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Stony Brook University

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Stony Brook University Interim President Michael Bernstein during the school’s State of the University address. Photo from Stony Brook University

Michael Bernstein, interim president of Stony Brook University, delivered his first State of the University address at the Staller Center for the Arts Main Stage to a packed auditorium filled with faculty, staff, students and elected officials Oct. 16.

During the speech, which lasted about an hour, Bernstein touched on several topics including important university initiatives, key strategic commitments, enrollment growth, Stony Brook Medicine’s future, financial woes and successes and challenges in the future.

A key theme of the presentation was highlighting the school’s rich history, including attracting trailblazing pioneers over the years and providing world-class education.

“We strive to always evolve to meet the needs of our students,” Bernstein said.

The interim president touched on the university’s efforts in diversity.

Bernstein said he is committed to improve diversity on campus and in the SBU community. The school in the past year has spent close to $1.7 million on diversity initiatives.

“We believe as scholars and educators that diversity generates optional results and better education that we can provide for our students,” the interim president said.

Similarly, Bernstein highlighted the university’s increase in admitted international students. He stressed the need to continue to provide a welcoming and inclusive environment for them.

“We are an elite institution not an elitist institution — that is very much part of our DNA here at Stony Brook,” he said.

On the economic side of things, Bernstein touted that SBU continues to be a vital contributor to Long Island.

SBU is the largest single-site employer on Long Island with more than 15,000 employees and has continued to be an economic driver in the local economy generating more than $7.2 billion.

Bernstein highlighted the accomplishments of Stony Brook Medicine.

He mentioned the expansion of the Stony Brook Medicine umbrella with new partnerships in Southampton that include the MART building in November and the Children’s Hospital in the Hospital Pavilion, which had a ribbon-cutting ceremony today.

“[The hospital] will be the very best facility on Long island for pediatric care,” Bernstein said.

Reducing expenses and increasing revenue was an important topic brought up.

Bernstein said efforts have been made to streamline university operations and monitor hiring. Top budget priority areas for the 2019-20 school year are focused on student success, growth in research and faculty support. Construction on new buildings and residence halls are underway as well as plans to address parking problems on campus.

“We know we have to address those issues,” he said. “We will get to a better outcome downstream and we salute you for your patience.”

The interim president also made sure to highlight the university’s four-year graduation rate. The rate for the class entering in 2015 has reached 64 percent, which signifies a 17-point increase over a six-year period.

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

By Daniel Dunaief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Simple Good in Port Jefferson offers zero waste and sustainable products. Photo by David Luces

Millions of people around the world demanded action from world leaders on climate change as part of the Global Climate Strike Sept. 20. The protests have put the ongoing crisis back in the forefront. 

Recently, New York lawmakers aimed to tackle the climate change issue head on, as they passed the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act, a bill that will aggressively target greenhouse gas emissions in the state. On Long Island, there are plans for two offshore wind projects, located off the East End and South Shore. The wind farms will provide close to 1,700 megawatts of energy, and are expected to power more than 1 million homes. Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) has mandated 9,000 MW of offshore wind capacity by 2035. 

 

Simple Good in Port Jefferson sells items made to be reusable or nontoxic to the environment. Photo from Melanie Gonzalez

While those goals are in the distant future, there are still things the average person can do on their own to help in the fight against climate change and environmental degradation. 

“It all comes to educating people and making sure they are aware of these issues,” said Melanie Gonzalez, owner of Simple Good at 35 Chandler Square in Port Jefferson which offers a number of sustainable and zero waste items. 

Gonzalez said the inspiration for the store came after buying plastic toys for years for her son, Julian, when she noticed the toys would break easily and she was left with tons of plastic packaging. 

“I was like, ‘What happens to all this plastic and where does it go?’” she said. “I was totally ignorant … but once I learned the facts [on plastic waste], it was life changing.”

