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Stony Brook University

Plastic presents a difficult but necessary to address challenge for the world's oceans. Photo courtesy of United States Coast Guard

By Herb Herman

There appears to be no end to plastic. We use it, live with it, discard it and we can never rid ourselves of the stuff. It comes as food wrappers, bottles, toys, containers of all kinds, and is so pervasive that plastic is very much an omnipresent part of our world. 

Suffolk County Legislator Kara Hahn (D-Setauket) along with other legislators propose plastic legislation. Photo by David Luces

The numbers are staggering. More than 400 million tons of plastic are produced globally every year. And when we finish with plastic, we throw it out, try to recycle it, hide it in landfills, incinerate it, but, by far, most of the plastic debris we no longer have use for ends up in lakes, waterways and in the ocean. Some 80 percent of this litter comes from land sources, while 60-to-90 percent of beach litter is comprised of plastic. It is not encouraging to learn that Americans use approximately 100 billion single-use plastic bags annually, and around a trillion are used globally. The persistence of plastic waste is legendary, a plastic water bottle lasting 450 years. Much has been written of the plastic floating islands in the Pacific Ocean, and the apparently futile means to get rid of them. The National Geographic pleadingly offers us the “Planet or Plastic?” initiative, but the seemingly endless mass of plastic waste continues to grow like a cancer on the Earth.

If one were to carry out a literature search on plastic waste scientific publications the number of citations would exceed 450,000. The tangible impact of plastic waste is well documented. Most of the articles cited address the problem of plastic distribution around the world, from India to countries in the west, even the Antarctic, and at depths of 6,000 meters in the world’s oceans. Much research concentrates on sea animals and birds the world over, either through ingesting plastic particles or becoming tangled in plastic nets and fishing gear. Many of these plastics break down to fine, toxic particles leaving numerous bird species and sea animals with a high percentage of toxins in their guts. 

Crustaceans and fish are well known to consume plastic particles. Since we eat these animals, we also eat plastics. The long-term health consequences of plastic ingestion on sea creatures and humans are still unknown. Enormous quantities of micro-sized particles of plastics from personal hygiene products get deposited in water systems and also float around the world as airborne pollutants. There appears to be no end of plastics in various forms proliferating the earth. 

Of course, scientists are constantly seeking solutions. Landfills reach enormous proportions, with no guarantee that the waste plastics thus disposed of will remain where they are placed. Incineration is also used, sometimes to supply energy as a spin-off from the heat produced, but this approach leaves pollutants escaping into the environment. Of course, recycling appears to be the panacea for ridding ourselves of plastic. Unfortunately many plastic materials do not readily lend themselves to this gratifying solution, and recycling depends to a large measure on citizens acting responsibly, collecting candidate plastic products and properly disposing of them. Furthermore, those recyclable plastics that can be conveniently collected and segregated need to be sent to appropriate facilities for processing, and there are far too few of these plants. There will probably never be sufficient numbers of such facilities for the recycling of the vast quantities of plastics, which are continually produced.

Microplastic scooped from the surf off Kamilo Beach, Hawaii, where there seems to be more plastic than sand. Photo by Erica Cirino

What then to do? One can clearly appreciate the great need that exists and the challenges faced by planners and engineers who are tasked with dealing with this overwhelming problem. Academies of sciences and governments the world over have met and discussed this global problem. Some plastic-producing industries have pledged to carry out manufacturing measures and use materials that would ensure plastics can indeed by readily recycled. Governmental organizations have outlawed the use of plastics bags, and even paper straw bans have been introduced. The use of single-use plastic bottles has been vigorously discouraged. Non-governmental organizations have made the public aware of the seriousness of the problem. The list goes on, but millions of tons of plastics continue to be produced annually, and beachgoers continue to use plastic utensils and fail to discard them responsibly. 

It is imperative to formulate policies and mechanisms through which plastic litter can be controlled. For starters, the production of biodegradable, nontoxic plastics must be encouraged. A ban on single-use plastic bags should be incorporated in any waste-controlling legislation. Government research funds should be allocated for developing cost-effective chemical and mechanical recycling technologies, and perhaps most important is the education of the public on the matter of plastic’s effect on the marine ecosystem. The time has come to act to save the planet from this scourge of plastic.

Herb Herman is a distinguished professor emeritus from the Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Stony Brook University.

