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Daniel Dunaief

Daniel Mockler in his office at Stony Brook University. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

At first, people didn’t believe it. Now, it seems, they are eager to learn more.

Working with a talented team that included postdoctoral researchers, doctoral students and doctors, Kenneth Shroyer, the chairman of the Department of Pathology at Stony Brook University, noticed something odd about a protein that scientists thought played a supporting role, but that, as it turns out, may be much more of a villain in the cancer story.

Known as keratin 17, this protein was thought to act as a tent pole, providing structural support. That, however, isn’t the only thing it can do. The co-director of Shroyer’s lab, Luisa Escobar-Hoyos, found that this protein was prevalent in some types of cancers. What’s more, the protein seemed to be in higher concentration in a more aggressive form of the disease.

Now, working with Long Island native Daniel Mockler, a clinical assistant professor in the Department of Pathology, Shroyer and his team discovered that the presence of this particular protein has prognostic value for endocervical glandular neoplasia, suggesting the likely course of the disease.

Published in the American Journal of Clinical Pathology, the article by Mockler and his team in the Sept. 1, 2017, issue attracted the attention of pathologists around the world. It ranked as the third highest read article in the final month of 2017, according to Medscape. It was behind two other papers that were review articles, which made it the most read primary research report in pathology in December.

The response “did exceed my expectations,” Mockler stated in an email. “I would have thought [Shroyer’s earlier] paper showing that k17 can function in gene regulation would have been more popular. But I guess this [new paper] illustrates that topics that have a possible direct impact on practicing surgical pathologists will draw a lot of attention.”

To be sure, while the recent study is an early indication of the potential predictive value of this protein, there may be some mitigating factors that could affect its clinical applicability.

“It’s premature to know what the clinical utility of this marker will be,” Shroyer said. “To determine that would require a large-scale prospective clinical trial” that would involve other patient populations and other laboratories.

Still, depending on the outcome of research currently underway in Shroyer’s lab, the protein may offer a way of determining the necessary therapy for patients with the same diagnosis.

Doctors don’t want to give patients with milder version of the disease high levels of chemotherapy, which would cause uncomfortable side effects. At the same time, they want to be as aggressive as possible in treating patients whose cancers are likely a more significant threat.

“The goal of having an excellent prognostic biomarker … is to avoid over and under treatment of patients,” suggested Mockler, who is also an attending pathologist at SBU and Stony Brook Southampton.

Shroyer was delighted with the efforts of the team that put together this well-read research. “As is true of all our clinical faculty, I want to give them every opportunity to take advantage of their ability to collaborate with research faculty in our department and throughout the cancer center and the school of medicine to advance their scholarly careers and academic productivity,” he said.

Mockler’s success and the visibility of this paper is “an excellent example of how someone with a busy clinical practice can also have a major impact on translational research,” Shroyer added.

Mockler appreciated the support and work of Escobar-Hoyos, who had conducted her doctoral research in Shroyer’s lab. She has “been the main driving force, along with [Shroyer] in the initial discovery of k17 including its prognostic implications as well as its possible function in regulating gene expression,” he said.

Mockler said he spends about 80 percent of his time on patient care, with the remaining efforts divided between research and academic pursuits. His first priority is providing “excellent patient care.”

Working with Shroyer and Escobar-Hoyos, Mockler explained that they have started looking at k17 in organ systems including the esophagus, pancreas and bladder. “We are currently looking at k17 from a diagnostic point of view in regards to bladder cancer,” he said. “Discoveries that impact the daily signout of surgical pathologists by allowing us to make better and more consistent diagnoses interests me very much.”

A resident of Kings Park, Mockler, who grew up in Hicksville, lives with his fiancée Danielle Kurkowski, who is a medical technologist of flow cytometry research and development at ICON Central Laboratories in Farmingdale.

Daniel Mockler on a recent snowboarding trip to Aspen. Photo from Daniel Mockler

Outside of his work in medicine, Mockler is an avid snowboard enthusiast. He tries to get in as many trips as possible during the winter, including a vacation a few weeks ago to the Austrian Alps. A more typical trip, however, is to western mountains or to Vermont, including Killington, Okemo and Stratton.

“To blow off steam and relax, nothing is better than being on a snow-covered mountain,” he said.

Mockler is pleased with the developments in the department. He has seen the “research goals of the department change quite significantly,” adding that Shroyer has “done a tremendous amount of recruiting.”

Mockler suggests to residents that it’s “good to get involved. I always tell them that [Shroyer] has a pretty active research lab and he likes it when residents get involved.”

As for his work on k17, Mockler is pleased that he’s been able to contribute to the ongoing efforts. Shroyer “has been doing this a while and I have seen the excitement and energy he has put into k17,” he explained, “so I know that we are onto something big.”

And so, apparently, do readers of pathology journals.

Matthew Lerner, far right, with his lab group at Stony Brook University. Photo from Matthew Lerner

By Daniel Dunaief

An actor draws in members of an audience, encouraging them to understand, appreciate and perhaps even become sympathetic to a world created on a stage. The process of creating scenes for the actor, however, can also change his or her world off the stage.

