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Stony Brook University

A. Laurie Shroyer File photo

By Daniel Dunaief

Annie Laurie Shroyer isn’t standing on a podium somewhere, listening to the national anthem with tears in her eyes and a hand over her heart as she mouths familiar words. She hasn’t won a Nobel Prize or some other distinction that will add to a medal count or that will rise to the top of her resume.

Shroyer is, however, standing tall in an arena that matters to her and to her colleagues, mentors and collaborators.

A professor and vice chair for research in the Department of Surgery at the Stony Brook Renaissance School of Medicine and the without compensation health science officer in the Research and Development Office at the Northport VA Medical Center, Shroyer recently learned that two of her research papers on coronary artery bypass surgery made an impressive and important list.

Her papers were ranked 8th and 28th among a review by the Journal of Cardiac Surgery of the top 11,500 papers in her field, making Shroyer one of only two senior investigators in the world with two citations in the top 50.

Researchers often work in obscurity, toiling in a lab or on a computer late into the night, analyzing data, applying for grants and receiving constructive but sometimes critical comments from peer reviewers. What many of them hope for, apart from the stability of tenure or the opportunity to provide a breakthrough discovery that alters the way other researchers or clinicians think about a disease or condition, is to make a lasting impact with their work.

In many ways, this ranking suggests that Shroyer has accomplished that with research into a surgical procedure that is increasingly common.

Shroyer is “one of the most influential cardiovascular researchers of our era,” Faisal Bakaeen, the staff surgeon and professor of surgery at the Heart and Vascular Institute in Cleveland, Ohio, explained in an email. Shroyer’s leadership in her research is “proof of her deep intellect and genius.”

Learning that her research, which Shroyer explained was interdisciplinary, collaborative and team-based, was among the most cited in the field was “really an honor,” she said. “I was very pleasantly surprised.”

Shroyer heard about the distinction from the VA Hospital, which noticed her prominent place in the realm of coronary artery bypass surgery research. She conducted one of her studies, called the ROOBY trial for Randomized On/Off Bypass, through the Northport hospital.

That research, which was published in the New England Journal of Medicine and benefited from the support of the VA Cooperative Studies Program Coordinating Center and the Research and Development Offices at the Northport and Denver VA Medical centers, compared the short-term and intermediate outcomes evaluating the impact of using a heart-lung machine versus operating on a beating heart.

That trial asked focused research questions about the comparative benefits of using the machine.

Shroyer concluded that there was “no off pump advantage” across a diversity of clinical outcomes and likened the process of performing this surgery without a pump to sewing a patch onto blue jeans while a child is walking up the stairs, making the stitching process more technically demanding.

Shroyer recognizes that some doctors prefer to do the procedure without the pump. Many of them suggest they have the surgical expertise to make the process a viable one for patients.Some patients may also have specific reasons to consider off pump procedures.

As for the second highly cited paper, Shroyer worked with the STS National Adult Cardiac Surgery Database Committee team and published that in the Annals of Thoracic Surgery. That paper identified the most important preoperative risk factors associated with major morbidities after surgery.

“This paper described a broad-based analytical approach which was originally developed in the VA” by Drs. Karl Hammermeister, Fred Grover, Guillermo Marshall and Shroyer working together, she explained in an email. Given that the Society of Thoracic Surgery’s database has subsequently been used to address other research questions, this early statistical modeling approach has attracted considerable interest.

In terms of the overall list, Shroyer expressed a few surprises. For starters, she noticed a larger than anticipated proportion of articles focused on the surgical procedure’s clinical outcomes. In her view, the topic is important, but not to the exclusion of research focused on evaluating the process of care and the structures of care. These include actions that care providers take on behalf of their patients, the actions patients take for themselves, and the nature of the environment where patients seek out care.

“Identifying the adverse outcomes post-CABG informs you that there is a problem, but clinical outcomes research doesn’t provide guidance on how to solve” the problem or problems identified, she said, adding that she hopes future research evaluates the processes and structures of care that may affect risk-adjusted clinical outcomes.

Shroyer also expected that the findings of several trials published in the New England Journal of Medicine would have ended the debate about off-pump versus on-pump benefits. The debate, however, is “still active,” she said.

Five years from now, Shroyer anticipates changes in the list. She hopes these high impact journals will include evaluations of novel treatments and surgeon-based characteristics, which may influence risk-adjusted outcomes.

Shroyer is pleased with the collaborators who have worked with her, as well as with the information from which she has drawn her conclusions.

“This high level of citation represents a tribute to the entire VA ROOBY trial team as well as to the STS Adult Cardiac Surgery Database and National Database Committees’ members,” she said. “In addition to terrific collaborators, I feel very blessed to have had several great mentors,” which includes Gerald McDonald and Fred Grover.

She also appreciates that she has had appointments at Stony Brook and at the Northport VA Medical Center that support her research projects.

A Q&A with Michael Bernstein

Stony Brook University has been awarded more than $2 million in grants. Photo from SBU

Michael Bernstein, the new interim president of Stony Brook University, came by TBR News Media’s office for an exclusive interview where he spoke on his new role, challenges the school faces and his thoughts on the future. Here is what he had to say. 

Is there any chance you will stay in this role permanently?

This past January, I talked through with [previous SBU President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr.] about concluding my tenure as provost [at the university]. 

My partner Patty and I have made plans to go to San Diego, where we’ve had a home for 20-plus years. It’s been a prime directive to get back to San Diego. 

Michael Bernstein. Photo from SBU

Things changed, when Sam announced he would be leaving, and he asked if I’d be willing to serve in the interim [president] role if the chancellor of SUNY, Kristina Johnson, asked me to do so. 

I remember at that meeting, I was like, “I need to talk to Patty and then I’ll talk to you again.”

Patty and I talked it through and here we are. I am delighted to be in this role. As for the longer-term future, we have open minds and will take it one day at a time. 

Let’s see if I like the job and more importantly let’s see if the job likes me and we’ll go from there. 