Ellen Pikitch, left, with Christine Sanora, taken in 2015 while the two scientists were researching Shinnecock Bay. Photo by Peter Thompson

By Daniel Dunaief

It’s one thing to make a commitment to a good idea; it’s another to follow through. Ellen Pikitch, endowed professor of ocean conservation science in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, is making sure countries around the world know where and how they can honor their commitment to protect the ocean.

In 2015, the United Nations had agreed to designate at least 10 percent of the oceans as Marine Protected Areas, which would restrict fishing and foster conservation. The goal of the proposal is to reach that figure by next year. 

Three years ago, with the support of the Italian Ministry of Environment and private donations, Pikitch started the labor-intensive process of finding ocean regions that countries could protect. 

Ellen Pikitch, right, with Natasha Gownaris at the United Nations Ocean Conference in June of 2017. Photo Courtesy of IOCS

She published the results of her analysis in the journal Frontiers in Marine Science. Her research could help countries move from the current 7.8 percent of oceans protected to the 10 percent target, and beyond that figure in the ensuing years.

The United States has met its target, although most of its marine protected ares are far from human population centers, so the coverage is uneven, Pikitch explained. The rest of the world has some gaps in high priority areas.

“I’m hoping that the study will light a fire under the policymakers so that they do meet their commitment,” said Pikitch. “It’s quite feasible for them to meet the goal. We’ve given [policymakers] advice in this paper about how exactly it could be done.”

The maps in the paper show areas that are within the current jurisdiction that are priority areas and are unprotected.

“There is quite a bit of area that meets this description — more than 9 percent — so there is flexibility in how countries can use the results and reach or exceed” the 10 percent target by next year, Pikitch explained in an email.

To determine where nations can enhance their ocean protection, Pikitch, Assistant Professor Christina Santora at the Institute for Ocean Conservation Science at Stony Brook University and Stony Brook graduate Natasha Gownaris, who is now an assistant professor in environmental studies at Gettysburg College, pulled together information from 10 internationally recognized maps indicating the location of global marine priority areas.

“We are standing on the shoulders of giants, capitalizing or leveraging all the hard work that has gone into other maps,” said Gownaris. 

One of the most unexpected findings from the study for Pikitch is that 14 percent of the ocean was considered important by two to seven maps, but over 90 percent of those areas remained unprotected. A relatively small part of this area is on the high seas, while most is within exclusive economic zones, which nations can control.

To preserve this resource that continues to remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere while serving a critical role in the world’s food chain, conservationists have focused on marine protected areas because they provide the “one thing we felt was going to be the most effective single step,” said Mark Newhouse, the executive vice president for newspapers at Advance Publications and president of the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance. “It could happen overnight. A country could say, ‘This area is off limits to fishing,’ and it is.”

Countries can protect areas within their exclusive economic zones “more quickly than figuring out a way to solve global warming,” Newhouse added.

Santora explained the urgency to take action. “The situation in the ocean is worsening and we can’t wait to have perfect information to act,” Santora wrote in an email. “What we can do is put strong, effectively managed MPAs in the right places, with a high level of protection, that are well managed and enforced.”

Members of the Ocean Sanctuary Alliance, which counts Pikitch as its scientific officer, recognize that the 7.8 percent figure includes areas where countries have announced their intention to protect a region, but that doesn’t necessarily include any enforcement or protection.

“Intentions don’t protect the environment,” Newhouse said.

Ambassadors from several nations have reached out to OSA to discuss the findings. 

These diplomats are “exactly the people we want paying attention” to the research Pikitch and her team put together, Newhouse said.

Pikitch also plans to reach out proactively.

According to Pikitch’s recent analysis, the largest gaps in policy coverage occurred in the Caribbean Sea, Madagascar and the southern tip of Africa, the Mediterranean Sea and the Coral Triangle area, although they found additional widespread opportunities as well.

Pikitch calculated that an additional 9.34 percent of areas within exclusive economic zones would join the global marine protected area network if all the unprotected area identified as important by two or more initiatives joined the MPA network. 

“When effectively managed, when strong protections are put in place, they work,” Pikitch said.

Indeed, one such example is in Cabo Pulmo, Mexico, where establishing a marine protected area resulted in an 11-fold increase in the biomass of top predators within a decade. Many MPAs become sites for ecotourism, which can bring in hefty sums as people are eager to see the endemic beauty in their travels.

Pikitch hopes this kind of study spreads the word about the benefit of protecting the ocean and that policymakers and private citizens recognize that protecting sensitive regions also benefits fisheries, refuting the notion that environmentally driven policy conflicts with the goal of economic growth.

