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Stony Brook University

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Billy Joel will receive an honorary degree at next month’s Stony Brook University commencement ceremony, slated for May 22 at LaValle Stadium. Photo from SBU

Billy Joel is coming to Stony Brook University.

Billy Joel will receive an honorary degree at next month’s Stony Brook University commencement ceremony, slated for May 22 at LaValle Stadium. Photo from SBU
Billy Joel will receive an honorary degree at next month’s Stony Brook University commencement ceremony, slated for May 22 at LaValle Stadium. Photo from SBU

The iconic singer and songwriter was named one of three luminaries who will receive honorary degrees at this year’s Stony Brook University commencement ceremony on May 22, along with renowned computer scientist Ben Shneiderman and Long Island businessman and philanthropist Charles Wang.

“This is a remarkable distinction for the Class of 2015, to be joined in their celebration by such a highly accomplished trio,” said Stony Brook University President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. “It shows our new alumni how much can be achieved with vision, dedication and perseverance. These three individuals personify the relentless pursuit of excellence that Stony Brook embraces.”

Stony Brook University will be conferring honorary degrees to all three visitors, who will don academic regalia along with more than 6,000 students at the 55th annual commencement ceremony, slated for 11 a.m. at LaValle Stadium. Both Joel and Wang will speak at the ceremony, Stony Brook University said.

“I look forward to this commencement, as I’m sure does the entire Class of 2015, as they prepare to celebrate the culmination of their dedication, hard work, and their vision for what lies ahead,” Stanley said.

Joel, who was raised in Hicksville, is a singer-songwriter pianist and composer who has earned 23 Grammy Award nominations, six Grammy Awards, and an additional Grammy Legend Award to name only a few of his achievements.

Shneiderman, a two-time Stony Brook University alumnus and distinguished university professor of computer science at the University of Maryland, is a world-renowned computer scientist who has transformed his chosen field. Shneiderman will be speaking at a prestigious doctoral hooding ceremony the previous day, May 21, at 1 p.m. in the Island Federal Credit Union Arena.

Wang is co-founder of Computer Associates International — now CA Technologies — and owner of the New York Islanders ice hockey team. Born in Shanghai, China, he moved to Queens when he was 8 years old, and attended Brooklyn Technical High School. The Charles B. Wang Center at SBU was named in his honor.

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Martian water, in a lab. Maria-Paz Zorzano, of the Centro de Astrobiologia in Madrid, Spain, recreates the conditions in which perchlorate salts would melt water during the Martian summer night. Photo from Maria-Paz Zorzano

By Daniel Dunaief

It’s not exactly an oasis filled with unexplored life in the middle of a barren dessert. Rather, it is likely a small amount of liquid water that forms during the night and evaporates during the day. What makes this water so remarkable and enticing, however, is that, while it’s in our solar system, it is far, far away: about 225 million miles.

The rover Curiosity, which landed on Mars in the summer of 2012 after a 253-day journey from Earth, has gathered weather data from the Gale Crater on the Red Planet for the last year. That data has suggested the likely presence of liquid water.

“The cool part of this is the present-day nature of it,” said Tim Glotch, an associate professor at the Department of Geosciences at Stony Brook University, who studies the role of water in shaping the surface of Mars. “It’s there right now.”

The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station  on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover includes temperature and humidity sensors mounted on the rover’s mast. Photo from Maria-Paz Zorzano
The Rover Environmental Monitoring Station on NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover includes temperature and humidity sensors mounted on the rover’s mast. Photo from Maria-Paz Zorzano

The liquid water is in the form of brine, which is a mix of water and salts. The perchlorate salts on or near the surface of Mars melt the ice that forms during the cold parts of the Martian night. It’s similar, Glotch said, to the way salts melt black ice during a frigid Long Island evening.

Curiosity, which is about the size of a small car, can’t detect this liquid water because its electronics don’t operate during temperatures that plunge at night to around 100 degrees below zero Fahrenheit.

The findings, which were reported last week in the journal Nature Geosciences, have competing implications. For starters, said lead author Javier Martin-Torres, who works at Lulea University of Technology in Sweden and is a part of the Spanish Research Council in Spain and a member of Curiosity’s science team, the water is in one of the least likely places on Mars.