So you don’t see yourself as a placeholder?

No, I am the interim president. My goal, my hope and my intention is to do the job — that’s what the chancellor expects from me and I think that’s what all our colleagues on campus expect of me. I’m going to do my best.

It’s true when you are serving in an interim role, you have to balance the reality of the role with the tasks that have to be done. 

There are some things an interim president might not be able to do. Some lifts might be too heavy. I’m here to serve the campus the best I can. 

What do you see as your biggest challenges?

Challenges are also opportunities. We want to maintain the trajectory that Sam established in his decade-long tenure [as president]. 

Our student success metrics have been improving in the past 10 years. Graduation rates have gone up and we want to keep that momentum.

Right now, our six-year rate is at the high mid-60th percentile. Roughly 62, 63 percent of our students have their degrees in hand within six years of their initial matriculation. The goal is to get that number up into the 70th percentile and that’s doable. It will take work, resources and determination. 

The quality of our students keeps going up. We are doing a much better job in advising, tutoring, counseling and making sure they have a clear path to graduation. 

There’s still this general anxiety over whether or not the school focuses more on STEM than the humanities and arts. What do you think should be done in those terms?

I’m certainly aware of the sentiments. We do have outstanding departments and units in STEM base fields. That’s been true probably since the day the school opened. 

It is not something we would ever ignore or look past. I actually feel the sense that we are overlooking the arts and humanities is sometimes misconstrued. We have some excellent programs — political science is a nationally ranked program, our Hispanic language and literature program is one of the best in the field, our music department competes with Julliard for MFA [master of fine arts] students.

I’ve just used those programs as an example … could we strengthen other units? Of course, when we have the ability to do so, but that’s in the sciences too. 

Is there a chance the theatre arts major will come back?  

Sure, there is a chance. There are no plans on the table today. The decision to deactivate the theatre arts major was a tough one made under stressful budgetary circumstances. 

It is always a relative judgment — do you do this before you do that. I know it is a tough conversation to have with colleagues, especially if they are in the area where you said, “No, we are not going to invest here.” 

“We are simply not the kind of university of size and resources where we can do everything at once.”

— Michael Bernstein

We are simply not the kind of university of size and resources where we can do everything at once. 

We have to make some tough choices. I always say to people, “The word’s not ‘never,’ the word is ‘not right now,’ and we’ll have to see what the future brings. 

Is there a way to bridge the gap with commuters and residents so they both feel like they are a part of the campus?

At the moment, we can’t envision a future where we have 100 percent residency for our undergraduates. It just doesn’t seem practical in terms of the site, the amenities and infrastructure. 

Also, I don’t think it is something the student community wants. We have a significant community of students who prefer to be commuters for any number of reasons. We want to make sure we are delivering an outstanding experience for both the resident and commuter students. 

That’s challenging. We do have a student affairs team that is looking at the issue of commuter students. Thinking of ways of making the experience better.

Title IX [regarding sexual harassment, discrimination in education law]?

I think SUNY as a whole and here at the Stony Brook campus is resolutely committed to robust Title IX processes and procedures. We have good leadership at the Title IX office. We are constantly trying to make sure we are doing the best we possibly can. How can procedures be improved. 

One of our biggest concerns is that the information about Title IX processes and procedures is disseminated effectively, so that everyone at the university community is aware. 

I’m determined ongoing in this role to supply as much support as possible to them and let them know I have my hand on their back; making sure the campus is safe, secure and welcoming to all constituents is job No. 1. 

Rumors of the possibility of more shops on campus?

We’ve always been involved in thinking through opportunities for potential partnerships or ways to improve amenities and capacity on campus. 

I have no concrete contract to pull out and say we are doing this. We are exploring things all the time. We know we have to build more dorm capacity, which means we have to bring more amenities to campus.

If we can find partnership to do that, like we did with the hotel, we would explore that. Why wouldn’t we? I don’t know if it will happen but it is something worth exploring. 

What is the status of the new MART (Medical and Research Translation) building/Children’s Hospital?   

We have been frustrated by delays, but I’m told the latest is end of October for the MART and the beginning of November for the Children’s Hospital. 

Has the problem been in the heating, ventilation and air conditioning system or foundation?

In response to this question, Nicholas Scibetta, vice president for marketing and communications, stepped in:

Not foundation. It’s more quality checks and things like that. It’s been our drive on our side -— the Stony Brook side — to make sure that everything is exactly where it needs to be.

By Daniel Dunaief

Screws can’t be the best and only answer. That was the conclusion neurosurgeon Daniel Birk at the Stony Brook Neurosciences Institute came to when he was reconsidering the state-of-the-art treatment for spinal injuries. The screws, which hold the spine in place, create problems for patients in part because they aren’t as flexible as bone.

That’s where Stony Brook University’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, headed by Fotis Sotiropoulos, plans to pitch in. Working with Kenneth Kaushansky, dean of Stony Brook University’s Renaissance School of Medicine, the two Stony Brook leaders have been immersed in uniting their two disciplines to find ways engineers can improve medical care.

Fotis Sotiropoulos

The two departments have created the Institute for Engineering-Driven Medicine, which will address a wide range of medical challenges that might have engineering solutions. The institute will focus on developing organs for transplantation, neurobiological challenges and cancer diagnostics.

The institute, which already taps into the medical and engineering expertise of both departments, will move into a new $75 million building at the Research and Development Park, in 2023.

The original investment from New York State’s Economic Development Council was for an advanced computing center. The state, however, had given Buffalo the same funds for a similar facility, which meant that former Stony Brook President Sam Stanley, who recently became the president of Michigan State University, needed to develop another plan.

Sotiropoulos and Kaushansky had already created a white paper that coupled engineering and medicine. They developed a proposal that the state agreed to fund. In return for their investment, the state is looking for the development of economic activity, with spin-off companies, jobs, new industries and new ideas, Kaushansky said.

The two leaders are developing “a number of new faculty recruits to flesh out the programs that are going in the building,” Kaushansky added.