The groups involved in this study are already discussing the new goal for the ocean. Several diplomats and scientists would like to see the bar raised to 30 percent by 2030, although the United Nations hasn’t committed to this new target yet.

“Studies show that 10 percent is insufficient — it is a starting point,” Santora wrote. “I do think that targets beyond 2020 will increase.”

Pikitch said the ocean has always been one of her passions. Her goal is to “leave the world in better shape than I found it” for her children and six grandchildren.

 

Close to 100 veterans were on hand for a Veterans Day tribute at the Long Island State Veterans Home at Stony Brook University Nov. 8.

Highlights of the tribute included a performance from New Lane Elementary School students who sang a number of patriotic songs for the veterans and performed the Armed Forces Medley dedicated to the five individual armed services.

Fred Sganga, executive director for the LISVH, spoke on the importance of veterans’ sacrifices.

“Today we honor more than 56 million Americans who proudly wore the uniform on behalf of a grateful nation,” he said. “We all know the burdens of young men and women that they bear in America’s fight against terrorism and tyranny.”

Thomas DiNapoli, New York State comptroller and keynote speaker for the ceremony, said the holiday is a reminder of the strength that comes when people join together in a just cause.

“Every day should be a day to thank our veterans,” he said. “So much of what we now take for granted in our nation was guaranteed by each of you. And the sacrifices of countless men and women who helped preserve democracy and freedom in America and around the globe.”

Since opening in October 1991, the LISVH has provided care to more than 10,000 veterans.

 

Ken Dill. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

Over the course of decades, aging skin tends to wrinkle, revealing laugh or frown lines built up through a lifetime of laughter, tears and everything in between. Similarly, when people age, the proteins in their bodies don’t fold up as neatly. Free radicals cause these misfolded proteins, which are then susceptible to further damage.

The cumulative effect of these misfolded proteins, which is a part of natural cell aging, can contribute to cell death and, ultimately, the death of an individual.

Researchers have typically focused on the way one or two proteins unfold as damage increases from oxygen that has an uneven number of electrons.

Ken Dill. Photo from SBU

Ken Dill, a distinguished professor and director of the Laufer Center for Physical and Quantitative Biology at Stony Brook University, and colleagues including Adam de Graff, a former postdoctoral researcher in Dill’s lab who is currently a senior scientist at Methuselah Health based in Cambridge, England, and Mantu Santra, a postdoctoral researcher in Dill’s lab, recently published research that explored the global effects of unfolding on the proteome. Their model represents average proteins, not individual proteins, detail by detail.

Researchers use the roundworm as a model of human aging because of the similarity of the main processes. The worm model presents opportunities to explore the cumulative effect on proteins because of its shorter life span. Worms in normal conditions typically live about 20 days. Worms, however, that are subjected to higher temperatures or that live in the presence of free radicals can survive for only a few hours.

The shorter life span correlates with the imbalance between the rate at which cells create new proteins and the collapse of misfolded proteins damaged by free radicals, the scientists explained in a paper published online recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

While numerous processes occur during aging, including changes in DNA, lipids and energy processes, Dill explained that organisms, from worms, to flies, to mice to humans experience increasing oxidative damage over the course of their lives.

“The evidence made us think about proteome collapse as a dominant process,” Dill said.

De Graff explained that the paper uses the premise that “certain conformations of a protein are much more susceptible to oxidative damage than others. If you’re folded, you’re pretty safe.”

In the past, researchers have considered linking the way protein misfolding leads to cell death to a potential approach to cancer. If, for example, scientists could subject specific cancer cells to oxidative damage and to develop an accumulation of misfolded proteins, they could selectively kill those cells.

A few years ago, researchers explored the possibility of developing a therapeutic strategy that tapped into the mechanism of cell death. To survive with an accumulation of mutated proteins, cancer cells have increased the levels of chaperone concentrations because they need to handle numerous mutated, incorrectly folded proteins. 

A drug called 17-AAG aimed to reduce the chaperones. It worked for some cancers but not others and had side effects. New efforts are continuing in this area, Dill said.

Other researchers, including De Graff, are looking at ways to improve protein folding and, potentially, provide therapeutic benefits for people as they age.

At Methuselah Health De Graff and his colleagues are leveraging the fact that certain conformations are more susceptible to damage and thus the creation of altered “proteoforms.” Identifying these proteoforms could be key to the early detection of disease and the development of preventative treatments, De Graff explained.