Since then, Gonzalez has been an advocate of reducing plastic waste and protecting the environment. She believes Long Island has moved in the right direction on climate change and plastic reduction, but it may also come down to changing people’s habits and behaviors. 

The Rocky Point resident said it could be as simple as switching your plastic toothbrush with alternative that is made out of bamboo, which is more cost effective and in turn better for the environment. 

Gonzalez said everybody should avoid single-use plastic items and recommended using your own utensils when ordering takeout food. She also spoke on the importance of composting and recycling. 

“People are frustrated about recycling,” she said. “Long Island isn’t the easiest place to recycle.”

Last year, the towns of Brookhaven, Smithtown and Huntington had a rude awakening about their recycling practices when China announced it would cut its intake of U.S. recyclables by a huge margin. Municipalities across the nation were affected. In just one example, Brookhaven Town has moved back to asking residents to separate their garbage.

Gonzalez said she remains optimistic that the climate change movement on the Island is on the right track. 

A non toxic dishwashing bar that is sold at Simple Good in Port Jeff. Image from Melanie Gonzalez

Elisabeth Van Roijen, vice president of the Sierra Club at Stony Brook University, said Long Island is a much better place environmentally than it has been in the past. 

With about 60 other SBU students, she attended the Global Climate Strike rally in New York City. The Sierra Club at SBU helps students gain experience in political activism as well as experience the outdoors first hand.   

“The experience as a whole was incredible,” she said. 

The senior at SBU said the plans for the Climate Leadership and Community Protection Act and offshore wind is something she is hopeful for. 

“The only problem is that it takes time, but having a goal is good because it pushes us to achieve results faster,” Van Roijen said. 

The chemical engineering major added that getting to those goals will need behavior and culture changes. 

“We have to start teaching these things at a younger age, as it is much harder to break out of habits when you get older,” she said. “It comes down to being more mindful.”

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Sidewalks being installed on Stony Brook Road near the university and the Research and Development Park. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Residents, community groups and elected officials gathered at William Sidney Mount Elementary School auditorium Sept. 16  to discuss pertinent issues in the Town of Brookhaven at an event hosted by the Stony Brook Concerned Homeowners Ltd and Friends of Stony Brook Road.

Topics discussed at the meeting were the progress on Stony Brook Road, the latest on the Gyrodyne Property and student rentals.

The latest on Stony Brook Road

Lee Krauer, president of the Friends of Stony Brook Road, said the group is frustrated with Town of Brookhaven highway superintendent, Dan Losquadro (R), and the work being done on the road.

“We have requested so many meetings with him [Losquadro] to discuss the issues that we need to discuss,” she said. “He came to the meeting last year and told everyone there that we would have sand and concrete on the medians. Does anybody see it?”

Krauer said according to Losquadro the reason behind not having the concrete medians is because the Highway Department doesn’t have enough money in the budget for them.

She also expressed frustration with Stony Brook University.

“The university involvement is nil, they don’t care about Stony Brook Road,” Krauer said.

Currently, Stony Brook Road is undergoing a $1.9 million makeover that will see repairs and work done on sidewalks, drainage systems, turning lanes and traffic signals among others. Work is scheduled to be completed by the middle of October.

The Gyrodyne property situation 

The fate of the Gyrodyne property has been a concern for many residents, since the developers announced plans in 2017 to subdivide the 62 acres of land in St. James, also known as Flowerfields, to construct a 150-room hotel with a restaurant and day spa, two medical office buildings and a 220-unit assisted living complex with its own sewage treatment facility.

Many in the area have raised concerns about the amount of traffic that would empty out onto Route 25A and Stony Brook Road if an additional exit was made accessible on the east side.

Smithtown Supervisor Ed Wehrheim said he would consider legal action if site plans are approved for the Gyrodyne development. Photo by Heidi Sutton

Cindy Smith, of the Greater Stony Brook Action Coalition, spoke on the status of the Gyrodyne development.