Sotiropoulos, who has conducted research in the past on blood flow dynamics in prosthetic heart valves, believes in the potential of this collaboration. “This convergence of engineering and medicine is already doing what it was intended to do,” he said. Clinicians can get “crazy sci-fi ideas, talk to engineers and figure out a way to make it happen.”

In addition to spinal cord support, researchers in engineering and medicine are working on developing algorithms to make decisions about surgical interventions, such as cesarean sections. 

A recent project from principal investigator Professor Petar Djurić, chair of SBU’s Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Gerald Quirk, an obstetrician and gynecologist at Stony Brook Medicine, recently received $3.2 million from the National Institutes of Health. The goal of the project is to use computer science to assist with the decisions doctors face during childbirth. A potential reduction in C sections could lower medical costs. 

“This is a fantastic example of this type of convergence of engineering and medicine,” said Sotiropoulos.”

Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky. Photo from SBU

While the building will host scientists across a broad spectrum of backgrounds, researchers at Stony Brook will be able to remain in their current labs and coordinate with this initiative. Combining all these skills will allow researchers to apply for more grants and, Stony Brook hopes, secure greater funding.

“For a number of years now, the [National Institutes of Health have] really favored interdisciplinary approaches to important medical problems,” Kaushansky said. “Science is becoming a team sport. The broader range of skills on your team, the more likely you’ll be successful. That’s the underlying premise behind this.”

The notion of combining medicine and engineering, while growing as an initiative at Stony Brook, isn’t unique; more than a dozen institutions in the country have similar such collaborations in place.

“We’re relatively early in the game of taking this much more holistic approach,” said Kaushansky, who saw one of the earlier efforts of this convergence when he was at the University of California at San Diego, where he worked with the Founding Chair of the Department of Bioengineering Shu Chien. 

The Stony Brook institute has created partnerships with other organizations, including Albert Einstein College of Medicine and Montefiore Medical Center.

“The more clinical people we engage, the better it is for the institute,” Sotiropoulos said.

As for the bionic spine, Kaushansky has familial experience with spinal injuries. His mother suffered through several spinal surgeries. “There’s a need for much, much better mechanical weight-bearing device that will help people with back problems,” he said.

At this point, Stony Brook has gone two-thirds of the way through the National Science Foundation process to receive a $10 million grant for this spinal cord research. Sotiropoulos suggested that a bionic spine could be “a game changer.”

While the institute will seek ways to create viable medical devices, diagnostics and even organs, it will also meet the educational mandate of the school, helping to train the next generation of undergraduate and graduate students. The school already has a program called Vertically Integrated Projects, or VIPs, in place, which offers students experiential learning over the course of three or four years. The effort combines undergraduates with graduates and faculty members to work on innovative efforts.

“These projects are interdisciplinary and are all technology focused,” Sotiropoulos said. “We bring together students” from areas like engineering, computer science and medicine, which “go after big questions,” and that the VIP efforts are structured to unite engineers and doctors-in-training through the educational process.

Through the institute, Stony Brook also plans to collaborate with other Long Island research teams at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Brookhaven National Laboratory, Sotiropoulos said, adding that the scientists are “not just interested in doing blue sky research. We are interested in developing services, algorithms, practices, whatever it is, that can improve patient care and costs.”

Indeed, given the translational element to the work, the institute is encouraging a connection with economic development efforts at Stony Brook, which will enable faculty to create spin-off companies and protect their ideas. The institute’s leadership would like to encourage the faculty to “create companies to market and take to market new products and developments,” said Sotiropoulos.

Photos from SBU

Kedar Kirane Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

Some day, a collection of soldiers in the Army may be sleeping in a bunker near an explosion. Their lives may depend on the ability of their bunker to crack, rather than fracture and collapse.

Kedar Kirane, an assistant professor in the Department of Mechanical Engineering at Stony Brook University, recently received a $359,000 grant from the Army Research Office’s Young Investigator Program to develop a computational model to predict the fracturing behavior of woven textile composites under dynamic loading, such as blasts and other impact loads.

In his work, Kirane hopes to develop a model for how composite materials fracture.

Kedar Kirane. Photo courtesy of Mechanical Engineering/Stony Brook University

Ralph Anthenien, the division chief for mechanical sciences in the U.S. Army Research Office, described the process of granting these awards as “very selective.”

The program supports “innovative breakthroughs,” he said. Part of the charter is to fund “high risk research, which won’t have a 100 percent chance of success,” but could provide a way forward for research.

Ultimately, the hope in the work the Army funds is to “protect soldier’s lives and protect Army systems,” Anthenien continued. The research should “make everything for the Army better.”

Kirane suggested that this research could also have implications in civilian life, such as to predict automotive crashworthiness. While it’s possible to consider fractures and cracks at the atomic scale, he said he is focusing on the macro level because the structures he is studying are so large.

“If you start looking at the atomic scale, it would be impossible because we don’t have the kind of computing power we would need” to convert that into buildings, bridges or other structures, Kirane said.

He is exploring the rates of loading for these fiber composite materials and would like to understand how these objects hold up in response to a blast or a projectile hitting it, as opposed to a more gradual progression of stressors.

Kirane will not conduct any of the laboratory work that explores the fracturing and reaction of the materials. Instead, he will use public data to calibrate and verify his model. The grant supports only the development of the model, not the performance of any physical experiments.

While materials are manufactured with different procedures, he is focused on how the materials fracture, crack and branch. The work is “more of a fundamental study rather than an applied study for a particular material,” he said.

One of the areas of focus in Kirane’s research involves analyzing the branching of cracks during fracture. As the cracks branch, they multiply, causing the material to break into multiple pieces.

The speed at which load builds on an object determines its reaction. A slow buildup typically causes one crack to form, while a more rapid load can cause a single crack that can branch and rebranch to produce multiple cracks.

“Being able to model this is complicated,” Kirane said. “The more it fractures, the more energy it can dissipate.” Ultimately, he would like his model to provide the Army with an idea of how much load a structure can withstand before the developing defects compromises its integrity.