A team of scientists from Vanderbilt University, University of Alabama at Tuscaloosa and Stony Brook University recently received $3 million in funding from the National Institutes of Mental Health for four years to study how participation in a theater production can help people with autism spectrum disorders.

Matthew Lerner. Photo by Graham Chedd from the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science

“Theater is a venue for learning and gaining skills,” said Matthew Lerner, an assistant professor of psychology, psychiatry and pediatrics at the Department of Psychology at SBU who is leading the Long Island part of a study that will involve about 240 participants from age 10 through 16. “The process of putting on a play with others and being able to successfully produce and perform that has key benefits to learn and practice.”

Called SENSE Theatre (for Social Emotional NeuroScience Endocrinology), the shows were created by the project leader, Blythe Corbett, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences and psychology and investigator at Vanderbilt Kennedy Center, who herself performed in stage plays before pursuing her scientific career.

Corbett writes the plays, which have themes she believes are important not only for autism but also for the general public. The topics include acceptance, belonging and diversity and offer a current of core ideas that are “part of having a condition that is unique,” she said. The plays, which typically have about 20 characters, include music and last about 45 minutes.

Tiffany Adams and Jane Goodwin participate in the SENSE Theatre program. Photo by Steve Green, Vanderbilt University

Corbett explained that the experience uses theater as a platform for teaching fundamental areas that could help people with autism spectrum disorders, including reciprocal social communication, flexible thinking and behavior and imagination.

“It also gives [the participants] an opportunity to be exposed to social situations and to engage with others in a safe and supportive environment,” she said. “They can be John today and Henry tomorrow, which allows them to expand their repertoire in a playful, fun way” which, she hopes, might help them assimilate lessons when the program ends.

Corbett has been developing SENSE Theatre for nine years. This specific multisite project will allow her to see how transportable this program is to other locations, where other investigators who have not been involved with this before can employ it with other participants.

The investigators, which include Corbett, Lerner and Susan White at the University of Alabama, will monitor the participants through psychological testing, social interaction and research EEG, or electroencephalography. This is a noninvasive way of monitoring electrical activity in the brain that involves placing electrodes on or below the scalp. The EEG testing takes about 45 minutes.

Participation is free, although members, who go through a screening process, need to contribute to the research program by completing the evaluations.

The theater program has a control study, calling Tackling Teenage Training, in which participants will “address some of the challenges of being a teen,” which include dating and puberty, knowing how to know if somebody likes or doesn’t like you and how to express desires or interests appropriately, Lerner said.

Savannah Bradley participates in the SENSE Theatre program. Photo from Steve Green , Vanderbilt University

Corbett chose to work with Lerner because of considerable overlap in their interests in using performance to provide clinical help for people with autism spectrum disorders. Lerner “has a very strong interest in theater and is able to understand the core approach” to the training and shows as a form of intervention. He is an “engaging, charismatic individual who is extremely hard-working” and is a “really good choice in terms of harnessing his energy and intelligence.”

Indeed, Lerner and Karen Levine, a licensed psychologist and the co-author of “Treatment Planning for Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders,” developed a model in 2004 for youths with disabilities to work on social skills called Spotlight, which utilized techniques of theater games and dramatic training. Spotlight is a program of Northeast Arc, a human services organization founded in 1954 and based in Massachusetts.

The Spotlight efforts started with nine students and has expanded to include hundreds of families each year.

In early high school, Lerner met someone who would change his life. He was having dinner with the family of a friend of his younger sister’s when he noticed a boy, Ben, playing on his own in another room. Lerner asked if he could play with Ben, who was 2 at the time and was running a car back and forth across the top of a toy playhouse.

Lerner mirrored what Ben did. “He looked at me curiously and kept doing what he was doing,” Lerner recalled. “I followed him around for over two hours.”

A scene from a performance by SENSE Theatre. Photo by Steve Green, Vanderbilt University

Up to that point in his life, Lerner thought the experience with Ben was “the most fascinating two hours of my life.” He had made a connection in which he “loved the joy and challenge of trying to meet him where he was, rather than behave in a way that was consistent with what the world expected.”

Lerner studied philosophy and music at Wesleyan University. After earning his doctorate at the University of Virginia, where his dissertation explored why youths with autism experience social problems, Lerner worked at the University of Chicago and then moved to SBU in 2013.

A native of Swampscott, Massachusetts, Lerner lives in Port Jefferson with his wife Chelsea Finn, a pediatric nurse practitioner in the Stony Brook Hospital Emergency Room and a nurse practitioner at SV Pediatrics in Patchogue. The couple has a 4-year-old son Everett and a 6-month-old son Sawyer.

Lerner is looking for people who would like to participate in the study. They can reach out to him by phone at 631-632-7857 or by email at lernerlab@stonybrook.edu. The first set of students will begin working in the SENSE Theatre program this spring and summer.

Corbett said the participants aren’t the only ones who benefit from the program.

“The overwhelming sentiment from those who come to see the performance is that it changes their perception of what it means to have autism,” Corbett said. After the show, some of the audience members “ask who are the children with autism.”