“We see evidence of conditions for brine in the worst-case scenario on Mars,” Martin-Torres said in a Skype interview last week from Sweden. “We are in the hottest and driest place on the planet. Because we know that perchlorates are all over the planet — which we have seen from satellite images — we think there must be brine everywhere.”

Given the radiation, temperature fluctuations and other atmospheric challenges, however, the conditions for life, even microorganisms, to survive in these small droplets of water are “terrible,” Martin-Torres said.

Still, the fact that “we see a water cycle, in the present atmosphere, is very exciting,” Martin-Torres said. “This has implications in meteorology.”

Deanne Rogers, an assistant professor in the Department of Geosciences at Stony Brook, said the likelihood of water bound to perchlorate salts directly affects her own research.

“Something I work on is sulfate minerals on Mars,” she said. “They can take on water and get rid of them easily by exchanging water vapor with the atmosphere.” She may incorporate perchlorates into future grant proposals.

Briny water, Rogers said, may also explain the dark streaks that appear on Mars at mid and low latitudes. These streaks look like running water going down a slope.

“People try to explain what these are,” she said. “It can’t be pure liquid water. It might be perchlorates taking on water vapor and producing dark streaks.”

By landing on the planet and sending readings back to researchers, Curiosity and other land-based vehicles can offer firsthand evidence of environmental conditions.

“Direct measurements are way more precise than what we can do from orbit,” Rogers said.

In the first week after the paper came out, Martin-Torres said he spent about 85 percent of his work time talking to the media, scientists or people asking questions about his studies. He has also received more than 10 times the typical number of requests from prospective Ph.D. students who would like to work in his lab while scientists from around the world have reached out to form collaborations.

Rogers explained that students might react to this kind of discovery the same way she did to other data and images from Mars in the early stages of her career.

“When Pathfinder landed in 1997, I saw the beautiful, colorful panoramas in the newspaper,” she said. “That’s when I knew what I was going to do. I hope that kids feel the same way.”

Martin-Torres, who said he has already submitted additional research proposals based on this discovery, described the current era of Mars research as the “golden age of Mars exploration.”

‘Short But Sweet,’ the butterfly bra created by Tammy Colletti in memory of her mother. Photo by Erin Dueñas

By Erin Dueñas

Covered in feathers, decorated in shells and bedazzled in rhinestones, the bras on display at the Wang Center at Stony Brook University last Thursday looked like they could have been part of the latest collection from an eccentric lingerie designer. The bras were actually created by members of the community, local businesses, cancer survivors and television personalities as part of Bodacious Bras for a Cure, a fundraising event to benefit women’s cancer programs at Stony Brook Cancer Center.

Dr. Michael Pearl says the services offered to cancer patients involved in the cancer center help to restore some control in their lives. Photo by Erin Duenas
Dr. Michael Pearl says the services offered to cancer patients involved in the cancer center help to restore some control in their lives. Photo by Erin Duenas

Bodacious Bras was initiated by Linda Bily, director of Cancer Patient Advocacy and the Woman to Woman program at the center and inspired by a similar event called Creative Cups at Adelphi University. Bras were decorated and then put up for auction at the Stony Brook event. “It’s just a fun, different way of promoting awareness of all women’s cancers,” Bily said.

Twenty-two bras were auctioned off, raising $5,000 that will help fund women’s patient services at the Cancer Center.

According to Bily, each bra entry had to be created on a size 36C garment. Nothing perishable was permitted on the creations and the entire bra needed to be decorated. A brief summary accompanied each bra explaining the creator’s motivation. The “Mandala” bra, which fetched $250, created by local artist Jessica Randall, was made of shells and won the Best in Show prize. “I made this bra,” Randall’s summary read, “to honor women who have struggled with the debilitating disease of breast cancer.” “That Meatball Place” bra was created by the restaurant of the same name, located in Patchogue. Featuring bows and rhinestones and the restaurant’s logo, the bra fetched $500 at the auction. “Whichever [meatball] style suits you, we support them all, while always saving room for hope of a cure,” that summary read. Another bra called the “Hooter Holster” was created by Port Jefferson Station native Clinton Kelly, co-host of  “The Chew.”

