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Stony Brook University

Joel Saltz. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

In the battle against cancer, doctors and scientists use targeted drugs to treat the disease. They also employ radiation, starve it of the nutrients it might need to grow, block key metabolic pathways in its development and encourage the immune system to attack these genetically misdirected cells that grow out of control. A developing field in this battle includes the use of computers, artificial intelligence and math.

Joel Saltz, the Cherith Chair of Biomedical Informatics at Stony Brook University, recently teamed up with researchers from Emory University and the University of Arkansas and won an $8 million grant from the National Cancer Institute to coordinate radiology and pathology information in the battle against cancer.

“By gathering more information, researchers can understand better what’s happening, what might happen and how best to treat cancer,” Saltz said. The grant will be divided equally among the three institutions over the course of five years. Saltz will be collaborating with Ashish Sharma at Emory and Fred Prior at the University of Arkansas.

Saltz has been working with Sharma for several years, when the two were at Ohio State and then moved together to Emory. This is Saltz’s first major grant with Prior, although the two have also known each other for years and have been working in the same NCI program.

Prior has considerable expertise in radiology, while Saltz is adding his pathology background to the mix. Radiology has used digital imaging for a long time and, until recently, pathology data was collected on glass slides. Saltz is helping bring digital pathology to this effort.

“We had been on panels for many years with NCI saying we need to do this sort of” collaboration, Saltz added, and now the trio is putting that idea to work.

Yusuf Hannun, the director of the Cancer Center at Stony Brook, sees the potential for this type of collaboration. “This is a very important effort that builds on several areas of outstanding strength” at the Cancer Center, the director explained in an email.

Exploring information from digitized radiology and pathology samples will “allow us to understand individual cancers at a much higher level. It should improve accuracy in diagnosis [and offer an] ability to provide better informed prognosis” and individual therapy, Hannun continued.

Researchers on the current grant, which is part of the Information Technology for Cancer Research, plan to expand resources for integrative imaging studies, build on the capacity to acquire high-quality data collections, dedicate resources to support reproducible research and increase community engagement.

Saltz will use the portion of the Stony Brook funds to develop new software integration tools and curation and work with researchers to analyze and understand their patient data. Over time, he will also hire additional staff to build out this expertise. He has collaborated with Kenneth Shroyer, chair of the Department of Pathology at Stony Brook, on pancreatic and ovarian cancer and on breast cancer with pathology professor Patricia Thompson, who is also director of basic science at the Cancer Center. Shroyer “plays an important role” in all his research, Saltz said.

“Digital pathology will supplement that art of surgical pathology with quantitative data, to improve diagnostic accuracy,” Shroyer wrote in an email, which will “inform decisions on how to optimize therapeutic intervention for the treatment of cancer and many other diseases.”

Shroyer interviewed Saltz before Stony Brook hired its first bioinformatics chair. “Based on his research focus, including his pioneering efforts in digital pathology, he clearly stood out as my top choice.”

Saltz and Shroyer have generated maps of patterns for immune cells in tumors. “We and others have shown that these are related to how patients respond to treatment,” Saltz said. He described his work with these scientists as “basic clinical cancer research,” in which he develops and enhances technology to understand various types of cancer.

This particular grant is “more about technology and curation,” Saltz said. “People are developing new algorithms, in artificial intelligence and machine learning.” By making this information available, scientists from around the world who have insights into the specific types of cancer can use it to predict responses to treatment and develop and refine the algorithms that underlie the computer analysis.

Using specific cancers from radiology and pathology studies is akin to sitting in a football stadium and examining a blade of grass from the bleachers, Saltz suggested, borrowing from a phrase he’d heard at a recent panel discussion with Liron Pantanowitz from the Department of Pathology at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

“What we do is we create catalogs of every blade of grass and every worm and weed,” Saltz added. “It’s a huge database problem” in which he is integrating software development.

Hannun, who has been working to help Stony Brook University earn a National Cancer Institute designation, suggested that this bioinformatics work is “a critical component of our plans” and represents an area of exceptional strength.”