In other projects, Kirane’s work will try to extrapolate from studies of smaller objects up to much larger manufactured structures. Ideally, he’d gain a better understanding of how to extend the information up to the scale at which people live.

He starts with objects that are of various dimensions, at 10 by 10 millimeters and then doubles and quadruples the size to determine the effect on their resilience and strength. There are mechanics-based scaling laws to extrapolate the structure strength to larger sizes, Kirane explained. It depends on the material and its fracturing behavior.

“That is the use of having a model: you can do some experiments in the lab, develop the model, calibrate it, use the model to predict the response and the scaling correctly,” he said.

Kirane explained that he usually tries to get data from a published journal, especially from sources where he knows the principal investigators produce reliable research. 

Indeed, sometimes the models can suggest problems with the data.“There is some back and forth” between the bench researchers and the scientific modelers, he said.

Kirane, who joined Stony Brook two years ago, has two doctoral students in his lab, one master’s student and several undergraduates. 

A resident of Westbury, he commutes about an hour back and forth. He enjoys visiting Jones Beach and appreciates the proximity to New York City. 

Raised in Pune, India, Kirane speaks English, Hindi and Marathi, which is his native language. During his schooling, which was in English, he not only pursued his interest in science but also played a percussion instrument called the tabla and was a gymnast. He says he can’t do any of the gymnastics routines from his youth today, although he does practice yoga and his gymnastics training helps. 

As for his future work, he hopes to start collaborating with scientists at Brookhaven National Laboratory, where he’d like to conduct some research at the National Synchrotron Light Source II. He’d like to understand how rocks fracture at the atomic scales.

In his own life, Kirane said he doesn’t recognize failures but sees any result that falls short of his hopes or expectations as a learning opportunity. “If something doesn’t go as planned, it’s an opportunity to retry,” he explained.

Indeed, in Kirane’s research, scientists call the process of fracturing “failure,” but that judgment depends on the context. When structures are “supposed to be sacrificial and dissipate energy by fracturing,” he said, then that “fracturing is good and not equal to failure.”

 

Stony Brook University has been awarded more than $2 million in grants. TBR News Media file photo

Stony Brook University has been awarded more than $2 million in grants that will go toward funding mathematics, engineering, physics and other science education.

On July 26, U.S. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) announced the university had been awarded five grants.

“Whether it’s educating the next generation, helping us protect our planet or pioneering the future of mathematics, Stony Brook University is on the front lines of research and innovation,” said Zeldin in a press release. “Driving this critical federal funding back to some of the brightest minds of our generation, located right here on Long Island, will go a long way in helping these scientists carry out their vital work.”

Of the five grants, the university’s engineering academy will receive the most funding with more than $1.1 million going to the program.

The academy’s stated goal is to increase students’ motivation to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering and mathematics. The program will prepare middle school students for advanced science and math courses as well as potential engineering careers down the line.

Stony Brook University has been awarded more than $2 million in grants. Photo from SBU

“The programs we have in place targeting K-12 students, teachers and counselors, as well as undergraduate and graduate students at Stony Brook, are key building blocks in constructing a diversity pathway in STEM,” said Fotis Sotiropoulos, dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “Targeted to middle school students and teachers, this unique program will engage them in the excitement, challenge and opportunity in engineering as a field of study and potential career.”

The remaining funds will go toward research studies. More than $365,000 will be used to study physics and climate regulation. Also, researchers will look into understanding radiative balance and precipitation changes in tropical weather patterns.

Close to $300,000 will fund a study spearheaded by Anatoly Frenkel, which will look at electro-chemo-mechanical processes at the atomic level. According to Sotiropoulos, Frenkel’s research has the potential to transform a wide range of vitally important technologies, ranging from focusing devices in the cameras of cellular phones to fuel injectors in automobiles.

In addition, more than $300,000 will be used to fund two mathematics studies through the mathematics department.

“There is no greater catalyst for scientific discovery than research universities,” said Michael Bernstein, the recently appointed Interim President of Stony Brook University. “The grants we have received allow us to address society’s most pressing challenges. As Long Island’s sole public research institution, we remain committed to advancing scientific knowledge throughout our region and around the world.”

The five grants were awarded by the National Science Foundation, an agency created by Congress in 1950, which promotes the progress of science; advances national health, prosperity and welfare; and works to secure national defense.

Timothy Glotch. Photo from BNL

By Daniel Dunaief

Several Stony Brook University scientists are studying the health effects of lunar dust on the human body. The accompanying article describes a recent $7.5 million, five-year award that the researchers, led by Tim Glotch in the Department of Geosciences, recently won from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. See below for email exchanges with some of the other researchers.

Fifty years after astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin left those fateful first footprints on the moon, a team of scientists is hoping to ensure the safety of future astronauts who remain on the moon for longer periods of time.

Led by Tim Glotch, a professor in geosciences at Stony Brook University, the research team was awarded $7.5 million in funds over five years from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The funding will begin this fall. The goal of the multinational team, which includes researchers from Brookhaven National Laboratory, NASA Johnson Space Center, the American Museum of Natural History, among many others, is to explore the health effects of lunar dust.

Different from the dust on Earth, which tends to be more rounded and small, where the sharp edges have been weathered away, lunar dust has jagged edges because the lack of atmosphere prevents the same erosion.

The group, whose work is called the Remote, In Situ, and Synchrotron Studies for Science and Exploration 2 (or RISE2) will determine the effects on exposure on cell death and genetic damage.

Glotch’s team will follow up on an earlier five-year effort that just concluded and will coordinate with seven research groups that received similar funding from the space agency.

Astronauts who were on the moon for a matter of hours sometimes developed a respiratory problem called lunar hay fever, which came from the introduction of these particles into their lungs. In preparing for missions to the moon, asteroids or other planets, NASA is preparing for considerably longer term voyages, which could increase the intensity and accumulation of such dust.

At the same time, NASA is working on dust mitigation strategies, which will hopefully prevent these particles from becoming a problem, Glotch explained.