22 bras were featured at Bodacious Bras for a Cure bringing in $5000 to fund women’s cancer services. Photo by Erin Duenas
22 bras were featured at Bodacious Bras for a Cure bringing in $5000 to fund women’s cancer services. Photo by Erin Duenas

Tammy Colletti of Setauket made a bra called “Short But Sweet” dedicated to her mother Marion who passed away a year and a half ago. Using purple and teal feathers, the bra was made to look like a butterfly. A small vial containing a piece of paper that read “Cure Breast Cancer” rested in the center in between the feathers.

Colletti, who volunteers at the Cancer Center, said she was inspired to create a butterfly bra after watching her mother live out the remainder of her life in hospice care. “When they brought her in to hospice she was all wrapped up, and I told her it looked like she was in a cocoon,” Colletti said. When she passed away, Colletti imagined her mother shedding that cocoon and turning into a butterfly. “She was transformed into something beautiful, into something that I know is flying all around us.”

The Cancer Center provides a wide variety of support to ill patients to help them cope with a cancer diagnosis. In the Woman to Woman program, patients can get help with childcare, transportation to treatments, financial assistance to pay for costs associated with being ill and selecting wigs if needed.

Dr. Michael Pearl, professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Gynecologic Oncology, said that a cancer diagnosis has a huge impact not just on the woman affected but on her family as well. “In a lot of families, the woman acts as the glue that keeps everything together,” Pearl said. When a woman gets sick, often the day-to-day operations of family life get disrupted. That is when the Woman to Woman program can step in.

“We have volunteers that provide active support services,” Pearl said. Services could even include driving a patient’s children to sports or band practice. “Getting sick takes away your control. The program tries to restore some control and normalcy into their day-to-day lives.”

Bily said she was expecting Bodacious Bras to take a while to catch on, but she was happy with the positive response of the event. “It was a great night,” she said. “People who designed a bra are already thinking about what they will make next year.”

Geese hang out on the banks of Lake Ronkonkoma. Their waste pollutes the lake. Photo by Phil Corso

Long Island’s largest freshwater lake is not what it used to be, but North Shore lawmakers and educators are teaming up to bring it back.

Darcy Lonsdale and her students attending the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences arrived at the docks of the 243-acre Lake Ronkonkoma on Tuesday morning, equipped with various aquatic testing supplies to study marine life in the waters. Bill Pfeiffer, part of the Nesconset Fire Department’s water rescue team, helped guide the students as residents and government officials flanked the docks in talks of a Lake Ronkonkoma that once was.

Pfeiffer has been diving in and exploring around Lake Ronkonkoma for years, mapping out the bottom of the lake and chronicling the different kinds of debris on its floor, which he said includes anything from parts of old amusement park rides to pieces of docks.

Darcy Lonsdale speaks to students at Lake Ronkonkoma before they take samples. Photo by Phil Corso
Darcy Lonsdale speaks to students at Lake Ronkonkoma before they take samples. Photo by Phil Corso

“This lake needs a healthy amount of attention,” he said. “It has been appearing clearer, but [Superstorm] Sandy turned it into a brown mud hole again.”

The lake is home to various species, including largemouth bass and chain pickerel.

Members of the Lake Ronkonkoma Advisory Task Force hosted Pfeiffer and the students with hopes of gaining a deeper understanding of the waters and encouraging the four jurisdictions overseeing it — Brookhaven, Islip and Smithtown towns and Suffolk County — to form one united board to advocate for the lake.

Newly elected county Legislator Leslie Kennedy (R-Nesconset) said the goal was to compile data that will help secure grant money, channel stormwater runoff away from the lake and garner legislative support for the lake.

“Years ago, this was a resort. There were tons of beachfronts. There were cabins and cabanas,” she said. “This is something we all could be proud of. It could be a site where people recreate.”

Looking ahead, Kennedy said she hoped a united front could attract more foot traffic and fishing to the lake. She stood along the waters on Tuesday morning and said she was anxious to see the kinds of results the Stony Brook students help to find.

“I am dying to know what the pH levels are at the bottom of the lake,” she said.

Lawmakers and Lake Ronkonkoma advocates said one of the biggest hurdles in the way of cleaner waters rested in the population of geese gaggling around the area. As more geese make their way in and around the lake, the nitrogen in their waste pollutes the water. Volunteers with the Lake Ronkonkoma civic had to sweep the length of the dock Tuesday morning, as Pfeiffer prepared for the students, in order to rid it of geese excrement.

“To help the lake, relocating or terminating some of the geese might not be a bad idea,” Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) said.