Cancer bioinformatics is “one of the main pillars of our research program and it integrates well with our efforts in imaging, metabolomics, improved diagnostics and improved therapeutics,” Hannun explained.

As for his department, Saltz said Stony Brook will have its first biomedical informatics Ph.D. graduate at the end of 2017. Yanhui Liang joined Stony Brook when Assistant Professor Fusheng Wang came to Long Island from Emory. Xin Chen will graduate in May of 2018.

The doctoral program, which launched last year, has five current students and “we’re hoping to get a bigger class this year,” Saltz said. “Informatics involves making techniques for better health care,” Saltz said. People with medical degrees can do fellowship training in clinical informatics.

A resident of Manhasset, Saltz lives with his wife Mary, who is an assistant clinical professor of radiology at Stony Brook University. Over the course of the next five years, Saltz said he believes this grant will continue to allow him and his collaborators to develop tools that will help provide insights into cancer research and, down the road, into personalized cancer treatment.

Youthire.org provides an easy way for Stony Brook University students to find odd jobs in the surrounding areas. Photo from Thomas Cerna

An established job resource website will now enable young adults in the Three Villages to make some extra cash, proving the adage “There’s an app for that” to be eminently true.

More than three years ago, Thomas Cerna created Youthire America to provide more opportunities for young people between 16 and 26 years old to earn cash while gaining work experience. The entrepreneur set up the website www.youthire.org where Sea Cliff, Glen Head, Glenwood Landing and Glen Cove students could connect with homeowners and business owners. Now the nonprofit organization is extending the same opportunities to Stony Brook University students and residents in the surrounding areas.

“It’s a really great way to connect kids with adults in the neighborhood, and they’re making money doing odd jobs,” Cerna said.

Although a mobile app doesn’t yet exist, the website serves as a hub offering work opportunities in four separate categories — internships, volunteer projects, traditional employment and odd jobs.

Cerna said he got the idea to partner with the university when he noticed a homeowner from Setauket posted a request. He reached out to the poster and discovered they were informed about the site by Joanna Durso, senior career counselor with the university’s career center, who lives near Cerna and was familiar with Youthire.

Brian and Travis Danoski clean out a shed after finding the odd job on www.youthire.org. Photo from Thomas Cerna

Durso said the site makes it easier for the career center to help residents who need help, especially since the school is unable to promote jobs that need to be done inside private homes on its website.

“In addition to offering SBU students another source of job listings, Youthire is helpful for us when we hear from local residents who want to hire students for household work, baby-sitting, and so on,” Durso said.

Students set up profiles on the site and are notified by email when jobs within five miles are posted. If a student is interested in a task, the homeowner receives an email and can check the student’s profile page, which includes a photograph, narrative and past work history, before contacting them.
Everyone using the site goes through a background check and screening for misdemeanors and felonies.

Cerna said he decided to start the nonprofit after
remembering the odd jobs he worked while growing up in Mamaroneck. His high school had a career services center where students could sign up for odd jobs.

The founder said he believes working at a young age
creates personal responsibility and a good work ethic, and in a society where drug use has skyrocketed, he said he feels it can keep kids out of trouble.

“It’s something that could steer a kid in the right direction for a kid going in the wrong direction,” Cerna said.

Kevin McDonagh, of Glen Head, said he used Youthire to clean out his shed. He said with his own children in college, he needed help with the big job and remembered making signs for Cerna at the sign shop where he works.

“It was a really satisfying experience,” McDonagh said. “They came in, they did the job. Not only did the job, but they were proactive in the work. I didn’t have to direct them every step of the way.”

One of the students who worked on his shed was Brian Danoski. The senior at Stony Brook University, who is studying to be an entrepreneur, said he discovered the site on his own a few years ago.

“It’s building my experience and desire for learning new things,” Danoski said.

The college student said he likes that the site easily connects him with those who need help and allows flexibility, especially with the demands of his class schedule. He said the site is also perfect for high schoolers.