Joel Hurowitz, an assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences at SBU, is leading the reactivity study. He will take simulated minerals that are common on the moon and put them in simulated lung fluids. He and the RISE2 team may be able to provide a better understanding of the risks and preclinical symptoms for astronauts.

Hurowitz is working with Hanna Nekvasil, a professor and the director of undergraduate studies in the Department of Geosciences at SBU. Nekvasil is synthesizing pure minerals in the lab, which are analogs to the materials people would encounter on the moon.

“One of the problems we counter when trying to assess the toxicity of lunar materials to astronauts is that Earth materials” don’t have the same structure or properties, explained Nekvasil in an email. “For this reason, we plan to make new materials under conditions that more closely simulate the conditions under which the materials formed at depth and were modified at the lunar surface.”

On the medical school side, the researchers will use human lung and brain cell cultures and mouse lung cells to see how the minerals and regolith affects cell viability and cell death, Glotch said.

Nekvasil explained that the research team will also explore the effects of the function of mitochondria, which can have acute and long-term health effects.

Stella Tsirka, a professor in pharmacological sciences at Stony Brook, is leading the cytotoxicity studies and will continue to look at what happens to the lungs and the central nervous system when they are exposed to lunar dust. “What we see is some transient increase in inflammatory markers, but, so far, we have not done chronic exposures,” Tsirka said. The new study will aim to study chronic exposure.

Bruce Demple, a professor in pharmacological sciences at the Renaissance School of Medicine at SBU, is leading the genotoxicity efforts.

In addition to the jagged pieces of lunar dust, astronauts also may deal with areas like the dark spots on the moon, or lunar mare, which has minerals with higher amounts of iron, which can lead to the production of acidity in the lungs.

Ideally, the scientists said, NASA would design airlock systems that remove the dust from spacesuits before they come into the astronaut’s living spaces. The work on RISE2 will help NASA “understand just how big a health problem these astronauts will face if such engineering controls cannot be put into place, and develop reasonable exposure limits to the dust,” Hurowitz explained in an email.

The most likely landing spot for the next exploration is the south pole, which is the largest impact basin in the solar system. That area may have clues that lead to a greater understanding of the chronology of events from the beginning of the solar system.

“I hope future missions will help answer questions about the timing and processes through which the moon formed and evolved,” Deanne Rogers, an associate professor of geosciences at SBU, explained in an email. Rogers, who also participated in the first RISE research effort and is married to Glotch, will conduct thermal infrared spectral imaging and relate the spectral variations to chemistry and mineral variations in surface materials.

Additionally, the south pole holds volatile elements, like ice deposits. Finding ice could provide other missions with resources for a future settlement on the moon. Water on the moon could provide hydration for astronauts and, when split into its elements, could create hydrogen, which could be used for fuel, and oxygen, which could create air.

In addition to working with numerous scientists, including coordinating with the other current NASA research efforts, Glotch is pleased that RISE2 continues to fund training for undergraduates and graduate students.

The current effort is also coordinating with the School of Journalism at Stony Brook. Science journalism classes will involve writing stories about the research, profiling the scientists and going into the field for two weeks.

Glotch, who thought seriously about becoming an astronaut until he was about 23 years old, explained that he is pleased that there appears to be a “real push to go back to the moon. I have hoped to see a new human mission to the moon or beyond since I was a kid.”

————————————————————————————————Q & A with Associate Professor of Geosciences Deanne Rogers:

What role will you play in this work? Is this similar to the contribution you made to the original RISE project?

My contribution is very similar to my role in in the original RISE project. I will be participating in Theme 2, conducting thermal infrared spectral imaging and relating the spectral variations to chemistry and mineral variations in surface materials. A major new component is developing rapid analysis algorithms and pipelines, and evaluating strategies for how to best organize and integrate the various data sets.

How much of your research time will you dedicate to RISE2?
About 15% of my research time. But there will be a graduate student who will be doing the heavy lifting (collecting, processing and analyzing the data, correlating the data with surface materials and chemistry, developing the processing algorithms).
Have you and Tim spent considerable time discussing RISE2 and did you go through numerous drafts of the proposal?
Yes.
Will you also be involved in working with undergraduates and graduate students, as well as journalism school students, through the RISE2 efforts?
Yes, I will be mentoring undergrads and grads and working with the journalism students.
Are you excited to be a part of efforts to ensure the safety of astronauts on future extended trips to the moon, asteroids and/or other planets?
Yes, I am honored and excited.
Is it especially exciting/ compelling to be working on a  NASA funded effort around the 50th anniversary of the first steps on the moon?
Yes!
Are there scientific questions you hope future lunar missions answer? Do you think future expeditions will help ask new research questions?
Yes. I hope future missions will help answer questions about the timing and processes through which the moon formed and evolved to its present state. I am also interested in hydrogen sources and hydrogen mobility on the moon. History shows that we always end up with new questions whenever we send a mission to answer existing questions.

Q and A with Assistant Profess or Geosciences Joel Hurowitz:

Will you be working with Hanna Nekvasil to take minerals she produced and put them in simulated lung fluid. Is that correct? Is this simulated lung fluid a novel concept or have other research efforts taken a similar approach to understanding the effect of exposure to elements or chemicals on the lungs?

Yes, I will be working with Hanna.  Our plan is to produce a suite of high-fidelity lunar regolith simulant materials in her laboratory, characterize them extensively to ensure that they are a good chemical and mineralogical match to the different types of soil on the Moon, and then assess how toxic they are.  Some of those toxicity experiments will involve immersing the materials she creates in simulated lung fluid and assessing what chemical reactions take place between the solid regolith simulants and the lung fluid.  Other experiments will be done in collaboration with our partners in the Stony Brook medical school, and will involve, e.g., assessing how cells, DNA, and lung tissue react to these regolith simulants.  These experiments build on work that has been done by the previous iteration of RISE (1.0), but have the added benefit that we can apply the lessons learned for assessing toxicity from our first round of research, as well as making use of this new suite of very high-fidelity simulants.