Parents of the actors are pleasantly surprised by the things their children are able to do, which exceed their expectations. “In one of our previous studies, parents reported that their stress went down” during the program, she said, “which appeared to be in response to the child participating in intervention.”

From left, Deyu Lu (sitting), Anatoly Frenkel (standing), Yuwei Lin and Janis Timoshenko. Photo from BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

What changes and how it changes from moment to moment can be the focus of curiosity — or survival. A zebra in Africa needs to detect subtle shifts in the environment, forcing it to focus on the possibility of a nearby predator like a lion.

Similarly, scientists are eager to understand, on an incredibly small scale, the way important participants in chemical processes change as they create products, remove pollutants from the air or engines or participate in reactions that make electronic equipment better or more efficient.

Throughout a process, a catalyst can alter its shape, sometimes leading to a desired product and other times resulting in an unwanted dead end. Understanding the structural forks in the road during these interactions can enable researchers to create conditions that favor specific structural configurations that facilitate particular products.

First, however, scientists need to see how catalysts involved in these reactions change.

That’s where Anatoly Frenkel, a professor at Stony Brook University’s Department of Materials Science and Chemical Engineering with a joint appointment in Brookhaven National Laboratory’s Chemistry Division, and Janis Timosheko, a postdoctoral researcher in Frenkel’s lab, come in.

Working with Deyu Lu at the Center for Functional Nanomaterials and Yuwei Lin and Shinjae Yoo, both from BNL”s Computational Science Initiative, Timoshenko leads a novel effort to use machine learning to observe subtle structural clues about catalysts.

“It will be possible in the future to monitor in real time the evolution of the catalyst in reaction conditions,” Frenkel said. “We hope to implement this concept of reaction on demand.”

According to Frenkel, beamline scientist Klaus Attenkofer at BNL and Lu are planning a project to monitor the evolution of catalysts in reaction conditions using this method.

By recognizing the specific structural changes that favor desirable reactions, Frenkel said researchers could direct the evolution of a process on demand.

“I am particularly intrigued by a new opportunity to control the selectivity (or stability) of the existing catalyst by tuning its structure or shape up to enhance formation of a desired product,” he explained in an email.

The neural network the team has created links the structure and the spectrum that characterizes the structure. On their own, researchers couldn’t find a structure through the spectrum without the help of highly trained computers.

Through machine learning, X-rays with relatively lower energies can provide information about the structure of nanoparticles under greater heat and pressure, which would typically cause distortions for X-rays that use higher energy, Timoshenko said.

The contribution and experience of Lin, Yoo and Lu was “crucial” for the development of the overall idea of the method and fine tuning its details, Timoshenko said. The teaching part was a collective effort that involved Timoshenko and Frenkel.

Frenkel credits Timoshenko for uniting the diverse fields of machine learning and nanomaterials science to make this tool a reality. For several months, when the groups got together for bi-weekly meetings, they “couldn’t find common ground.” At some point, however, Frenkel said Timoshenko “got it, implemented it and it worked.”

The scientists used hundreds of structure models. For these, they calculated hundreds of thousands of X-ray absorption spectra, as each atom had its own spectrum, which could combine in different ways, Timoshenko suggested.

They back-checked this approach by testing nanoparticles where the structure was already known through conventional analysis of X-ray absorption spectra and from electron microscopy studies, Timoshenko said.

The ultimate goal, he said, is to understand the relationship between the structure of a material and its useful properties. The new method, combined with other approaches, can provide an understanding of the structure.

Timoshenko said additional data, including information about the catalytic activity of particles with different structures and the results of theoretical modeling of chemical processes, would be necessary to take the next steps. “It is quite possible that some other machine learning methods can help us to make sense of these new pieces of information as well,” he said.

According to Frenkel, Timoshenko, who transferred from Yeshiva University to Stony Brook University in 2016 with Frenkel, has had a remarkably productive three years as a postdoctoral researcher. His time at SBU will end by the summer, when he seeks another position.

A native of Latvia, Timoshenko is married to Edite Paule, who works in a child care center. The scientist is exploring various options after his time at Stony Brook concludes, which could include a move to Europe.

A resident of Rocky Point during his postdoctoral research, Timoshenko described Long Island as “extremely beautiful” with a green landscape and the nearby ocean. He also appreciated the opportunity to travel to New York City to see Broadway shows. His favorite, which he saw last year, is “Miss Saigon.”

Timoshenko has dedicated his career to using data analysis approaches to understanding real life problems. Machine learning is “yet another approach” and he would like to see if this work “will be useful” for someone conducting additional experiments, he said.

At some point, Timoshenko would also like to delve into developing novel materials that might have an application in industry. The paper he published with Frenkel and others focused only on the studies of relatively simple monometallic particles. He is working on the development of that method to analyze more complex systems.

This work, he suggested, is one of the first applications of machine learning methods for the interpretation of experimental data, not just in the field of X-ray absorption spectroscopy. “Machine learning, data science and artificial intelligence are very hot and rapidly developing fields, whose potential in experimental research we have just started to explore.”

 

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.