“[Cerna’s] really passionate about it,” Danoski said. “That’s why it’s going to succeed because he wants the youth to get out there and do more and learn about the world.”

For more information, visit www.youthire.org.

Minghua Zhang

By Daniel Dunaief

Minghua Zhang spent a sabbatical year in China trying to improve climate models, which included analyzing errors of current models.

A professor at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook University, Zhang focused on the Southern Great Plains of the United States. He explored how the current models did not accurately simulate convection, which created a warm and dry bias.

In convection, heat and moisture get carried upward. The models account for summer rainfall but do not calculate the organizational structure of the convective systems, which led them to simulate insufficient precipitation.

By adding in the new information, Zhang predicts in recent research published in the scientific journal, Nature Communications, that the projected warming in the region would be 20 percent less than previously thought. Precipitation, meanwhile, would be about the same as it is today, instead of the drying that was previously anticipated.

“The resolution of the models is not high enough to predict the change of the convection with a high degree of precision,” Zhang explained in an email.

He suggested that using 10 times the specificity of model calculations, he expects a clearer picture of the likely climate by the end of the 21st century. This is like looking through binoculars at a nondescript moving shape in the distance. By adding focal power to the lens, the image can become sharper and clearer.

The climate is a big picture view of trends over the course of many years. That is distinct from weather, which involves day-to-day variations and which meteorologists describe each morning and evening with colorful images of cold and warm fronts on local maps.

“You have many things you can’t see and now you have better binoculars,” he suggested. “This tiny thing in the binoculars can make a bigger impact. What we see is that these [variables] actually matter.”

Zhang suggested that a climate model that better accounts for summer rainfall still includes higher temperatures in this sensitive region. “The warming is going to be there and will be significant,” he said. If carbon dioxide emissions continue at their current rate, the warming will still be about five degrees by the end of the century, he suggested. That, he predicted, will still have a significant impact on agriculture.

Edmund Chang, a professor at the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences at Stony Brook who was not involved in this study, said this research addresses “a specific bias of the model that needs to be taken care of.” He added that researchers know that the “models are not perfect” and suggested that the “scientific and climate modeling community is trying to refine and improve” these tools.

Chang agreed that the refinement “doesn’t change the fact that we still project a large increase in the temperatures over the central United States.”

The Southern Great Plains region has some unique elements that make climate predictions challenging. It has considerable organized convection, which increases the occurrence of tornadoes. There’s also a large coupling between the soil moisture and the clouds, which means that whatever happens on the land has feedback for the atmosphere.

Zhang said his research focus is on climate simulation modeling. He knew the models had problems simulating convective events, which is why he started exploring this specific region. “The way the models are constructed, the granules are not small enough,” he said.

Chang expected that this work would “spur more research on trying to understand this mechanism. Model developers will need to try to find out how to improve the physical model.”

Zhang has been working for the last two years with scientists from Tsinghua University in China, which included his time on sabbatical. “When you are on sabbatical, you have more time to really think about problems,” he said.

Chang added that sabbaticals can provide some time to focus on specific scientific questions. During a typical semester that includes administrative responsibilities and teaching, professors “are very busy,” He said. “We really don’t have an extended period of time to focus on one project. The sabbatical gives us a chance to focus.”

Zhang hopes this study “motivates people to think about how to improve their models in describing” other climate systems.

One of the many challenges scientists like Zhang face in developing these climate models is that their computers are still not powerful enough to resolve elements like clouds, which not only dot the landscape and provide shade during the summer but also send the sun’s energy back into space.

The system he’s studying is “chaotic by nature,” which makes accounting for elements that change regularly challenging. He suggested that these studies were akin to the butterfly effect. Scientists have suggested that someone who went back in time and committed a seemingly trivial act, like killing a single butterfly, might return to his familiar time and surroundings to discover profound changes.

While that’s an exaggeration, that’s still the kind of system he said researchers are confronting as they try to account for, and weigh, climate defining factors. That’s why he’s looking for statistical, or probabilistic, predictions that are averaged over time periods.

