kerri Kaplan, president and CEO of the Lustgarten Foundation, said the disease has been “notoriously difficult” to detect and treat. The organization is dedicated to pancreatic cancer research.

“Although great strides are being made to detect pancreatic cancer earlier, this disease has few warning signs and vague symptoms that may range from back pain, fatigue and loss of appetite, amongst others,” she said in an email.

Kaplan added, “Even when there are early signs and symptoms, they may easily be attributed to other illnesses. Because of this, patients are often diagnosed when the cancer is at an advanced stage or has spread to other organs — making them ineligible to undergo surgery, which is the best chance at long-term survival.”

According to the foundation, pancreatic cancer research is moving faster than ever before. The nonprofit is funding a range of innovative projects including artificial intelligence in a partnership with Pancreatic Cancer Collective to use computational approaches to identifying high-risk pancreatic cancer populations, and CancerSEEK, which is an early detection initiative that uses blood testing to identify eight different types of cancer including pancreatic cancer.

Other Lustgarten projects include Dr. David Tuveson of Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory leading a personalized approach to medicine called organoids for personalized therapy — a three-dimensional cell culture system which reproduces a patient’s tumor to test it repeatedly with different drugs. This approach will enable researchers to determine how a pancreatic cancer patient will respond to various treatments. And with an improved imaging and early detection project, scientists from a broad range of disciplines focus on the use of computers to recognize patterns in medical imaging with the goal of finding tumors when they are otherwise undetectable by the human eye.

Also, as a result of Lustgarten-funded research, the U.S. Food & Drug Association recently approved Keytruda as the first immunotherapy treatment for advanced pancreatic cancer patients whose tumors have a unique genetic mutation.

“In the last 10 years our understanding of pancreatic cancer has significantly improved,” Sasson said. “I think we are on the cusp of something remarkable in the next couple of years coming out with regards to treatment. Our understanding of the genetics the biology and immunotherapy of pancreatic cancer, all those things are going to be realized, I’m hopeful, in the next couple of years.”

The five-year survival rate for pancreatic cancer is 9 percent according to the American Cancer Society. Pancreatic cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States. Improvements in survival rates for pancreatic cancer are challenging because nearly half of the cancers are not detected until they are in advanced stages.

GREAT HOOT

Anthony Frasca of Old Field recently snapped this photo of a well-camouflauged great horned owl, one of a nesting pair, in his backyard using a Nikon D40 with a Nikon telephoto lens. He writes, ‘The owls have a nest in a pine tree in my backyard and I frequently see one or the other flying off at dusk to hunt.’

Send your Photo of the Week to leisure@tbrnewspapers.com.

Charles Lefkowitz, right, one of the co-founders of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, presents an award to state Assemblyman Steve Englebright, center, along with George Hoffman, left, another founding member of the task force. Photo by Maria Hoffman

By Anthony Frasca

When he noticed there were issues with the cleanliness of Setauket Harbor, Charles Lefkowitz took matters into his own hands. A founding member of the Setauket Harbor Task Force, Lefkowitz has become an advocate for attention to the harbor.

“Nobody was doing anything and it was just deteriorating until Charlie and a bunch of us got together and said this harbor needs a group of people that will start advocating for its improvement,” said George Hoffman, also a founding member of the task force and a vice president of the Three Village Civic Association.

By forming the task force to call attention to the issues regarding the cleanliness of the harbor, such as roadway runoff, the group was able to procure a $1 million dollar grant in state funding with the help of state Senator John Flanagan (R-East Northport). The task force was also appointed to the Long Island Sound Study, a cooperative multistate effort to improve the water quality of Long Island Sound, in existence since 1985.

“As a founding member of the Setauket Harbor Task Force he has involved himself from the very beginning,” said state Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket), who has attended numerous task force meetings. “He has made time out of his very busy schedule to attend meetings, sometimes in the middle of a workday. He very often offers some of the most sage advice around the table. This is worth noting and saying thank you to Charlie for being part of the individual glue that holds our community together. It speaks to a level of sincerity of love of the community and serves as an example of what it means to be a community leader.”

Once an elected official in the Town of Brookhaven, Lefkowitz continues to involve himself with numerous community issues and advocacy groups in addition to the task force.

“He’s a former town councilman and his involvement in our community and to our town continues,” Englebright said. “If anything he is even more effective now because he is unshackled from politics, and he is able to express his commitment to making our community even better.”

“The subtle side of Charlie is that he is the owner of the Stop & Shop [shopping center] on Route 25A, and I’ve seen him outside pulling weeds out of the flower beds. That’s an indication of the level of detail he’s willing to invest himself in.”

— Steve Englebright

Hoffman said Lefkowitz is vice president of the Three Village Chamber of Commerce and has reinvigorated the chamber by recruiting new people, broadening the chamber’s focus and making it more representative locally.

“Charlie is responsible for reinventing the chamber of commerce,” Hoffman said. “He is a driving force in keeping the group together and focused.”