Yali Xu and Christopher Vakoc at the 2013 Don Monti Memorial Research Foundation’s Anniversary Ball. Photo from Yali Xu

By Daniel Dunaief

It’s like a top scorer for another team that the greatest minds can’t seem to stop. Whatever they throw at it, it seems to slip by, collecting the kinds of points that can eventually lead to a life-threatening loss. The scorer is a transcription factor called MYB, and the points it collects can, and often do, lead to breast and colon cancer and leukemia.

Researchers have known for over 30 years that stopping MYB could help with cancer treatment. Unlike other possible targets, however, MYB didn’t seem to have the kind of structural weakness that pharmaceutical companies seek, where developing a small molecule could prevent the cancer signals MYB delivered. Some researchers have decided that drugs won’t stop this high-profile cancer target.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Associate Professor Christopher Vakoc and his graduate research assistant Yali Xu, however, have figured out a way around this seemingly intractable problem. The CSHL scientists recently published their results in the journal Cancer Cell.

MYB binds at a small nub to a large and important coactivation protein called TFIID (which is pronounced TF-two-D). This protein is involved in numerous life functions and, without it, organisms couldn’t survive. Vakoc and Xu found that they could use a small peptide decoy to trick MYB into believing it had attached to this protein when, it reality, it hit the equivalent of a molecular dead end.

In a mouse model of acute myeloid leukemia, this peptide caused leukemias to shrink in size by about 80 percent. “What we’ve discovered is head and shoulders above anything we’ve come across before,” Vakoc said.

As with many scientific discoveries, researchers have to clear numerous hurdles between this conceptual discovery and any potential new cancer therapy. “This is not a medicine a person can take,” Vakoc said.

Indeed, scientists and pharmaceutical companies would need to study what leukemia cells escaped this type of treatment to understand how a cancer might rebound or become resistant after an initial treatment. “Our goal is to develop something with longer lasting effects” that doesn’t become ineffective after three to six months, Vakov said. He described understanding the way a disease reacts to a treatment as an “arms race.” Nature inevitably “finds a way to outsmart our decoy. We’d like to know how [it] does it. We’re always trying to study both sides and trying to anticipate” the next steps.

Down the road, Vakoc could foresee researchers and, ultimately, physicians using this kind of approach in combination with other drugs or therapies, the way doctors now provide patients who have the HIV infection with a cocktail of drugs. Conceptually, however, Vakoc is thrilled that this work “highlights what’s possible.”

One of the most encouraging elements of this approach, Vakoc said, is that it combats MYB without harming organ systems. When the researchers gave the treatment to rodents, the mice were “running around, eating and gaining weight.” Their body tissues appeared normal, and they didn’t demonstrate the same sensitivity that is a common byproduct of chemotherapy treatment, such as losing any hair or having problems in their gut.

An important step in this study, Vakoc said, was to understand the basics of how MYB and TFIID found each other. That, Xu said, was one of the first steps in her graduate work, which took about five years to complete.

In Vakoc’s lab, which includes 13 other researchers, he described how scientists make thousands of perturbations to cancer and normal cells, while they are hunting for cancer-specific targets. By using this screening technique, Vakoc and his team can stress test how cancer cells and normal cells react when they are deprived of certain proteins or genes.

“This began as a screen,” he said. “We took leukemia and normal blood cells and did a precise comparison of the perturbation.” They searched for what had the most specific toxicity and, to their surprise, found that interfering with the binding between MYB and TFIID had the strongest effect. “Once we understood what this nub was doing, we applied all kinds of biochemical assay experiments,” Vakov added.

Ultimately, the peptide they found was a fragment of a larger protein that’s active in the cell. Vakoc credits Xu for her consistent and hard work. “When we started on this hunt, we had no idea where this was headed,” he said. Xu was “relentless” in trying to find the answers. “She pieced it all together. It took a great amount of imagination and intellect to solve this puzzle.”

Vakoc suggested that Xu, who plans to defend her thesis this spring and graduate this summer, has set a great example for the other members of his lab. “I now have 13 other people inspired to outdo her work,” he said. “We know we have a new standard.”

Xu is grateful for the support she has received from Vakoc and appreciates the journey from her arrival as a graduate student from China to the verge of her graduation. “It’s very satisfying when you look back and think how things evolved from the beginning to the end” of her graduate work, said Xu, who lives near Huntington Village and enjoys the chance to visit local restaurants and sample coffee and ice cream when she isn’t conducting research toward her doctorate.

The scientific effort, which was published recently, has attracted the attention of others, particularly those who are studying MYB. Vakoc recently received an email from members of a foundation that is funding research on a solid tumor in which scientists believe MYB plays a role. He is writing grants to get more financial support to pursue this concept. Vakoc is encouraged by the opportunity to make progress with a protein that has been “staring [scientists] in the face for three decades.”

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.”

Alexander Krasnitz. Photo by Gina Motis?CSHL

By Daniel Dunaief

Seeing into the future is one of the most challenging, and potentially rewarding, elements of studying cancer. How, scientists and doctors want to know, can they take what evidence they have —through a collection of physical signs and molecular signatures — and determine what will be?

Researchers working on a range of cancers have come up with markers to divide specific types of cancers to suggest the likely course of a disease.