The United States, China and the European Union are all pursuing more powerful computers for these kinds of applications, Zhang said.

Zhang, who is the editor-in-chief of the Journal of Geophysical Research: Atmospheres, has been involved in an advisory capacity with the United States Department of Energy in developing these models. A

s for this specific effort, Zhang said he was pleased that the paper pointed out a research direction to refine models for climate in this area. “What we see is that these things [including convection] actually matter,” he said. “That’s the main contribution of this paper.”

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Tyler Ammirato rushed for 130 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries in Miller Place's first Suffolk County semifinal win in seven seasons. Photo by Bill Landon

By Bill Landon

It was an accomplishment seven years in the making.

Miller Place’s football team had its postseason cut short in a semifinal appearance each of the last six seasons, but Friday night was different.

Anthony Seymour completed two of six passes for 49 yards and a touchdown, and rushed for 72 yards on seven carries during Miller Place’s win. Photo by Bill Landon

Despite frigid temperatures and howling winds, two Miller Place interceptions and two Tyler Ammirato touchdowns drove the scoring in a 28-0 shutout of No. 3 Shoreham-Wading River in the Division IV semifinals Nov. 11.

Ammirato, a senior running back, showed how anxious he was to get back on the field after missing several games to injury. Rushing for 130 yards on 18 carries, he scored both first-half touchdowns, the second set up by an Alex Herbst interception at the Wildcats 40-yard line. He broke free for touchdown carries of 55 and 30 yards, and with kicker Cameron Hammer scoring on the extra-point kicks following each of the runs, the Panthers were up 14-0 just five minutes into the contest.

“It’s the best feeling for us as a program — we’ve been to the semifinals six years in a row and to break through is a dream come true for everyone out here,” Ammirato said of the win. “On Sunday we’ll watch film to prepare for Babylon. We lost to them the first time so we’ll watch that film to see what we did wrong, we’ll watch a couple of other games of them and we’ll just keep rolling.”

No. 2-seeded Miller Place will face No. 1 Babylon in the county final at Stony Brook University Nov. 16 at 7 p.m.

“It’s a tremendous accomplishment for this program — nobody realizes that this has been our swan song and to finally break through is a tribute to the kids because they believe in themselves,” said Miller Place head coach Greg Murphy said. “We’re finally healthy with Tyler [Ammirato] coming back — that’s a big piece of the puzzle for a kid who last year scored 30 touchdowns.”

Miller Place head football coach Greg Murphy smiles as he embraces coaches following the Panthers’ semifinal victory. Photo by Bill Landon

But Murphy’s “tough group of kids” had other athletes rising to the occasion.

After a scoreless third, junior linebacker Rob Morales also came up with an interception after stepping in front of a screen pass. He covered 35 yards before scampering into the end zone. He also had 13 tackles.

“When the plays come you’ve just gotta make them,” Morales said. “I saw the ball, I caught it and I ran. This is big this school has never won a Long Island championship and this is a big stepping stone towards that goal.”

Shoreham-Wading River, three-time Long Island champion, had its season cut short when Miller Place quarterback Anthony Seymour threw deep to the right side of the end zone to Tom Nealis who never broke stride for a 25-yard touchdown that put the game out of reach.

“They left me one-on-one with the cornerback and I knew they were going to come to me with a fade, and I was open, just beat ‘em,” Nealis said. “I’ve been coming to these games since I was 5 years old and to know that broke this streak, and to do it beating Shoreham-Wading River for a second time this season, it feels great.”

The greater bamboo lemur will struggle to survive amid a shorter rainy season. Photo by Jukka Jernvall

By Daniel Dunaief

An elusive primate is living on a shrinking island within an island. The greater bamboo lemur, which is one of the world’s most endangered primates, now inhabits a small section of Madagascar, where it can find the type of food it needs to survive.