“There will be tremendous traffic on 25A and development has the potential to dump traffic on Stony Brook Road,” she said.

Smith said despite the parcel being on Town of Smithtown property the traffic burden will be felt by Brookhaven residents.

Smithtown “would reap the tax property revenue while Brookhaven foots the bill, and we have to deal with the quality of issues like traffic, noise, dust and safety issues,” she said. 

Town of Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said he opposes additional development on that parcel.

“We are doing all we can to see if the county would be willing to purchase some of that land,” he said. “This could have a tremendous impact on the community, I am opposed to opening up the roads between Gyrodyne and the university.”

Romaine said it would have dire consequences on Stony Brook Road.

“I am prepared to seek legal action as town supervisor to prevent roads from being opened,” he said. 

Student boarding houses/rentals

Off-campus student boarding houses have been an issue for Three Village residents, though in recent years with help from the town and SBU the amount of these houses that pop up in the community has been curbed.

A home on Stony Brook Road was condemned after the Town of Brookhaven found the homeowner had the garage and basement illegally converted into apartments that housed Stony Brook University students. Photo from Town of Brookhaven

Bruce Sander, of Stony Brook Concerned Citizens, said the organization is glad at seeing this success but reiterated more can be done.

He said some of the blame still falls on the university for not adequately providing enough student housing on campus, especially for first-year students.

Sander also mentioned that international students and others don’t want to pay for the school’s meal plan, which is considered too expensive, and have found a way around living on campus.

“The university needs to increase housing on campus,” he said.

An idea previously brought by Romaine would have SBU require all non-commuter students who are freshmen to be mandated to live on campus.

For more information about the Stony Brook residents organizations, visit:

  • www.stonybrookconcernedhomeowners.com
  • www.friendsofstonybrookroad.com
  • greaterstonybrookactioncoalition.weebly.com.

 

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On Sept. 21, visitors were welcomed to explore the Stony Brook University campus.

The third annual event dubbed CommUniversity Day provided local residents the opportunity to meet SBU students, faculty, staff and leadership.

The day included family fun activities such as building a foam rocket, testing balance and heart health and food tastings. Members of the men’s and women’s lacrosse teams demonstrated their skills, and attendees tried tai chi on the lawn and enjoyed a rubber duck race at the end of the day. Dancers and the The Spirit of Stony Brook Marching Band were also on hand to entertain.

Photo from SBU

Photo from SBU

Join Stony Brook University, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook for CommUniversity Day at the Academic Mall on Sept. 21 from noon to 4 p.m.

Enjoy sports demonstrations, hands-on activities, duck races, health screenings and giveaways, patriotic crafts, farmers market, SBU Marching Band and more.

Free admission. All are welcome. Visit www.stonybrook.edu/SBUCommUniversity for more information.

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When the National Institutes of Health funds scientific research, the government is investing in hope. The people with the purse strings believe the scientists have the potential for progress, whether from a fundamental discovery or a breakthrough translational finding. Work in these labs may save and extend the lives of our fathers, mothers, sisters and brothers.

On Sept. 12, a cancer scientist at the Renaissance School of Medicine at Stony Brook University was charged with seven counts of stealing state and federal funds, wire fraud and money laundering when he allegedly funneled more than $200,000 of his research money into his own pockets, in part to pay his mortgage.

Taxpayers are a victim in this alleged fraud. Fellow scientists, who might have otherwise received the funds, are also greatly harmed, along with patients awaiting medical help and the support systems for all those patients. In other words, most of us — in one way or another — have been pickpocketed.

So, what’s supposed to happen now? If Geoffrey Girnun is guilty — due process will determine that and he has pleaded not guilty — he will face prison time, fines and other punishments. Girnun allegedly was self-dealing his grant money into shell companies. Perhaps the system where potential conflicts of interest exist needs a closer look, both from funding agencies and from the university.