With prostate cancer, the medical community uses a combination of the prostate-specific antigen (PSA), magnetic resonance imagining (MRI) and biopsy results, which are summarized as the Gleason score, to diagnose the likely outcome of the disease. This analysis offers probable courses for developing symptoms.

Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Professor Michael Wigler and Associate Professor Alexander Krasnitz recently published an article in the journal Cancer Research of a promising study of eight patients that suggests a way of using molecular signatures to determine whether a prostate is likely to contain cells that will threaten a patient’s health or whether the cells are in a quieter phase.

The third most common cancer among Americans, prostate cancer kills an average of 21,000 men each year. Doctors and their patients face difficult decisions after a prostate cancer diagnosis.

“A major challenge is to determine which prostate cancers have aggressive potential and therefore merit treatment,” Herbert Lepor, a professor and Maritin Spatz Chair of Urology at the NYU Langone Medical Center School of Medicine, explained in an email. A collaborator on the study, Lepor provided a clinical perspective and shared patient samples.

A conversation with a doctor after such a diagnosis may include a discussion about how the cancer is not likely to pose an immediate risk to a patient’s life, Krasnitz explained. In that case, doctors do not recommend surgery, which might cause other problems, such as incontinence.

Doctors typically recommend active surveillance to monitor the disease for signs of progression. Some patients, however, make their own decisions, electing to have surgery. The Gleason score, which is typically 3, 4 or 5, can’t provide “meaningful information regarding aggressiveness of the disease,” Lepor explained. “The unique genetic profile of a cancer cell should have infinite more prognostic capability.”

Wigler and Krasnitz, who have been collaborating since Krasnitz arrived at CSHL in 2005, use several hundred single cells from biopsy cores. The research group, which Krasnitz described as a large team including research investigator Joan Alexander and computational science manager Jude Kendall, look for cells with a profile that contains the same irregularities.

“If you take two cells and their irregularities are highly coincident, then perhaps these two cells are sisters or cousins,” Krasnitz explained in an email. “If they are less coincident, then the two cells are more like very distant relatives. We looked for, and sometimes found, multiple cells with many coincident irregularities. This was our evidence for a clonal population.”

By looking at how many biopsy cores contain clonal cells, and then determining how far these clonal cells have spread out through the prostate, the researchers gave these patient samples a score. In this group, these scores, determined before any intervention, closely tracked a detailed analysis after surgery.

“We get a high correlation” between their new score and a more definitive diagnosis that comes after surgery, Krasnitz said. “Our molecular score follows the final verdict from the pathology more closely than the pathological score at diagnosis from the biopsy.”

Wigler, Krasnitz, Lepor and other researchers plan to continue to expand their work at Langone to explore the connection between their score and the course of the disease. Lepor explained that he has been collaborating with Wigler and Krasnitz for five years and suggested this is “an exceptional opportunity since it bridges one of the strongest clinical programs with a strong interest in science (NYU Urology) and a world-class research program interested in clinical care (CSHL).

The research team has submitted a grant to the National Institutes of Health and hopes to expand their studies and provide “compelling evidence” that single-cell genomic mapping “will provide an unmet need defining aggressiveness of prostate cancers,” Lepor said.

While Krasnitz is encouraged by the results so far, he said the team has work ahead of them to turn this kind of analysis into a diagnostic tool physicians can use with their patients.

Realistically, it could take another five years before this score contributes to clinical decision-making, Krasnitz predicted. “You can’t do it overnight,” he cautioned. When this test offers specific signals about the likely outcome for a patient, a researcher would likely need to wait several years as the patient goes on active surveillance to see whether the score has predictive value for the disease in a larger population.

Krasnitz has a sense of urgency to produce such a test because there is “no point in delaying something that potentially looks promising and that one day might well be a part of a clinical practice.”

The work that led to their article took three or four years to complete. The study required technical improvements in the way the researchers processed DNA from single cells. They also had to develop algorithmic improvements that allowed them to use copy number variation to determine clonal structure. The scientists tapped into a wealth of information they gained by taking cells from several locations within the prostate.

Krasnitz was born in Kiev, now part of the Ukraine, and grew up in the former Soviet Union. A resident of Huntington, he lives with his wife Lea, who produces documentaries, including “Maria — The Russian Empress” on Dagmar of Denmark, who was also known as Maria, mother of Nicholas II, the last Romanov czar who was overthrown in 1917. As for his work with Wigler, Krasnitz is excited about the possibilities. “It’s very encouraging,” he said. “We look forward to a continuation of this.”

Born in response to tragedy, the organization aims to start conversations about immigration rights, racial divisions, social injustice

Tom Lyon, center, and Gregory Leonard, right, of Building Bridges in Brookhaven with an attendee of the group’s 2017 Martin Luther King Day Jr. event. Photos by Will McKenzie

By Daniel Dunaief

Tom Lyon, Mark Jackett and Susan Perretti, among many others, don’t have all the answers. In fact, they are filled with difficult questions for which the Town of Brookhaven, the state of New York and the country don’t have easy solutions.