The greater bamboo lemur, which was one of numerous lemurs featured in the 2014 iMax movie, “Island of Lemurs: Madagascar,” is finding that the time when it can eat the most nutritious types of bamboo is narrowing each year amid a longer dry season.

Patricia Wright has dedicated her life to helping lemurs in Madagascar. File photo from SBU

In a publication last week in the journal Current Biology, Patricia Wright, the founder of Centro ValBio research campus, driving force behind the creation of Ranofamana National Park and a distinguished professor of anthropology at Stony Brook University, along with several other researchers, including Jukka Jernvall from the University of Helsinki and Alistair Evans from Monash University, showed that the population of lemurs is threatened by a changing climate. The bamboo that sustains the greater bamboo lemurs depends on water to produce shoots that are higher in nutrition.

Indeed, when the rains come, the new bamboo shoots are “filled with protein,” said Wright. Jernvall, however, predicted that the driest season will get longer by a day each year. By 2070, rains necessary for bamboo growth and greater bamboo lemur survival will be delayed by as much as two months.

This is problematic not only for the current generation of greater bamboo lemurs but also for the more vulnerable younger generations, who need their lactating mothers to eat more nutritious bamboo to help them grow. Bamboo shoots typically come up from the ground about two weeks after the rains begin, in the middle of November. Bamboo lemurs, whose annual clocks are set to the rhythm of an island off the southeast coast of Africa that is the size of California, are born around the time of these bamboo-shoot-producing rains.

“Any village elder will tell you that the rains used to come at about Nov. 15 and continue until March 15,” Wright said. “That’s the way the world was, even in the 1980s and 1990s and probably many years before that. Suddenly, we started to get some evidence of climate changes and periods of a longer dry season.”

Above, a mother greater bamboo lemur holds her infant, which weighs about half a pound at birth. Photo by Jukka Jernvall

Wright is currently in Madagascar, where she says there is a drought right now. “No water for our research station means no electricity since we are near a hydroelectric power plant,” she explained by email. In fact, in some years, the rains start as late as January, which reduces the food offerings for the mother lemur, who weighs about 6.5 pounds, and her offspring, who need considerable nutrition to grow from birth weights Wright estimates are less than half a pound. The lemur mother “has to have nutritious shoots to feed her baby milk,” Wright said. “She can survive on leaves and trashy stuff in the culm, but she can’t raise her babies” on it.

Wright and Jernvall worked together in 2005 on a study of climate and another type of lemur called sifakas, whose name comes from the alarm sound it makes. In their earlier work, Wright and Jernvall found that aging sifakas with worn teeth could still produce offspring, but that their infants typically died if the weather was dry during the lactation season, Jernvall explained in an email.

“This alerted us about the potential impact of climate change,” he continued. “The bamboo lemur were an obvious concern because they are critically endangered and because they eat the very tough bamboo.”

Jernvall said the work on bamboo lemurs combines Wright’s efforts in Madagascar with climate modeling he performed with Jussi Eronen at the University of Helsinki and an analysis of dental features conducted by Evans and Sarah Zohdy, who is currently at Auburn University. Stacey Tecot, who is on sabbatical from the University of Arizona, also contributed to the research.

Wright believes some efforts can help bring these bamboo lemurs, who survive despite consuming large amounts of cyanide in their bamboo diet, back from the brink. Creating a bamboo corridor might improve the outlook.

Growing bamboo would not only benefit the lemurs, who depend on it for their survival, but would also provide raw materials for the Malagasy people, who use it to construct their homes, to build fences and to cover their waterways.

Bamboo corridors could be a “win-win situation,” where scientists and local communities grew and then harvested these hearty grasses, Wright continued. She has started a bamboo pilot study near one of the small populations of lemurs and hopes the lemurs can expand their range.

The greater bamboo lemur will struggle to survive amid a shorter rainy season. Photo by Jukka Jernvall

Like other animals with unusual lifestyles, the greater bamboo lemurs offer a potential window into an unusual adaptation. Through their typical diet, lemurs consume a high concentration of cyanide, which is stored in the bamboo. Understanding the bamboo lemur could provide evidence of how one species manages to remain unaffected by a toxin often associated with spies and murder mysteries.