It’s also crucial that SBU and the NIH pay especially close attention to this criminal case. They need to know all the details of this alleged fraud so they can monitor other scientists and make sure they close any gaps in the funding process. We, the taxpayers, need to be confident that the money the government invests goes toward the hunt for scientific discovery.

What shouldn’t happen? The NIH shouldn’t turn off the tap for scientists at SBU or elsewhere, or create unrealistic hurdles, to receive funding or reimbursement. As it is, many researchers spend considerable time applying for funds and, once they receive them, justifying every penny. Slowing that process down would make them less productive, hurting their research and cutting back on their benefits to the whole of humanity.

Scientific studies seek to understand cause and effect — actions and reactions. When doctors treat cancer patients, they try to balance between the need to eradicate cells with cancerous programming and the potential danger of collateral cellular damage to avoid wiping out healthy and productive cells. The treatment for this alleged fraud should do the same, trying to prevent other such corruption without shutting down valuable science.

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The Port Jefferson, Stony Brook University Shuttle. Photo from Kevin Wood

Port Jefferson village, in starting up its connection with Stony Brook University for transit into the village, has hired on another bus to man the original route in the meantime.

The village approved an agreement with Suffolk Transportation Inc. at its Sept. 3 meeting to act as village jitney for $75 an hour for the remaining months of the university’s Fall semester.

Mayor Margot Garant said this was to help hold their obligation to the University and still run its regular bus route. The new bus itself is colored white instead of red, but it’s expected to be similar in size and number of seats to the current jitney bus, according to Parking and Mobility Administrator Kevin Wood.

Wood said this is in the interim while they continue to look into an additional Jitney bus. He added he is also considering reducing the number of hours of the regular jitney route due to low ridership. 

In 2018, the bus saw ridership as low as 27 in a week last September. Most jitney ridership occurs on event days, such as the Mini Makers Faire and the Dragon Boat Festival, which last year saw a ridership that week of 164. In 2018, the jitney saw an average of around 70 riders a week. 

The first two-and-a-half spring pilot for the PJ/SBU transit showed 3,200 riders. Wood has said he expects more ridership in this term. The spring pilot cost the village about $14,000, Wood said.

“This is definitely bringing people into shop, that’s what it does,” he said.

Daily schedules will remain the same, though the last pickup will be at 10 p.m. from SBU. The schedule is anticipated to be Thursdays from 3 to 10 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 10 p.m., and Sundays from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. The loop starts at Port Jefferson train station along Main Street in what’s known as Upper Port, before heading into Arden Plaza in the village, continuing up West Broadway down Route 25A, stopping at Stop & Shop in East Setauket. Once on the Stony Brook campus, it will make stops at the main circle loop, West Campus and the Chapin Apartments before coming back down Route 25A and ending at Port Jeff train station. 

The PJ/SBU transit bus is open to all Stony Brook students as well as Port Jeff residents and visitors.

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At each of the boats’ prow, a dragon, open-mouthed, roared its challenge to each other boat beating in time alongside. All day, Sept. 14, the dragons raced through Port Jefferson Harbor.

At the 6th annual Dragon Boat Race Festival, hosted by the Greater Port Jefferson Chamber of Commerce, 27 teams competed on a 250-meter, three-lane racing course in front of Harborfront Park. Each boat consisted of 20 paddlers along with one steersman and one drummer who beat out the time of the oars. The vast majority of teams were made up of amateurs, some whose first time stepping into a rowing position was at the Sept. 14 event.

Alongside the rows of tents used for the teams and their rowers, children could also watch and try their hands at traditional Chinese calligraphy and get their faces painted.

In addition to the ongoing races in the harbor, performers made use of the new stage at Haborfront Park for productions, from the Yiyuan Dance School showcasing a traditional Chinese and Xinjiang folk set to the Stony Brook-based Taiko Tides doing the classic Japanese percussion ensemble. Multiple martial arts schools gave demonstrations of Kung Fu and Karate.