Does this work have the potential to provide future missions with early warning signs of exposure, while also generating potential solutions to lunar dust driven lung damage?

This is a question that is probably better posed to our medical school colleagues on the team, Stella Tsirka and Bruce Demple.  They could speak in a much more informed way about what types of signals we might be able to recognize from, e.g., a blood test, that an astronaut is beginning to show signs of a toxicological response to regolith.

Ultimately, I think that the best solution to lunar dust driven lung damage is to engineer the exposure problem away – NASA needs to design airlock systems that remove regolith from spacesuits before they come into the astronaut’s living spaces.  Our work will help NASA to understand just how big a health problem these astronauts will face if such engineering controls cannot be put into place, and develop reasonable exposure limits to the dust.

Is there considerable excitement at Stony Brook about the RISE2 effort? Do you have, if you’ll pardon the pun, high hopes for the research and do you think this kind of effort will prove valuable for astronauts on future long term missions to the moon, asteroids or other planets?
Absolutely – we couldn’t be more excited about all of the new research we’ll be able to perform as part of RISE 2.0, in so many areas, including better understanding the origin of the Moon and asteroids from remote and laboratory analyses, and learning how to live safely and explore efficiently on the surfaces of these solar system bodies.
 Are there novel elements to the work you’re doing?
To me, the real novelty of our part of the RISE 2.0 research lies in the combination of really disparate areas of expertise to produce a very useful research outcome for NASA.  Our team combines the expertise of: (1) geologists who understand the conditions deep within the Moon that result in the formation of the rocks and regolith that are present there today, thus enabling us to better simulate the properties of lunar soil, (2) geochemists who understand how to execute experiments between fluids and soil materials to extract the maximum information about potentially toxic compounds that result from that interaction, and (3) medical scientists who can take the geological materials we make in our labs and apply them to relevant biological materials that are the best models to understand the toxic effect of lunar soil on astronauts.  It’s a truly cross-disciplinary approach that few other groups are taking.
Could this approach also have implications for people working in areas like coal mines or regions where particulates cause lung damage?
Yes – absolutely.  So much of the science we are performing is actually grounded (if you’llpardon the pun) in earlier work that has been done to understand diseases like coal miners lung, silicosis, and asbestosis.  We’re building on that foundation of research and taking it off-Earth to understand if astronauts have to be as worried about their lung health as someone donning a mining hat and heading underground.
Given that it’s been 47 years since the last manned trip to the moon, is it exciting to contribute to efforts that will allow for future safe and extended trips back to the moon?
Of course!  These issues really need to be sorted out if we’re going to ensure that the astronauts traveling to moons, asteroids, and other planets are safe, and I’m really happy to be a part of that effort.
Are there specific geologic questions you hope future missions to the moon answer? Will future samples lead to new questions?
I think one of the biggest questions that future missions that return samples from the Moon can address will relate to the timing of formation of the largest impact basins on the Moon and whether or not they record evidence for a cataclysmic “spike” in the rate of meteorite impacts in the early history of the inner Solar System.  So much of our current thinking about when life on Earth (or anywhere else in the inner Solar System) arose is tied to the idea that it must have happened after this cataclysmic “late heavy bombardment”, and yet, we aren’t completely sure whether this spike actually happened.  If it didn’t, it might force us to rethink what conditions were like on the surface of the Earth early in its geological history and when life could’ve first began.
How much of your time (as a percentage of your research time) will you dedicate to the RISE2 work?

It will vary from year to year.  Early on, I’ll be heavily invested in starting the program of research up, but then starting in 2021, I’ll hand off some of my duties in order to work on mission operations on the Mars 2020 rover mission.  I’m the deputy principal investigator for one of the instruments that is flying aboard that rover, so the year 2021 is going to be consumed with my Mars-related work.  As things start to settle down a bit on Mars (in 2022), I’ll be able to return to my RISE research.  It’ll be really exciting to see how much progress will have been made by that time, but I’ll be planning to keep tabs on the RISE research even when I’m spending more time on the Mars 2020 mission.

Q & A with Hanna Nekvasil, Director of Undergraduate Studies and Professor of Geosciences:

Will you be synthesizing pure minerals in the lab, which are analogs to the materials  astronauts would encounter on the moon?

One of the problems that we encounter when trying to assess the toxicity of lunar materials to astronauts, is that Earth materials make poor analogs, as we know from the materials brought back to Earth from the Apollo missions.  For this reason we plan to make new materials under conditions that more closely simulate the conditions under which the materials formed at depth and were modified on the lunar surface. For this work we use the experimental equipment that we normally use to simulate the processes that form and modify igneous rocks on Earth modified for the special low oxygen conditions of the Moon.  The materials produced will simulate more closely both the compositional and textural characteristics of dust that we expect will be encountered in future manned lunar missions.
Will Joel Hurowitz use these minerals to expose them to lung fluids? 
The RISE4E team will expose cells to the new lunar regolith simulants and assess the molecular effects to understand the cytotoxic and genotoxic potential of the new, more relevant simulants. Beyond the cell-killing and DNA-damaging capacity of the materials, we will also examine their effects on the function of mitochondria: dysfunction in that organelle can have both acute and long-term health effects.
Are you excited to be a part of an effort that may one day help ensure the safety of astronauts who spend considerable time on a lunar habitat? 
I am very excited about this and I think that the diverse team that we have assembled has great potential to really move our understanding of the potential toxicity of lunar materials forward.
Is there a specific question or mission objective you hope future trips to the moon addresses?
My greatest hope is that we encounter a diverse set of new rocktypes as each new rocktype will provide a wealth of information on the origin and evolution of the Moon’s surface and interior.

Participants in the Empower Spinal Cord Injury program held at Stony Brook University play quad rugby. Photo from Empower Spinal Cord Injury

Stony Brook University students and local community members stopped by the Walter J. Hawrys Campus Recreation Center July 23 to check out the latest equipment created to make life easier for those with spinal cord injuries.