Methuselah Health is not interested in treating the downstream symptoms of disease but, rather, its upstream causes.

Going forward, Dill hopes other experimental scientists continue to generate data that enables a closer look at the link between oxidative damage, protein misfolding and cell death.

Some people in the aging field look at individual proteins, he explained. In neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, which are associated and correlated with protein misfolding, scientists are taking numerous approaches. So far, however, researchers haven’t found a successful approach to tackle aging or diseases by altering misfolded proteins.

Dill hopes people will come to appreciate a role for modeling in understanding such varied cellwide processes such as aging. “How do we convey to people who are used to thinking about detailed biochemistry why modeling matters at all?” he asked. “We have our work cut out for us to communicate what we think matters and a way forward in terms of drug discovery.”

Theoretically, some proteins that are at a high enough concentration might be more important in the aging and cell death process than others, Dill said. “If you could reduce their concentration, you might pull the cell back from the tipping point for other proteins,” he said, but researchers know too little about if or how they should do this. He credits De Graff and Santra with doing considerable work to bring this study together.

A resident of Port Jefferson with his wife, Jolanda Schreurs, Dill is pleased that their house has solar panels. 

The couple’s son Tyler is married and has purchased a house in San Diego. Despite professing a lack of interest in biology at an early age, Tyler is working as a staff development engineer for Illumina, a company that makes DNA sequencing machines.

The couple’s younger son Ryan is earning his doctorate as a physical chemist at the University of Colorado in Boulder. He works with lasers, solar energy and quantum entanglements.

As for the most recent research, Dill suggested that it is “premised on the importance of oxidative damage, including by free radicals, which is now well established,” he explained in an email. “It then seeks to explain their effects on how proteins fold and misfold.”

De Graff added that the model in the PNAS paper attempts to “understand the consequences of slowed protein synthesis and turnover” that occurs during aging.

Photo by Bill Ziskin/SBU Athletics

ALBANY: For the third time in four years, the Stony Brook men’s cross-country team got to raise the banner and the trophy as the Seawolves won the America East Championship on Nov. 2 at the UAlbany cross-country course.

 The Seawolves dominated the field to tally just 22 points as all five of its scorers finished within the top seven. This marks the lowest tally at the conference championship since 1999 when New Hampshire scored 15. In second place behind the Seawolves was UMass Lowell (54) and Vermont (75) rounded out the top three.

Highlights

 Vann Moffett (Niantic, Conn.), Cameron Avery (Christchurch, New Zealand) and Luke Coulter (Jamesport) led the Seawolves charge as the trio placed 2-3-4.

Moffett finished the 8-kilometer course in 23 minutes, 42.63 seconds to earn runner-up honors while Avery and Coulter clocked in at 23:44.31 and 24:04.32 to back him up at third and fourth.

Robert Becker (Hurley) and Chris Biondi (Pine Bush) rounded out the scoring five with impressive sixth and seventh-place finishes.

Becker crossed the line in 24:08.51 while Biondi earned a time of 24:11.29.

Freshman Evan Brennan (Ballston Lake) also had an incredible run at his first-ever conference championship, taking 13th overall in 24:28.24 and was named the America East’s Most Outstanding Rookie.

Also running for the Seawolves were Kyle Kelly (West Islip) 15th, 24:32.62, Conor Malanaphy (Blauvelt) 22nd, 24:49.47, Aiden Smyth (Huntington Station) 23rd, 24:49.75 and Greg Mangarelli (Middletown, N.J.) 31st, 25:01.69.

 “This was a full team performance today, all 10 guys gave all they had,” said head coach Andy Ronan. “Our two guys up front Cameron (Avery) and Vann (Moffett) led the way with two very strong efforts and the supporting cast of Luke (Coulter), Rob (Becker), Chris (Biondi) and Evan (Brennan) in particular were outstanding. But all around it was a special effort by all the guys that ran. This meet is always difficult to win particularly if you are expected to. I thought the guys did a great job handling that expectation today and I am very proud of the way they did handle it.” 

Up next, the team returns to action in two weeks when they travel to Buffalo for the NCAA Regional Championships on Nov. 15.

William Farr. Photo by Anja von der Linden

By Daniel Dunaief

It’s not exactly a symphony, with varying sounds, tones, cadences and resonances all working together to take the listener on an auditory journey through colors, moods and meaning. In fact, the total length of the distortion is so short — about 0.1 seconds — that it’s a true scratch-your-ear-and-you’ll-miss-it moment.