The students could be funneling data to the different municipalities overseeing the lake by the end of the summer.

“You want a report that will spell out how to improve the clarity of this water,” Romaine said. “The students are welcome back anytime.”

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Patricia Thompson photo from Stony Brook University

By Daniel Dunaief

Patricia Thompson gets a call from her sister Kathy Hobson when people in San Angelo, Texas — where Thompson grew up and where her sister and brother live — when someone has cancer. They want to know what Thompson thinks of their treatment.

While Thompson is not a medical doctor, she has been working as a scientist to develop ways to discriminate high-risk patient populations from low-risk patients to limit “toxic treatments in low-risk individuals” and improve the efficacy of aggressive treatment in high risk-patients. The goal, she said, is to better treat patients based on the specific pathobiology of their disease.

Thompson, who came to Stony Brook University last October as a professor of pathology and associate director of Basic Research at the Cancer Center, is pleased with the support from the university.

“There’s a real convergence of factors, including a strong commitment from the leadership, the Simons Center and the university medical school faculty and staff at Stony Brook,” she said. “We all want to see the Stony Brook Cancer Center bring prestige to our community, attract the finest talent in cancer research and clinical care and attract innovators and job builders.”

Thompson said Cancer Center Director Yusuf Hannun, Medical School Research Dean Lina Obeid, Pathology Department Chairman Ken Shroyer, and Dean of the Medical School Ken Kaushansky have all led the charge.
Shroyer is pleased Thompson joined the effort. “Bringing her here was an incredible coup,” he said. She brings “real national prominence” and led one of the “most important clinical and translational research programs in breast and colorectal cancer.”

Thompson is committed to furthering her own research studies, while balancing between critical basic science discoveries and their clinical impact.

For some scientists, she wants to assist researchers as they move from the bench to the first human study. She helps them understand who needs to be involved to advance a potential diagnostic tool or novel treatment.

Still, she endorses the benefits of basic research. “Application is always an important long-term goal, but scientific exploration for new discovery is critical to advancements,” she said. Applied and basic research are “neither mutually exclusive approaches.”

Thompson studies colorectal and breast cancer because both have an inflammatory component and an immune element. She’s exploring what is shared between these two cancers as common targets for prevention and treatment.

Colon cancer provides a window that helps scientists and doctors understand the way cancer progresses.
“Our ability to study the premalignant to malignant progression in colorectal cancer has provided important basic knowledge of how cancers develop and taught us about how cells defend against tumorigenesis and how these systems fail,” she said.

Thompson went through some formative professional and personal experiences during graduate school that shaped her career. In the mid-1990s, she was studying an autoimmune disease in which she worked on an animal model with a neuroimmunologist.

“I wanted to know that all this work I was doing with animals was contributing to the disease in humans,” she said.

Around the same time, her father, Jim Thompson, who owned and operated Angelo Tool Company, learned he had stage IV colorectal cancer. He was diagnosed in 1995, before major advances in colorectal cancer treatment. Her father received compassionate care use of a new therapy, enabling him to live for three more years, considerably longer than his initial two-month prognosis. If he had been diagnosed five years later and received a platinum-based regimen, he would have “gained even more time,” she said.

Thompson said she and her family struggle with the fact that her father showed symptoms he kept to himself, largely out of fear. If his cancer had been detected earlier, she believes it is likely he could have been cured.

She suggests people not be “afraid of a cancer diagnosis” and recommends “routine screening” and consultation with a doctor if they show symptoms.

Thompson lives in Rocky Point with her husband, Michael Hogan, who is the vice president of life sciences at Applied DNA Sciences.

As for her work, Thompson believes her research might help physicians and their patients.
Her research aims to develop “diagnostic tests that help in prognosis” while identifying “patients that may achieve more benefit from aggressive chemotherapy,” she said.

Supervisor Ed Romaine file photo

A state assemblywoman from Ithaca is pushing to provide state aid to municipalities that host four-year, residential State University of New York colleges and universities, and Brookhaven Supervisor Ed Romaine (R) is signing onto the cause because of the potential financial relief it could bring to Long Island.

The legislation, introduced by Assemblywoman Barbara Lifton (D-Ithaca) on March 24, seeks to offset the cost of providing public safety services to state schools, which are currently tax-exempt. The move came shortly after Romaine vowed to work with the New York State Board of Regents to seek a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, for the Stony Brook and Setauket fire departments, which both serve SUNY Stony Brook University.