As a part of her efforts to improve the chances of survival for this lemur, Wright is considering moving some lemurs to a protected area. She needs permission from Madagascar officials before taking any such actions and recently met with Madagascar National Park official to discuss such remediation efforts.

In Madagascar, Wright said observing the bamboo lemur is challenging because it is such a “cryptic animal.” She has sat beneath a tree where a lemur is hiding for seven hours waiting for it to emerge, watching as a lemur brought in its legs and curled up its body to hide from the scientist’s inquisitive eyes. “I’d get really hungry, so they would win and I would leave,” Wright recalled.

She suggests that the data in the Current Biology article demonstrates the urgency to take action to protect these primates. “We are trying our best to help the bamboo lemur not go extinct,” she said. “Bamboo corridors should help, but we may have to irrigate the bamboo during November to January.”

From left, Gary Gerard, lead interventional/cardiac catheterization technologist, Stony Brook Southampton Hospital; Dr. Travis Bench, director, Cardiac Catheterization Lab, Stony Brook Southampton Hospital; Helen VanDenessen, nurse manager, Imaging, Stony Brook Southampton Hospital; and Dr. Dhaval Patel, cardiologist, Stony Brook Medicine. Photo from SBU

By Javed Butler, MD

Dr. Javed Butler

Stony Brook Medicine has opened the new Cardiac Catheterization (Cath) Laboratory at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital to improve access to lifesaving heart care for residents of the East End of Long Island.

The lab provides emergency and elective treatments delivered by Stony Brook University Heart Institute specialists, for easier, faster access to the highest standards of cardiac care. The standard of care for a person experiencing a heart attack is that the blocked artery should be opened within 90 minutes of contact with medical care. That procedure can only be done in a cardiac catheterization lab by highly trained personnel.

For the rapidly increasing population of the East End, the nearest cath lab was previously located at Stony Brook University Hospital, up to 70 miles and a 60- to 90-minute drive. Even transportation by ambulance or helicopter could result in a life-threatening delay.

The new cath lab, led by interventional cardiologist Dr. Travis Bench, is currently the only facility in the East End capable of providing clinically complex care to critically ill heart patients. Bench and his partner, Dr. Dhaval Patel, have East End cardiology practices in Southampton and Center Moriches.

The lab will save lives by providing more immediate intervention for serious heart events such as myocardial infarctions (heart attacks). A delay in restoring blood flow through an artery increases the likelihood for significant damage to the heart. By allowing physicians to open a blocked artery in Southampton, without having to first transport a patient to Stony Brook, damage to the heart can be minimized and total heart failure may be prevented.

At the Southampton cath lab, doctors will be able to perform percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI), a nonsurgical procedure in which a physician inserts catheters through the skin to reach affected structures. The PCI treatments at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital include emergency and elective procedures.

The Southampton lab is staffed every day, around the clock, by Stony Brook Heart Institute’s interventional cardiologists with the most up-to-date knowledge and skills to diagnose and treat patients with heart disease.

For patients who need emergency catheterization, Stony Brook’s “Code H” protocol has produced an average “door-to-perfusion” time of 56 minutes, almost 45 minutes below the New York State regulated treatment guidelines. That is the level of care we strive for at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital. The systems and processes are in place and we look forward to taking care of our patients out east with that same dedication to quality and excellence.

To view a video and learn more about the Cath Lab at Stony Brook Southampton Hospital, visit www.heart.stonybrookmedicine.edu.

Dr. Javed Butler is the co-director of the Heart Institute and chief of the Division of Cardiology at Stony Brook Medicine.

Heather Lynch at Spigot Peak in the Antarctic. Photo by Catherine Foley

By Daniel Dunaief

Counting penguins is like riding the highs and lows of Yankees rookie Aaron Judge’s home run streaks, followed by his series of strike outs. He’s not as bad as his strike outs suggest, although he’s also not a sure thing at the plate either.