Empower Spinal Cord Injury program participant turned mentor Jack Gerard poses with his dog Radar. Photo by Rita J. Egan

Organized by Boston-based nonprofit Empower Spinal Cord Injury, the expo featured vendors from the health care field who specialize in innovative products for individuals with spinal cord injuries. On display were products such as the Action Trackchair that can handle rocky, dirt roads and go through streams, and a wheelchair called permobil that helps those who are paralyzed to maneuver upright. Participants also demonstrated a wheelchair rugby game called quad rugby, also known as murderball, where players sit in custom-made, manual wheelchairs and play a chair-based form of rugby, physical contact and all.

In attendance were participants from Empower SCI’s two-week program that began July 14 at the university. The residential program, in its eighth year at SBU, provides an opportunity for participants to be involved in an immersive rehabilitation experience with a mix of recreational activities such as cycling, yoga, quad rugby and kayaking in Setauket Harbor. Attendees also learn techniques such as how to make getting out of bed and dressing for the day easier on the body.

Stephanie Romano, assistant director of the program, said each year approximately 50 volunteers help a dozen program participants regain independence and passion in activities, as spinal cord injuries alter the ability to control parts of the body.  According to the organization, more than 17,000 people are affected by the injuries each year in the United States.

Andrew Gallo, from Lake Grove, has participated in the program for the last two years. The 28-year-old was injured in December 2016 while diving in the ocean in Florida when he hit a sandbar. He learned about the program through his therapy office, and he said a friend told him, “There’s life before Empower, and there’s life after Empower and that I had to go.”

Participants in the Empower Spinal Cord Injury program held at Stony Brook University play quad rugby. Photo from Empower Spinal Cord Injury

Gallo said it’s difficult for wheelchair users to get together, and he said he learned from his fellow participants several tricks to help navigate the day a little easier.

“To be around like people makes all the difference,” Gallo said. “You get to interact with them and see what they would do at home in their regular lifestyle.”

He said due to this year’s program he had a chance to try kayaking again, something he had done a few times before his accident. After last year’s event, he has tried adaptive hand cycling, and now he’s looking into buying his own bike.

Jack Gerard, of Massachusetts, who was injured three years ago while swimming in Cape Cod, was also in attendance with his service dog Radar, named after the M*A*S*H character. He first attended the program a few years ago when he couldn’t get out of bed or dress on his own. This year he is a mentor.

“We learn to adapt here rather than trying to change things, Gerard said. “So, I just find a different way to do it, and that’s how I go forward in my life.”

Gerard said he wanted to use the skills that helped him look at life differently and share them with others. He said his life is back on track with returning to school at the University of Massachusetts, playing sports and attending social events. The former lacrosse player and high school track and field player is now into quad rugby, adaptive surfing and hand cycling where he recently cycled 750 miles.

Everyone learns from each other, he said, even mentors from volunteers, especially since sometimes people don’t know what’s possible until others show them.

“One of the biggest things is that you have to be vulnerable to be brave,” he said. “There are a lot of things in our lives that we have to figure out by saying maybe this isn’t the right way to do it. I need to push through this wall to find a different way to get around it.”

For more information about Empower Spinal Cord Injury, visit www.empowersci.org.

Wellington Rody. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

By Daniel Dunaief

Straightening teeth involves moving, changing and reconfiguring the bone and the gums that hold those teeth in place. While the gums and bone adapt to the suddenly straight teeth, the roots may encounter unusual stress that makes them more prone to deterioration.

That’s not particularly welcome news for hormone-riddled teenagers who are maneuvering through the minefield of adolescence with a mouth full of metal. Fortunately, however, significant root damage that threatens the health and stability of teeth occurs in only about 5 percent of the cases of people with braces.

Wellington Rody. Photo by John Griffin/Stony Brook University

The challenge for people whose roots resorb in response to orthodonture is that most patients don’t show signs of problems until the process is well under way.

Wellington Rody Jr., the chair of the Department of Orthodontics and Pediatric Dentistry at the Stony Brook University School of Dental Medicine, hopes to change that.

Rody, who joined the staff at Stony Brook last May, received a $319,000 grant from the National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research to find biomarkers that may show early signs of periodontal disease and dental resorption.

Rody explained that he is “searching for noninvasive markers of root destruction.” Once orthodontists start moving teeth around, a major side effect can be that roots are compromised, to varying degrees. It’s a “common side effect with everybody that wears braces,” but it is usually minor with no clinical relevance.

Currently, the only way to discover root destruction from braces is through X-rays or CT images. “The problem is that when we find those things, as a clinical orthodontist, sometimes, it’s already too late,” Rody said.

Since biomarkers of bone destruction and root destruction may overlap, the focus of his research is to search for biomarkers that can differentiate between the two processes and find the markers that are more specific to root destruction. A few biomarkers of root destruction have been proposed, but there aren’t enough studies to validate those markers. 

Rody will be searching for markers in both saliva and gum fluid. He anticipates that a panel of biomarkers may be more successful than trying to focus on one marker only.

If the markers, which Rody has been developing in collaboration with Shannon Holliday, at the Department of Orthodontics at the University of Florida, and Luciana Shaddox, from the Department of Periodontology at the University of Kentucky, are effective, they will likely provide guidance to clinicians so that high-risk patients may have their treatment plan adapted to prevent further damage.

The type of molecules Rody is searching for include proteins, lipids, metabolites and RNAs. He has been using proteomics, but in this NIH grant, he received enough funding to extend the analysis to other molecules.

According to Rody, there are many predisposing factors for bone loss in the literature. Predisposing factors for root destruction in the dentition also exist but are not well validated.“Genetics definitely plays a major role,” but as far as he is concerned “there is not genetic testing that is 100 percent reliable.”

Until he discovers a reliable biomarker, Rody, who maintains a clinical practice at Stony Brook about one and a half days a week, suggests taking follow-up X-rays after initiating orthodontic treatment, to make sure the “roots are behaving properly,” he said.