Lifton, who represents the cities and towns of Ithaca and Cortland — which host SUNY Cortland and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences at Cornell University — called the lack of aid a big issue for her municipalities.

“There is a deficit there that we need to makeup,” she said, noting that the state’s Aid and Incentives for Municipalities, or AIM funding, has decreased over the years.

The legislation earmarks $12 million in aid for the host municipalities, and establishes a formula to distribute the aid based on the cost of public safety services, how much AIM funding the community already receives and the student population.

Lifton said there are a lot of rental properties in Cortland, so the police and fire departments “provide more than the normal amount of services.” In the City of Cortland, firefighters are paid, but Cortland Town firefighters volunteer their time.

While the legislation currently doesn’t propose aid be rewarded to a fire districts like those in Stony Brook and East Setauket, Romaine still said he was supportive of the idea.

“We think this is a solution,” Romaine said.

Like in Cortland, Brookhaven officials have been dealing with off-campus rental properties, which university students often inhabit. Over the last two years, the town has tried to curtail illegal and overcrowded rentals in the Stony Brook and Setauket area by strengthening its codes, increasing fines and working with the university to educate students about illegal rentals. The town also hired additional investigators to stay on top of the issue.

While Romaine said the legislation would help Brookhaven, he continued to advocate for “some contribution to the fire districts involved so their taxpayers don’t have to bear that burden.”

Romaine also said he hopes Long Island’s state representatives would support the legislation, and that at some point along the line, a PILOT agreement is established.

State Assemblyman Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) and Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) did not return requests for comment.

Stony Brook Fire Department Commissioner Paul Degen, who works as a town investigator, said 50 percent of Stony Brook Fire District’s tax base is exempt, which has made things financially difficult at times as the department has spent money retrofitting trucks and adequately training volunteers.

“It is what it is, but it would be nice if 50 percent of our district paid their fair share,” he said.

According to records from Stony Brook University, alarms requiring a fire department unit on the scene have dropped since 2012 when single detector activations, which are investigated by university fire marshals and don’t require fire department presence, were implemented in May 2012.

In 2012, the Stony Brook and/or Setauket departments were on scene for a total of 137 alarms. In 2013, the number drastically dropped to 25.

While there has been progress, Degen said he would like to see more incentives to attract department volunteers, which aren’t easy to come by these days. The department currently has 72 members, and more than half of them are over 50 years old.

One idea, he said, would be to offer some sort of tuition break or benefit to volunteers, which could help attract students to the department.

“All of that needs to be visited,” he said.

Romaine, Lifton and Degen expressed similar sentiments about the universities, saying they play important roles in the host communities, which welcome them, but still shouldn’t burden the taxpayers.

“All I’m asking for is some kind of remuneration,” Romaine said. “The full burden should not fall on the taxpayer. That is just not fair.”

Evelyn Berezin is honored this month. Photo from Stony Brook University

A mere accident altered the life of Evelyn Berezin, and now, at almost 90 years old, she is being honored as one of the pioneers in the computer industry.

After 75 years since building her first computer, Berezin — a Poquott resident — is being honored and inducted into the Computer History Museum on April 25 in Mountain View, Calif., because of her impact on the ever-growing technology industry.

“Most people don’t know what a woman of great accomplishment she is,” said longtime friend Kathleen Mullinix, who will be traveling to the event with the woman she described as “a brilliant person of substance.”

Berezin said the best part about all of her success since logging into the computer field decades ago is the fact that she had no idea her life would turn out the way it did. She said she initially thought she would take the physics route at a young age, but it all changed for the best.

“I got into it by accident,” Berezin said. “It was so early in the game, I didn’t know what it was.”

But even though her life didn’t turn out exactly how she planned it, she said she has not looked back once since beginning her journey.

Berezin was born in the Bronx on April 12, 1925. At 15, she graduated high school and started at Hunter College, where she found an interest in physics, which was not an area of study at her all-girls school.

The day after Pearl Harbor was bombed, her high school physics teacher knocked on her door and offered her a research job in the field she wanted.

“Every boy in the country was given a number to be drafted,” Berezin recalled on how she was able to get the job. “I happened to be there at the right time.”