Similarly, in local populations, the Adélie penguin, which waddles to and fro squawking on land and gliding gracefully through the water, isn’t as clear a barometer of changes in the environment. Also, like Judge, when populations rise and fall, people are eager to offer their explanations for exactly what’s happening, even if the sensational explanations — he’s not that good, no, wait, he’s the greatest ever — may overstate the reality.

Heather Lynch visits Cape Lookout in Antarctica during recent trip that included an NBC TV crew that produced a feature for ‘Sunday Night with Megan Kelly.’ Photo by Jeff Topham

“We have to be careful not to be overreactive,” said Heather Lynch, an associate professor of ecology and evolution at Stony Brook University. “The concern is that, when we see increases or decreases, the implication is that there’s a miraculous recovery or a catastrophic crash.”

That, however, is inconsistent with Lynch’s recent results, which were published in the journal Nature Communications. Examining penguin data from 1982 to 2015, Lynch, Christian Che-Castaldo, who is a postdoctoral researcher in Lynch’s lab, and nine other researchers looked to see if there’s a way to connect the size of the population to changes in the environment. The study involved two teams of researchers, one supported by NASA and the other backed by the National Science Foundation.

“It’s a noisy system,” Lynch concluded. Managers of the populations of krill, small crustaceans that are the mainstay of the Adélie diet, try to use time series of key indicator species to understand what’s going on in the marine realm. In this article, Lynch said, local Adélie penguin populations may not be a clear signal of the health of the krill stocks because penguin abundance fluctuates for reasons she and her team couldn’t pinpoint.

These penguins, which Lynch has counted during her field work in the Antarctic, exhibit changes in population that can run contrary to the health, or stressed condition, of the environment.

“You can’t have your finger on the pulse” with the available data, Lynch said. “Part of our inability to model year-to-year changes is because we can’t measure the right things in the environment.”

The drivers of abundance fluctuations likely involve other animals or aspects of the krill fisheries they couldn’t model, she suggested.

“There’s a lot we don’t know about what penguins do under water, where they spend a large portion of their time and where they feed,” Grant Humphries, who was in Lynch’s lab for a year and now runs his own data science company in Scotland called Black Bawks Data Science Ltd, explained in an email. “The signals that drive year to year changes might actually lie there.”

Tom Hart, a researcher of the Department of Zoology at the University of Oxford who was not involved in this study, explores local scale variation in penguin populations. Locally, Hart said in an interview by Skype, “Things are incredibly noisy. When you aggregate, you get good signals, but with some error.” He suggested that this research drives him on further, showing that “local influences are important” because there’s so much variance left to explain. Lynch’s research is “a really good study and shows very well what’s happening on the regional scale, but leaves open what happens below that,” he said.

Indeed, Lynch suggested that by putting sites together, researchers can look at larger areas, which provide a clearer picture on shorter time scales.

Michael Polito, an assistant professor in the Department of Oceanography and Coastal Sciences at Louisiana State University who was not involved in the study, suggests that this extensive analysis indicates that “you can still look at the relationship between the abundance of penguins and the environment in a robust way. Even though any individual time series may not be the best way to understand these relationships, in the aggregate you can use them.”

Managers who set fishery policies in Antarctic waterways are often concerned about harvesting too much krill, leaving the penguins without enough food to survive and feed their chicks.

The challenge with this result, Lynch acknowledges, is that it makes setting krill boundaries more difficult.

A strategy that involves resetting conservation targets based on annual monitoring appears unrealistic given these results, Lynch said. “From a practical standpoint, we threw in everything we could and could explain only a tiny fraction of the variation,” she said.

Hart added that this is “not an argument to fish away,” he said. “We need to understand what’s going on at a local scale and we’re not there yet.”

To get people involved, Lynch and her team created a science competition, called Random Walk of the Penguins, to see who could predict the overall penguin populations for Adélie, gentoo and chinstrap penguins from the 2014 to 2017 seasons.