And yet, astrophysicists like William Farr, an associate professor in the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Stony Brook University and a group leader in gravitational wave astronomy with the Simons Foundation Flatiron Institute, are thrilled that they have been able to measure distortions in space and time that occur at audio frequencies that they can convert into sounds. These distortions were made millions or even billions of years ago from merging black holes.

Farr, in collaboration with a team of scientists from various institutions, recently published a paper in Physical Review Letters on the topic. 

While the ability to detect sounds sent hurtling through space billions of years before Tyrannosaurus Rex stalked its prey on Earth with its mammoth jaw and short forelimbs offers some excitement in and of itself, Farr and other scientists are intrigued by the implications for basic physical principles.

General relativity, a theory proposed by Albert Einstein over 100 years ago, offers specific predictions about gravitational waves traveling through space.“The big excitement is that we checked those predictions and they matched what we saw. It’s a very direct test of general relativity and its predictions about a super extreme environment near a black hole,” said Farr. There are other tests of general relativity, but none that directly test its predictions so close to the event horizon of a black hole, he explained.

General relativity predicts a spectrum of tones from a black hole, much like quantum mechanics predicts a spectrum line from a hydrogen atom, Farr explained.

The result of this analysis “provides another striking confirmation of the theory of general relativity and also demonstrates that there are even more exciting things that can be done with gravitational wave astrophysics,” Marilena Loverde, an assistant professor of physics at the C. N. Yang Institute for Theoretical Physics at Stony Brook University, explained in an email. Loverde suggested that Farr is “particularly well-known for bringing powerful new statistical techniques to extract science from vast astrophysical data sets.”

Farr and his colleagues discovered two distortions that they converted into tones from one merger event. By measuring the frequency of the first one, they could predict the frequency for all the other tones generated in the event. They detected one more event, whose frequency and decay rate were consistent with general relativity given the accuracy of the measurement.

So, what does the merger of two black holes sound like, from billions of light years away? Farr suggested it was like a “thunk” sent over that tremendous distance. The pitch of that sound varies depending on the masses of the black holes. The difference in sound is akin to the noise a bear makes compared with a chipmunk: A larger black hole, or animal, in this comparison, makes a noise with a deeper pitch.

He used data from the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-Wave Observatory, or LIGO, which is a twin system located in Livingston, Louisiana, and Hanford, Washington. LIGO had collected data from black hole merger events over a noncontinuous six-month period from 2015 to 2017.

Farr chose the loudest one, which came from 1.5 billion years ago. Farr was using data from the instrument, which collects gravitational waves as they reach the two different locations, when it was less sensitive. Given the original data, he might not have discovered anything. He was, however, delighted to discover the first tone.

If something that far away emitted a gravitational wave sound that lasts such a short period of time, how, then, could the LIGO team and Farr’s analysis be sure the sound originated with the cosmic collision?

“We make ‘extreme’ efforts to be sure about this,” Farr explained in an email. “It is one reason we built two instruments (so that something weird happening in one does not fool us).” He said he makes sure the signal is consistently recorded in both concurrently. To rule out distortions that might come from other events, like comets slamming into exoplanets, he can measure the frequency of the event and its amplitude.

Black holes form when stars collapse. After the star that, in this case, was likely around 25 times the mass of the sun, exploded, what was left behind had an enormous mass. When another, nearby star becomes a black hole, the two black holes develop an orbit like their progenitor stars. When these stars become black holes, they will emit enough gravitational waves to shrink the orbit, leading to a merger over a few billion years. That’s what he “heard” from the last second or fraction of a second.

Farr expects to have the chance to analyze considerably more data over the next few months. First, he is working to analyze data that has already been released and then he will explore data from this year’s observations, which includes about 25 more mergers.

“The detectors are getting more sensitive,” he said. This year, scientists can see about 30 percent further than they could in the first and second observing runs, which translates into seeing over twice the total volume.

Farr has been at Stony Brook for almost a year. Prior to his arrival, he had lived in England for five years. He and his wife, Rachel, who have a 3½-year-old daughter, Katherine, live in Stony Brook.

As for his work, Farr is thrilled that he will have a chance to study more of these black hole merger sounds that, while not exactly Mozart, are, nonetheless, music to his ears. “Each different event tells us different things about how stars form and evolve,” he said.