At age of 16, Berezin lied about her age to get the job. She said her height helped her pass for 18, so she began working in the lab while attending college at night. She eventually studied math at Brooklyn Polytech, physics and chemistry at NYU and English at Hunter.

Four years later, she received a scholarship from NYU and accomplished her dream and received her degree in physics.

“It’s what I really wanted,” Berezin said.

After graduation, she received an Atomic Energy Commission fellowship while still working toward her Ph.D. Her dream shifted when she met her husband in 1951. Although the two did not have a steady salary, they decided to marry. So the search for a job began.

“I was told [there was] no way I would get a physics job in 1951 because of the Korean War,” Berezin said.

She then met someone who would forever change her life. A recruiter told her there were very few physics jobs in the government. So she decided to ask about computers, even though the industry was in its infancy.

“I had no idea why I asked,” Berezin said. “I never even heard of a computer.”

She landed her first job working for Electronic Computer Corporation for $4,500 a year — a huge increase from her previous $1,600 salary.

Before the company went bankrupt in 1957, she designed three or four different computers that were used by various companies. She then moved on to a job at Teleregister making computers that would distribute stock market information across the country.

After traveling all the way to Connecticut for her job, Berezin decided to switch jobs but stay in the computer business. She took a job with Digitronics and began designing computers with great complexity and speed.

After all her hard work, she still felt she wasn’t getting what she wanted.

“In 1969 I decided I would never get to be vice president because I was a woman,” Berezin said. “I decided to start my own company.”

It was then that Berezin’s company Redactron was born. From 1969 to 1975 she worked hard to build the company up with roughly 500 employees.

During the 1970s, the economy took a dip, when she said money was not coming in and interest rates were high. She decided to sell the company to the Burroughs Corporation for roughly $25 million.

She continued to work at Burroughs as part of the sale.

“At that time you didn’t work on the computer, you worked in them,” Berezin recalled of the large machines on which she worked.

After leaving Burroughs, Berezin spent the rest of her time getting involved in start-up companies and moved to Long Island.

Arleen Buckley donated a kidney to her husband of 43 years, Tom Buckley. Photo by Erin Dueñas

By Erin Dueñas

Arleen Buckley ticked off the places she and husband Tom had traveled to before he fell ill. The Port Jefferson couple had visited Italy, Ireland and even China, but a planned trip to Belgium last year had to be canceled after Tom’s battle with polycystic kidney disease — a hereditary condition where cysts develop on the kidneys, leading to the organ’s failure — kept him from traveling.

“He was just too sick,” his wife said. “We were lucky we could get him to the corner.”

Tom Buckley spent months undergoing dialysis three days a week, but the treatments left him weak.

“He wasn’t having a good reaction to the dialysis,” Arleen Buckley said. “I told him we can’t live life like this. It was a tough time.”

Arleen Buckley said she couldn’t bear seeing her husband of 43 years so ill. She suggested giving him one of her kidneys to resolve his health issue but he refused.

“He felt guilty. He didn’t want me putting my life at risk,” she said. “I told him I wanted to live a nice long life — but with him.”

It took months but she eventually convinced her husband to take her kidney, and in September of last year, the couple underwent the surgeries.

Arleen Buckley was up and about just three days later, and while her husband’s recovery took much longer — about six months — he said he feels great. They’re even planning a trip to Scandinavia.

“I couldn’t go anywhere, not even to the movies,” Tom Buckley said. “Now that I’m better I can do whatever I want.”

Last Thursday, April 2, the couple attended the Living Donor Award Ceremony at Stony Brook University Hospital, which honored Arleen Buckley and about 200 other kidney donors. Sponsored by the hospital’s Department of Transplant, kidney recipients presented their living donors with a state medal of honor for the second chance at life.

The ceremony’s keynote speaker was Chris Melz of Huntington Station, who donated a kidney in 2009 to his childhood friend Will Burton, who suffered from end-stage renal failure. The surgeries were successful, and Melz now works with the National Kidney Foundation raising awareness for living donors.

“I want to spark the drive for people to do good,” he said. “Giving is a beautiful thing.”

Arleen Buckley said she was happy to give a kidney to her husband, whom she has known for 50 years.

“I told him, ‘When I was 14 years old, I gave you my heart. At 64, I gave you my kidney,’” the wife said.