Lefkowitz was also involved in the community visioning committees for the re-examination of the zoning along the Route 25A corridor in the Three Village area. Drivers along the state road in the vicinity of the Ridgeway Plaza Shopping Center can sometimes see Lefkowitz tending to the flower beds that are planted every spring.

“The subtle side of Charlie is that he is the owner of the Stop & Shop [shopping center] on Route 25A, and I’ve seen him outside pulling weeds out of the flower beds,” Englebright said. “That’s an indication of the level of detail he’s willing to invest himself in.”

Lefkowitz’s influence also extends beyond the Three Village area, according to Hoffman.

“He is a visionary on land use issues especially upper Port Jefferson in terms of its commercial viability,” Hoffman said. “He is also an advocate for electrification of the Port Jefferson branch of the Long Island Rail Road. He focuses on how to make it happen and for the first time we are seeing progress.”

Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she has worked on various projects with Lefkowitz, and he is currently working with the town on implementing aspects of the Port Jefferson Station Commercial Hub Study on some of his properties.

“As a former councilman, chamber vice president, business owner and resident, Charlie has a unique perspective of our community,” Cartright said. “Charlie’s knowledge of real estate and of the history of the Three Village area was a valuable addition to the community forums my office held while working on the Route 25A-Three Village area corridor community visioning report this past year. The award of Person of the Year is well deserved by Charlie, and I look forward to seeing him continue to work with residents on community projects.”

John Turner is a champion for open space preservation and environmental conservation. Photo by Maria Hoffman

By Anthony Frasca

A familiar face in the Setauket area is at the forefront of environmental preservation and conservation.

“It was good news when John and Georgia Turner moved to town,” said Robert Reuter, president of the Frank Melville Memorial Foundation. “John is a legendary leader for protection of the environment and an admired naturalist and educator.”

John Turner has been involved with numerous groups whose focus is on either open space preservation or environmental conservation. Town of Brookhaven Councilwoman Valerie Cartright (D-Port Jefferson Station) said she has considered Turner a vital resource since she was elected to office.

“I am constantly impressed by [the] scope of his knowledge about the town’s history and natural environment,” Cartright said. “His involvement with organizations such as the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, his teaching and author background, along with his constant desire to update existing knowledge with continued research makes John a wealth of information the town is lucky to have.”

The naturalist was co-founder of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society, a group whose mission is to promote education, to advocate for the protection of Long Island’s drinking water and to preserve open spaces especially in the Pine Barrens. According to the society’s website, with a large swath of land in Suffolk County slated for development, the Long Island Pine Barrens Society filed suit in 1989 against the Suffolk County Department of Health and the town boards of Brookhaven, Riverhead and Southampton. At the time it was New York state’s biggest environmental lawsuit, leading to the Pine Barrens Act, thereby protecting the Pine Barrens and establishing the Central Pine Barrens Joint Planning & Policy Commission.

Turner is one of the co-founders of the Long Island Pine Barrens Society. Photo by Maria Hoffman

As a spokesman for the Preserve Plum Island Coalition, Turner has also been active in trying to prevent Plum Island from being sold and developed. The environmentally sensitive island is currently at the center of a swirling controversy and is the subject of a legal battle against the federal government under the Endangered Species Act and other laws, according to a TBR News Media July 14, 2016, story.

Made up of numerous diverse environmental groups, from the Connecticut-Rhode Island Coastal Fly Fishers to the North Fork Audubon Society, the Preserve Plum Island Coalition has advocated for the signing of a petition to save the island along with encouraging a letter-writing campaign to local elected officials. The island provides a habitat for a diverse variety of local and migratory wildlife.

Carl Safina, founder of the Safina Center at Stony Brook University and the endowed professor for Nature and Humanity in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said he has worked with Turner on a variety of environmental initiatives on and off since the 1980s.

“I consider John Turner to be the finest naturalist, and among the top handful of most engaged conservationists on Long Island,” Safina said. “He’s a true leader.”

As the conservation chair of the Four Harbors Audubon Society, Turner led the Stone Bridge Nighthawk Watch this past fall. The group recorded and tallied nighthawk sightings at the Frank Melville Memorial Park in Setauket. A significant nighthawk population was noticed at the park in 2016 and the open vistas provided an important location for cataloging the bird’s migration. The nighthawk research was supported by the board of the park, another organization that, according to Reuter, Turner “has adopted with vigor.”

“We’ve walked every part of the park, looking for opportunities to improve habitat and interpret our diverse natural environment,” Reuter said. “The man certainly knows his plants and wildlife. He’s passionate about sharing his knowledge. Rather than just toss out ideas, John has prepared for the park a written blueprint for improvements and educational opportunities. It’s an honor to have his guidance.”

New York State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) said he considers Turner one of the finest naturalists on Long Island.

“He has brought his ‘inner pied piper’ of the environment to Setauket at the Melville Bridge,” Englebright said. “I watched through the years as the crowd grew. He has helped bring an awareness of the tidal wetlands of Setauket Harbor and has done it in a gracious and compelling manner. He is truly extraordinary, the essence of what a naturalist should be. He’s a special part of our community.”