That, however, hasn’t stopped them from trying to bring people together in Brookhaven to address everything from social injustice to immigration rights to racial divisions.

Members of Building Bridges in Brookhaven, Lyon, Jackett and Perretti have met regularly since 2015 when the group formed in the wake of the shooting at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

Members of the group Building Bridges in Brookhaven share the common purpose of opening up community dialogue. Photos by Will McKenzie

Building Bridges personally connects with people, according to Tehmina Tirmizi, who is the education chair at the Islamic Association of Long Island. Building Bridges members attended an interfaith event at IALI in late 2016, and its members have gathered with others for monthly vigils to support Muslims.

Tirmizi said she appreciates the understanding, solidarity and unity and feels members of Building Bridges are out there for support.

The group meets on the second Monday of each month from 7 to 9 p.m. to get together and talk, forge connections, understand differences and encourage peace. They have met at churches throughout the region, as well as at the Center for Social Justice and Human Understanding at the Suffolk County Community College campus in Selden.

“The origins were in response to the shootings,” said Jackett, an English teacher at Smithtown High School West. He added continued gun violence is part of what the group is trying to address. “It’s part of the sense of urgency.”

Jackett decried the drumbeat of hatred, negativity and division in the country and in communities on Long Island.

“We’re trying to be a voice speaking up in favor of bringing people together and finding ways that we have common ground and respecting the dignity and humanity of all people,” Jackett said.

The gatherings bring together people of different backgrounds, ages, races and sexuality and attract a crowd from a wide cross section of Long Island.

This past year, the organization hosted a celebration on Martin Luther King Jr. Day in January and a Unityfest at Bethel Hobbs Community Farm in Centereach in September. The MLK event drew more than 200 people, while the Unityfest brought almost 300.

The Unityfest enabled Building Bridges to donate $1,600 to support Hobbs farm and highlight its program to supply fresh produce to local food pantries.

Coming in February, the group will host its second annual MLK festival, which moves beyond King’s iconic “I have a dream” speech and embraces his broader approach.

“King talks a lot about the beloved community,” said Lyon, who is also one of the founders of Building Bridges. “That was his ultimate vision for the world and it involves a lot more than [defeating] segregation.”

Lyon said former head of the FBI J. Edgar Hoover had an enemies list, as did former President Richard Nixon. For King, his enemies were militarism, racism and materialism.

While BBB formed in response to violence in a church and brought people together through church organizations, it is an interfaith group, Lyon said.

The group encourages people to contribute to, and participate in, other efforts on Long Island as well.

Many of the group members belong to other organizations, according to Jackett. Building Bridges has also been supporting other efforts, which include Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense and People Power Patchogue, a group dedicated to defending civil rights and creating stronger and safer communities.

Building Bridges has also formed subcommittees on immigration rights and criminal justice reform.

Jackett said efforts to address and combat racism need to be done regardless of who is in office.

“We try our best to do that work and highlight the need,” he said.

“We’re trying to be a voice speaking up in favor of bringing people together and finding ways that we have common ground and respecting the dignity and humanity of all people.”

— Mark Jackett

The group has a Facebook page and the group is working on a website too. A mix of retired people and people still in the workforce, the members of Building Bridges have been discussing the architecture for a web page. It is also hoping to forge deeper connections with millennials through Stony Brook University, Suffolk County Community College and a new Artists Action Group in Patchogue.

Perretti, a retired writer who worked as an editor at St. Joseph’s College, suggested that Building Bridges is looking to create a network of people who can respond to various needs.

“We need to build ourselves into a community more and more and when that happens, more people will come,” Perretti said.

The group is also focused on jumping to action during times of crisis.

“This is the opportunity to get to know people who may be the targets of hate or violence and to develop a friendship and alliance with them,” Perretti said. “When something happens to them, it happens to us as well.”

Looking ahead, Perretti said the group has to find ways to attract and encourage involvement from a broader base of community members in 2018.

She said she would like to make room for people who have vastly different views. She encouraged people with different opinions to engage in courageous conversations, without fear of reprisals or attacks.

“It’s nice and fun and easy to be with people we are like, [but] it’s really hard work to talk to people who hold different opinions who may argue with us,” she said.

Members of the Building Bridges community know they face uncertainty with the issues and challenges ahead.

“We don’t have all the answers,” Perretti said, adding that the group’s primary mission is to start conversations about the things happening in the United States.

“This is a community that wants to build and grow,” she said. “We need to hear other people. We’re open to ideas.”

Stony Brook University surgeon James Vosswinkel, above left, is recognized prior to the Dec. 5, 2016 New York Jets game at Metlife Stadium. Photo from Melissa Weir

When they come to him, they need something desperately. He empowers people, either to help themselves or others, in life and death situations or to prevent the kinds of traumatic injuries that would cause a crisis cascade.

Dr. James Vosswinkel, an assistant professor of surgery and the chief of trauma, emergency surgery and surgical critical care, as well as the medical director of the Stony Brook Trauma Center, is driven to help people through, or around, life-threatening injuries.

Vosswinkel speaks to people in traffic court about the dangers of distracted driving and speeding, encourages efforts to help seniors avoid dangerous falls and teaches people how to control the bleeding during significant injuries, which occur during mass casualty crisis.