Dr. Wayne Waltzer, director of kidney transplantation services and chair of the Department of Urology at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, called kidney transplants a “new lease on life” for patients who are on dialysis.

“Transplants restore them,” Waltzer said. “They get back the same sense of well-being they had before they got sick.”

According to the National Kidney Foundation, 118,000 Americans are on a waiting list for an organ —  96,000 of those wait for a kidney. Roughly 13 people die daily waiting for the organ, the group said.

Stephen Knapik, Stony Brook University’s living donor coordinator, said that every 10 minutes someone in need of a kidney is added to that list. He called it an honor to work with donors who keep the list from growing.

“I’ve never been in a room with so many superheroes in my life,” Knapik said. “The greatest gift you can give isn’t a boat or a car, it’s the gift of life.”

Waltzer said that donating a kidney involves meeting certain criteria including compatible blood groups and matching body tissues between donor and recipient, as well as ensuring that the recipient has no antibodies that will work against the transplanted organ.

While he said the surgery is sophisticated, he called the science and medicine an incredible achievement.

“The immunosuppressive therapy is so good and the medication so effective that you can override any mismatches,” he said.

This allows for donors to give to loved ones that are not related by blood.

With the most active renal transplant program on Long Island, Stony Brook has done 1,500 transplants since 1981. Waltzer said that donors are doing an “amazing service,” not just to their recipient but also to one of the thousands of people who are on the waiting list for a kidney.

“There is a shortage of organs,” he said. “By donating, you are giving a chance to someone else on that waiting list.”

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John Haley photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

Once they reach their destination, they wreak havoc, destroying areas critical to life. All too often, when cancer spreads, or metastasizes, through the body, it becomes fatal.

John Haley, a Research Associate Professor in the Pathology Department at Stony Brook, is trying to figure out how cancer become metastatic and, even further, what they do to avoid recognition by the immune system.

Haley is “working on the mechanisms by which metastasis occurs,” he said. He is also studying the “immune recognition of tumor cells and, in the near future, wants to link the two.”

Understanding the way metastasis works can greatly reduce mortality in cancer, Haley said. Researchers are currently attempting to develop therapies that target metastatic cells, but these are often more difficult to kill than their primary counterparts, Haley explained.

The stakes are high, as 90 percent of cancer deaths are due to complications from the spread of cancer rather than the primary tumor itself, he said.

About 80 percent of human cancers are carcinomas, which are derived from epithelial cells. Those are the cells that make up the skin, and line the stomach and intestines.

“As cancers become metastatic, those cells have the ability to shape shift,” he said.

They become much more like fibroblasts, which are underneath the skin and glue the skin to bone and make up connective tissue layers. Haley said he has made some progress in understanding the molecular mechanism that allows cells to shift from epithelial to fibroblastic cells. They have “defined factors which promote” this transition, with differences in survival and growth pathways.

Haley works with a machine called a mass spectrometer, in which he identifies proteins in complex biological samples and measures how changes in composition alters function. He spends about half his time working on his own research and the other half assisting other researchers who are seeking to get a clearer view of key changes in proteins in their work.

In his own research, he wants to understand how cancers modify a cell’s proteins. He has helped define how cancers can change their protein signaling pathways to become drug resistant, which suggests targets for drug therapies.

Haley is tapping into an area of science that many other researchers are exploring, called bioinformatics. Using statistics and mathematical models, these scientists are cutting down on the number of genes and proteins they study, honing in on the ones that have the greatest chance to cause, or prevent, changes in a cell.

“We’re taking the data sets we’ve generated and trying to predict what we should look for in human patient samples,” Haley said. “We can find a tumor cell that have mutations or this expression profile and find drugs they are sensitive to.” Once scientists find those drugs, researchers can test them in cell cultures, then in mouse models and eventually in people, he said.

“We try to isolate someone’s cancer to understand what the molecular drivers are that occur in that cancer,” Haley said. The approach, as it is much of modern medicine, is to understand the patient’s genetics and biochemistry to select for a drug that would be effective against the particular mutations present in their tumor.

A resident of Sea Cliff, Haley is married to Lesley, whom he met while he was pursuing his PhD at Melbourne University. A native Australian, Lesley was completing her Masters in Opera when the couple met at a tennis match. They still play today. Lesley has sung at New York premieres for several living composers at concert venues including Avery Fischer Hall. She teaches music at her studio in Sea Cliff. Their children share their interests. John is a freshman studying biochemistry at Stony Brook University and Emma, who is a senior at North Shore High School, plans to study science and singing.