Jessica Schleider. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

Many teenagers who are struggling with depression need help. According to several estimates, less than half of teens with depression receive treatment that would help them manage through everything from negative feelings toward themselves and their lives to a lack of control over events during the day.

Jessica Schleider, an assistant professor of clinical psychology in the College of Arts and Sciences at Stony Brook University, wants to offer teenagers battling depression a new kind of assistance.

Jessica Schleider on a hike with her dog Penny. Photo by David Payne

Schleider is seeking participants for a new study, called Project Track to Treat, that offers teenagers from 11 to 16 years old symptom-tailored treatment. After participating teens respond to surveys she sends them on smartphones, she will provide single-session, computer-based interventions that address symptoms such as hopelessness or withdrawal from daily activities.

Schleider recently received a five-year, $2 million Early Independence Award from the National Institutes of Health to test the benefits of these half-hour computer sessions.

The funds will go toward study staff, the cost of recruiting youths and families for the study, equipment, statistical packages for the analyses she plans to run and compensation for the families who take part.

“A vast majority of teenagers who experience depression never access treatment,” Schleider said, potentially because teens are not typically in a position where they can seek out treatment on their own. “Between the lack of access to services and the limited potency of services, there needs to be a broader array of options and layers we can provide.”

In the world of clinical psychology, three to four months is generally considered brief treatment. A single computer-based session that a teenager can access at any time offers support during a much shorter time frame.

The idea behind the briefer, more targeted intervention is that it could offer help. The goal of the session is to create positive momentum, to teach teens useful skills for coping with depression-related difficulties, and to offer it in a setting where modern teenagers spend much of their time, online, Schleider suggested.

Jessica Shleider with husband David Payne and their dog Penny.
Photo from Jessica Schleider

“For young people who would never go to a therapist, the question may be whether there is something else that could help, and [Schleider’s] work may offer one such ‘something else,’” John Weisz, a professor in the Department of Psychology at Harvard University, wrote in an email. It’s also possible, explained Weisz, who has known Schleider since 2013 when she worked in his lab, that a single session might encourage teenagers to believe that other types of therapy can also help if they try.

Part of the motivation for this study is to determine if the nature of the symptoms — which she will explore through survey questions — can inform how teenagers will respond to a single, therapeutic session.

Schleider created these programs from available research in psychology and education. She adapted some of those programs to these specific circumstances and she taught herself rudimentary coding with html. She currently has three programs available on her website, which interested parents and teenagers can explore at www.schleiderlab.org/participate.

The teenagers participating in the study will receive questions a few times a day for three weeks about how they are feeling, checking to see any signs of depression. From those interactions, Schleider will be able to determine which symptom is the most central and which might lead to other symptoms over time. She hopes to take parameters from that to see if those symptoms predict how much a participant will respond to a session.

Schleider will also measure how teenagers respond to training through the study. If their emotional state deteriorates, the researchers can intervene and can monitor the level of risk and refer any cases appropriately. “Our top priority as researchers is to make sure the kids are taken care of,” she said.

She was skeptical before she started working on brief sessions. “I was on the side of, of course you can’t do anything in one session,” Schleider said. “I thought you need several sessions to make a sustained change.”

In looking at the available research, however, she discovered that through 50 randomized control trials in 2017, the magnitude of the effect of the trials was between small to medium range, which matched the effect of sessions ranging from an hour to 16 sessions for other teenagers. After her study, she realized that “there is something to this. We need to do more work to find out what to do and how to harness it for our youth.”

Through monitoring over two years, Schleider hopes to gain a better awareness of who will benefit from this session and under what time frame they might see an improvement.

She hopes teenagers can share their thoughts and ideas for how to improve these programs. She also offers some of these teenagers to help reconstruct the content and language and references.

Teenagers who don’t participate in the Track to Treat study can participate in an anonymous Project Yes effort, which is a program evaluation initiative. These participants can offer feedback on these sessions.

For a subset of teenagers, one session likely won’t be sufficient. 

Weisz suggested that Schleider, who joined Stony Brook last year, is a “terrific addition” to the university and the community. “I believe her work will reflect very well on both.” Weisz added that Schleider’s colleagues in the Department of Psychology at Stony Brook “are among the finest psychological scientists in the nation,” where Schleider can “take her work to a very high level.”

Schleider, who joined Stony Brook last year, lives in Coram with her husband, David Payne, who is a medical resident in radiology at Stony Brook Hospital. 

As for her work, Schleider said she recognizes that there is no panacea, but that this approach is “something when the alternative is nothing.”

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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.