For his tireless efforts on behalf of the community, Vosswinkel is a Times Beacon Record News Media Person of the Year.

Vosswinkel teaching bleeding control in April at MacArthur Airport Law Enforcement Division for the Town of Islip. Photo from Stony Brook University

Vosswinkel is the “quarterback for developing all the resources and making sure the quality of those individuals is up to very, very high standards,” said Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky, the dean of the Stony Brook University School of Medicine. “He’s a very fine trauma surgeon, who has assembled a team of additional fine surgeons. If he’s ever needed, he’s always available, whether he’s on call or not.”

Vosswinkel has earned recognition from several groups over the last few years. He was named the Physician for Excellence in 2016 by the EMS community.

In 2016, Lillian Schneider was involved in a traumatic car accident for which she needed to be airlifted to Stony Brook Hospital. Despite the severe nature of her injuries, Schneider gradually recovered.

In September Vosswinkel was honored as the first Lillian and Leonard Schneider Endowed Professor in Trauma Surgery at Stony Brook University.

“What’s different about Vosswinkel,” or “Voss” as Jane McCormack, a resident nurse and the trauma program manager at Stony Brook calls him, is that “a lot of people talk about working harder, but he does it. He’s an intense guy who is very passionate about what he does.”

Dr. Mark Talamini, the chair of the Department of Surgery and the chief of Surgical Services at Stony Brook Hospital who is also Vosswinkel’s supervisor, said Vosswinkel will come to the hospital to help a member of his team at any hour of the night.

“When his people need help, he’s there,” Talamini said.

Vosswinkel was recently promoted to chief consulting police surgeon by the Suffolk County Police Department.

Dr. Scott Coyne, the chief surgeon for the Suffolk County Police Department said he’s come to rely on Vosswinkel repeatedly over the years.

Coyne said Vosswinkel is frequently on the scene at the hospital, where he shares critical information about police officers and their families with Coyne.

“He’s a very valuable adjunct to our police department,” Coyne said. “If you are transferred because of the seriousness of your trauma or the location of your trauma and you end up at Stony Brook, you can be well assured that you’ll receive state-of-the-art care. Vosswinkel is one of the leaders in the delivery of that surgical care.”

“If you are transferred because of the seriousness of your trauma or the location of your trauma and you end up at Stony Brook, you can be well assured that you’ll receive state-of-the-art care. Vosswinkel is one of the leaders in the delivery of that surgical care.”

— Dr. Scott Coyne

The trauma surgeon is also involved in helping train members of the community with a system called B-Con, for bleeding control.

Amid the alarming increase in mass casualty events that have occurred throughout the country, the first provider of care is often a civilian.

“Even before the EMS gets there, civilians can take action,” McCormack said. Vosswinkel has been directly involved in helping civilians to recognize life-threatening hemorrhaging, how to place a tourniquet and how to pack wounds.

“He’s been the energizer bunny for that [effort] all throughout Suffolk County and on Long Island,” Talamini said. “It’s been an incredible effort.”

Talamini said he is impressed by the work Vosswinkel has also done at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital Medical Center to help prepare for its Level 3 certification.

“He has begun doing his magic at another significant Suffolk County hospital,” Talamini said. Talamini called his work on blood control at Brookhaven “superhuman.”

Talamini said he is impressed with his colleague’s ability to connect with people from various walks of life, which is an asset to the trauma surgeon.

“He’s that kind of person, which is why he’s been so successful with all these outreach events,” Talamini said. “His patients adore him.”

Working with the Setauket Fire Department, Stony Brook’s Trauma Center offers tai chi for arthritis and fall prevention, which uses the movements of tai chi to help seniors improve their balance and increase their confidence in performing everyday acts.

Discussions about Vosswinkel often include references to a conspicuous passion: the New York Jets.

Kaushansky called Vosswinkel the most die-hard Jets fan he has ever seen. His office is decorated with Jets paraphernalia, leaving it resembling a green shrine.

In December 2016, the Jets honored Vosswinkel for his lifesaving care of two Suffolk County police officers. He participated in the coin toss to kick off a Monday Night Football game.

Vosswinkel credited the trauma group for the favorable outcomes for the two officers.

“This is not about me,” he said at the time. “This is about Stony Brook. It is a true team that truly cares about patients.”

To be sure, the successful and effective doctor does have his challenging moments.

“He gets tired and cranky once in a while, like everyone else does,” McCormack said. “Most people in this building would be, like, ‘I want to be on his team. I know we’ll probably win with him.’”

A win for Vosswinkel and the Stony Brook trauma team is a win for the patient and for the community, which benefits from some of the best trauma care in the country, Talamini said.

“There’s nobody that’s more deserving and done so much and continues to do so much for the people of Suffolk County than Dr. Vosswinkel,” Coyne said

The Reboli Center for Art and History is located in Stony Brook at the former site of the Capital One Bank. File photo

It’s much more than a place to go to appreciate the work of late artist and painter Joe Reboli.