As for his work, Haley would like to see his efforts culminate in cancer therapies and diagnostics. Any novel therapy might also become a product for a start up company which could create jobs on Long Island. “There are some fabulous scientists” at the university, he said. “A major goal of the Center for Biotechnology and Diane Fabel, its director, is to create small businesses here in New York. I’m trying to help them in that goal.”

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Scott Powers with his wife Diane at a recent Cancer Research Gala. Photo by Julie Skarratt

By Daniel Dunaief

He spent 20 years looking at the problem in one way. Now, he’s ready for a change and Stony Brook officials stand behind him. After working in genomics at several locations, including for a decade as director of human cancer genomics at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to find therapeutic targets for human tumors, Scott Powers recently embraced the opportunity to find better ways to diagnose different types of cancer.

“A major driver for me coming to Stony Brook was to work on earlier detection,” Powers said.

Working with pathology department Chairman Ken Shroyer and Stony Brook obstetrician/gynecologist Michael Pearl, Powers is hoping to develop a prototype test for early detection of ovarian cancer so it can be removed by “simple surgery,” he said.

Powers has worked in numerous ways to isolate or identify mutations that might lead to cancer. That work focused on finding drug targets or developing therapies. One of the many challenges in studying genomics is that some mutations are bystanders, which means they likely don’t have a role in causing cancer or even, necessarily, in enabling cancer to spread. They make it harder to know whether they have a role or are merely different from the range of normal in a genetic sequence.

Some of the ways Powers has understood the potential part mutations play is by taking a computational approach, which can take many forms, including finding gene networks that are frequently altered. This approach has helped find various targets for therapies and improve the classification of tumors.

Powers said the “poster child” for success of this method was the development of the Oncotype DX test for breast cancer, which allows patients with node-negative, ER-positive breast cancer to determine whether they need to take chemotherapy.

He has also compared the gene sequences for similar cancer types across different species. He and Scott Lowe, who is now at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, found this approach could “help identify drivers and, in a sense, help filter out passengers,” he said. This has been successful on a basic science level but hasn’t yet led to the identification of a viable new therapeutic strategy, he said.

Powers’ focus now is to direct his expertise toward developing a test that might address early detection and, in some cases, improved diagnosis.

“It’s a brand new set of things for me to think about,” Powers said. The effort, he believes, should prove reinvigorating. The intellectual challenge of coming up with a solution that improves or enhances someone’s life motivates him.

Powers supports Stony Brook’s effort to add staff and develop a pool of researchers who can develop techniques and tools to aid in the diagnosis and treatment of cancer. “I am very hopeful for Stony Brook to build up an intellectually interesting environment that will attract a new generation of cancer scientists to come on board,” he said.

Powers believes cancer is a complex disease that has many different variations. “Many random events occur that sometimes give the cancer cell a competitive survival advantage,” he explained. “Everyone’s tumor has its own unique combination of 10 to 25 genetic alterations that are driving it.”

In addition to working with Shroyer on developing diagnostic tools for the genomics of cancer, Powers has turned his attention toward other researchers on the campus with different backgrounds. He is planning a collaboration with Sasha Levy, who works at the Laufer Center for Physical and Quantitative Biology and is an assistant professor of biochemistry and cell biology, to study cancer evolution. He said they’ll be using experimental methods Levy has developed on yeast.

Yusuf Hannun, the director of the Cancer Center, has recruited Powers to participate on the tumor board, which is where physicians from different areas come to discuss specific patients in a multidisciplinary fashion.

“There are numerous discussions and plans to expand upon this growing trend to use genetic testing in developing a personalized strategy for each patient,” Powers said.

Powers and his wife Diane, who works in fundraising with Patricia Wright at Stony Brook in the anthropology department, live in Greenlawn with their daughter Camille, who is a sophomore at Harborfields High School. Their other children are Alexander, 25, who works for a nonprofit in Brooklyn called the Social Science Research Council, and Douglas, 21, who is a junior studying applied math at Harvard.

Powers was looking for two things that he found when he came to Stony Brook: “the chance to develop diagnostic tests” and to “enter new fields by finding new collaborators with scientists doing interesting things.”

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