A patient who develops serious root destruction may need active monitoring. If the resorption is severe enough, orthodontists typically recommend stopping treatment for a period of one to five months, which is called a “holiday,” and then resume treatment. 

Wellington Rody on vacation in California with his family. Photo from W. Rody

It is only recommended if the patient shows signs of moderate or severe root destruction. Another option is to interrupt treatment early and accept some compromises in the final results 

“We try to get the patient out of braces as soon as possible” in cases of severe root resorption, Rody explained.

Rody has been working in this area since 2014. He received initial funding from the American Association of Orthodontists Foundation. He started by simulating bone and root destruction in a lab and looking for different molecular signatures between the two processes and has already published articles that highlight these differences.

The current NIH study will allow for the search for potential biomarkers. If the group finds them, the next step would be to try to validate them through a process that is expensive and requires large trials.

Ultimately, if and when he finds those biomarkers, Rody said he can use them in a noninvasive way to closely monitor a patient with periodic X-rays. He also might adjust the treatment regime to make sure the patient receives positive results without compromising the prognosis for his or her teeth in the longer term.

Rody believes orthodontics are worth the risk of root resorption, as patients who develop this side effect will likely keep their teeth for many years if not for their whole lives, even with some reduction in their roots.

“Considering all the benefits that orthodontic treatment can bring, in terms of function and cosmetics, it’s still justifiable” but the patient and his or her parents need to understand the risks and benefits associated with braces, he said. 

The teeth that are typically affected by root resorption are the upper front teeth.

Originally from Vitória in Brazil, which is six hours by car north of Rio de Janeiro, Rody lives in Port Jefferson with his wife, Daniela, and their 14-year-old daughter, Thais. 

As for his research, Rody explained that a major goal is to “detect the process [of root resorption] before it becomes severe.” If he does, he will be able to “revise the course of treatment and make sure we don’t allow destruction” of roots and the potential consequences for teeth to reach a high level.

The German film ‘Sweethearts’ starring Karoline Herfurth and Hannah Herzsprung makes its U.S. premiere at the festival on July 20. Photo from Staller Center

The Staller Center turns into a movie lover’s mecca when new independent films from nearly 20 countries screen at the Stony Brook Film Festival on evenings and weekends from Thursday, July 18 to Saturday, July 27. The popular festival, now in its 24th year, brings a highly selective roster of diverse films, making it a favorite of moviegoers and filmmakers alike.

Produced by the Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University, the festival pairs memorable short films with an array of features you won’t see anywhere else. This year’s event, presented by Island Federal, brings in filmmakers, cast and crew who field questions after the screenings, adding a unique dimension to the experience.

The idea of family forms the foundation for many of the features and shorts at the festival this year. Whether they are by birth or by choice, flexible or dysfunctional, generational or newly formed, you will see families of all stripes in films that take place in nearly 20 countries, from Australia to Austria, India to Israel and Spain to South Africa.

The families in this year’s films are found in Cold War era East Germany and the political upheaval of 1980s Jerusalem. They brave the isolation of North Dakotan farmlands, experience drug-fueled head trips in the California desert and solve idiosyncratic murders on a small Turkish island. They live in Paris’ Chinatown as well as remote Himalayan villages; they travel the dusty roads of Senegal and the long highway from the south of England to the Isle of Skye; and they revel in the lush rain forest of Queensland and the wilds of Appalachia.

PREMIERES

There are many world, U.S., East Coast and New York premieres in this year’s festival including the opening film, Balloon, a German film based on the true story of two families who escaped East Germany on their homemade hot air balloon, which is making its New York premiere on July 18.

The festival closes with another New York premiere of the French film Lola & Her Brothers, a charming comedy about three adult siblings who are still trying to look after one other after losing their parents.

Several American indie films will have their world premiere at the festival, and many foreign films, including Yao, Sweethearts, Miamor perdido, Lady Winsley and Made in China will have their U.S. premieres. 

American features include Them That Follow, a tense drama featuring Academy Award winner Olivia Colman; the raucous comedy Babysplitters, featuring Long Island native Eddie Alfano; and Guest Artist, a stunning and humorous film written by and starring Jeff Daniels and directed by Timothy Busfield. 

“The quality and diversity in our dramas, comedies, and documentaries are extremely high and I expect our audience to be thoroughly entertained this summer,” said Alan Inkles, Stony Brook Film Festival founder and director. 

For a complete film schedule and descriptions of all of the films, visit www.stonybrookfilmfestival.com.

TICKET INFORMATION

All screenings are held at Stony Brook University’s Staller Center for the Arts, 100 Nicolls Road, Stony Brook in the 1,000-seat Main Stage theater. Film passes are on sale for $90, which includes admission to all 20 features and 16 shorts over 10 days. 

Passholder perks include VIP gifts, discounts to over a dozen area restaurants throughout the summer, guaranteed admission 15 minutes before each film, and the opportunity to purchase tickets for the Closing Night Awards reception. 

For $250 you can purchase a Gold Pass and receive all the Regular Pass perks plus reserved seating with filmmakers and guests, as well as entry to the exclusive Opening Night party and the Closing Night Awards reception. 

Single tickets for individual films are also available for $12 adults, $10 seniors, $5 students. For more information or to order, call the Staller Center Box Office at 631-632-2787.

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

After calling the first trial run a success, The Village of Port Jefferson will again be using its jitney bus for transport between the village and Stony Brook University when classes begin again Sept. 5.

Village Parking and Mobility Administrator Kevin Wood said people can expect the same service as last season, which started as a pilot program on March 7. The new season will last until at least Nov. 10, though depending on ridership it could run longer.

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 original pilot program cost the village around approximately $13,000, with the university picking up promotional costs.

Wood said in an email the spring season showed 3,200 riders in the two-and-a-half-month spring pilot, but he expects more riders for this term. He also said the village is looking at supplying a second shuttle.

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 jitney ride is free for Stony Brook University students and faculty.

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