Located at the former site of Capital One Bank across the street from where Reboli grew up in Stony Brook, the Reboli Center for Art and History, which opened a little more than a year ago, blends a collection of art from the prolific painter with works by other local artists, rotated every three months.

Housed in an A-frame white building with blue awnings, the center has showcased the work of artists including Ken Davies, who was Reboli’s teacher and mentor.

Reboli was born and raised on Main Street, not far from where his name is memorialized.

He and his family had a long history in the area. His grandfather ran a business across the street from where the center now stands, and decades later his aunt worked in the same building when it was a bank.

He died in 2004 at age 58 after being diagnosed with lung cancer. Since his death, his wife Lois Reboli had been attending makeshift meetings at coffee and kitchen tables across Three Village with a squad self-identified as The Rebolians, working to make sure Joe Reboli’s story lived on.

“[The center is] hopefully a gift back to the community my husband loved so much,” said Reboli, a former art teacher.

The Reboli Center is named in honer of late Stony Brook artist Joe Reboli. File photo

He was on the board of the Three Village Community Trust and Gallery North. When asked by his wife why he attended those gatherings, she said he told her he loved the community and wanted to support it in some way.

“I didn’t really understand it at that point,” she said. “I did after he got sick, and I just really wanted to give something to the community so they would remember Joe.”

As part of the center’s cultural contributions, free talks are given with local artists, and, after a successful musical debut, the center may be the site of future concerts.

Donna Crinnian, a photographer whose pictures of egrets were featured at the center in the fall, called the center a great addition to the community.

“Everybody in the community likes having it there,” she said. “They get a really nice crowd coming in for the speakers.”

Besides Reboli, the idea for the studio gallery came together with the help of Colleen Hanson, who worked as executive director of Gallery North from January 2000 until her retirement in September 2010. She worked alongside Lois Reboli after Joe passed and also helped launch the first Reboli Wet Paint Festival weekend at Gallery North in 2005.  Hanson also worked with B.J. Intini, a former Gallery North assistant and executive director who is the president of the Farmingville Historical Society.

“I made a vow that we would do something for [Reboli],” Hanson said. “If we were to find a space, it had to be in Three Village and it had to have a Joe-like feeling. Now, I pinch myself and think, ‘This is so cool.’ We love this community. We want it to be even better and richer for everybody, and I see this as a beautiful upbeat place where people want to be.”

State Assemblyman Steve Englebright (D-Setauket) is credited with helping to make the purchase a reality, Reboli said. He helped the three, self-dubbed the “tres amigas” create a not-for-profit called the Friends of Joseph Reboli, with a mission of collecting, preserving and exhibiting artwork and artifacts related to Joe Reboli. The group filed for federal 501(c)(3) status in 2012.

Reboli had been looking for a suitable place to share her late husband’s work with the public and had been demoralized by a few false starts when she wondered if she would be able to find the right spot.

“If we were to find a space, it had to be in Three Village and it had to have a Joe-like feeling. Now, I pinch myself and think, ‘This is so cool.’”

— Colleen Hanson

It wasn’t until March 2015 when Hanson said she heard of Capital One in Stony Brook potentially leaving the historic landmarked building at a price tag of $1.8 million. Englebright spearheaded securing a $1.3 million state grant that went toward the purchase of the building, and two anonymous $150,000 donations turned the dream into a reality.

“He went to bat to help us get as much funding as we could,” Reboli said of the lawmaker. “He was remarkable.”

She signed the contract Sept. 25, 2015 — her late husband’s 70th birthday.

“It’s everything I hoped for and more,” Englebright said of the center. “I have heard from dozens of people and they are absolutely thrilled that this is a new part of the cultural dimension in our community.”

Englebright said the late artist’s paintings open up a wide range of conversations about the interaction between nature and development. One of his favorites is of three gas pumps in front of a coastal scene on the North Shore.

“He put this scene together that clearly to me is an expression of concern regarding the impact of overdevelopment, on a way of life, and on the beauty of Long Island,”
Englebright said.

In its first full year of operation, the center, which is free for guests, has hosted a range of crowds and events. In May, it welcomed a visit from the Commack High School Art Honor Society. In late October, world-renowned cellist Colin Carr, who has appeared with the Royal Philharmonic, the BBC Symphony, the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Montreal Symphony and is teaching at Stony Brook, performed at a benefit concert.

He said the way the sound worked its way through the building was an unexpected
surprise.

“When I went in there and played the cello briefly as a trial run, it was immediately apparent that this was perfect for the cello,” Carr said. “It’s always exciting to walk into a new place, whether it’s a room or concert hall or even a church, to sit down and start playing and feel that there’s an immediate rapport between me, the instrument and the space.”

Carr is the one who suggested that the center would be a “wonderful place for a small music series.”

Reboli said she is thrilled with the direction the center is taking and suggested the showcase is far beyond what she had imagined when she first discussed highlighting her late husband’s artwork.

On a Friday in late November, the building hit a high-water mark with about 180 guests in attendance, Reboli said.

“I would have been happy with a wall somewhere,” Reboli said. “This has morphed into something that would have been unimaginable before. Never did we expect to have a place like this. This is a miracle.”

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