The competition, which was a collaborative effort with Oceanites, Black Bawks Data Science and Driven Data included $16,000 in prize money, which was donated by NASA. Entrants could use data from the 1982 through the 2013 seasons. The contest drew competitors from six continents. Of the five winners, all were from different countries.

Humphries, who was the lead on the data science computation, said the results were “somewhat humbling” because competitors were able to make “decent predictions” using only the time series. “With long-term predictions and for determining the tipping points, there is still a lot of work to be done.”

Lynch is relieved that her co-authors supported the direction the article took. “I’m a skeptic by nature and more than happy to throw orthodoxy (or even my own previous work) under the bus,” she wrote in an email. “I do hope that others will use our model as a starting point and we’ll never go back to the old days where everyone looked only at ‘their sites.’”

The Stony Brook University Seawolves football team won their homecoming game 38-24 against the University of New Hampshire Wildcats. At the Oct. 14 game, Veronica Fox was crowned homecoming queen and PP Pandya was named homecoming king.

Adam Gonzalez. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

More than four days after lift off, pioneering astronauts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had landed in the Sea of Tranquility on the surface of the moon. The NASA schedule, which included preparing the vehicle for an emergency abort of the mission in the event of a problem, called for a nap of four hours. Once they were there, however, Armstrong and Aldrin couldn’t imagine taking a four-hour respite.

“Both Armstrong and Aldrin were, understandably, excited about where they were and decided to forgo the sleeping and changed history,” Thomas Williams, element scientist in Human Factors and Behavioral Performance at NASA, described in an email.

A future trip to Mars, however, would involve considerably longer delayed gratification, with the round trip estimated to take over 400 days. The stresses and strains, the anxiety about an uncertain future and the increasing distance from family and friends, not to mention the smell of cut grass and the appearance of holiday decorations, could weigh on even the most eager of astronauts.

Determined to prepare for contingencies, NASA is funding research to understand ways to combat the mental health strains that might affect future astronauts who dare to go further than anyone has ever gone.

‘Being in long-duration space missions with other people, we expect the mental health risk will be much more elevated’. — Adam Gonzalez

Gonzalez, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Stony Brook University, received over $1 million in funding from NASA to explore ways to help these future astronauts who might be anxious or depressed when they’re on the way to the red planet.

In a highly competitive process, Gonzalez received the financial support to provide guidance on what NASA considers a low-probability, high-consequence mental health event, according to Williams.

Gonzalez “was funded because of the soundness of his research proposal and the clinical and technological expertise of the research team he assembled to help NASA address this research gap,” Williams explained.

Gonzalez started providing three different types of psychological assistance to 135 people in the middle of September. He is testing ways to provide mental health assistance with a delay that could require over 40 minutes to travel back and forth.

One group of test subjects will use a system called myCompass, which is a mental health self-help program. Another group will use myCompass coupled with a delayed text messaging response from a therapist, and a third will have a myCompass system along with delayed video messaging from a therapist.

“Being in long-duration space missions with other people — in this case, months and potentially years — stuck in extremely close quarters with others, we expect the mental health risk will be much more elevated relative to what they are going to have on the International Space Station,” Gonzalez said.

Williams said astronauts to date have not had any diagnosable disorders, but NASA has seen fluctuations in their mood, which appears linked to workload demands and the phase of the mission, Williams said. For astronauts, NASA does not want a continuing negative trend that, over a longer term, could turn into a problem.

“Part of what we hope to achieve with [Gonzalez’s] research is a validated approach to address any of these concerns,” Williams said, adding that astronauts typically understand that their contributions involve work in “high-demand, extreme environments,” Williams said.

Still, like explorers in earlier centuries, astronauts on a trip to Mars will journey farther and for a longer period of time than anyone up to that point. MyCompass is a “good, efficacious program” that takes a “trans-diagnostic cognitive behavioral therapy approach,” Gonzalez said. He suggested that the program is broad enough to help individuals manage their emotions more generally, as opposed to targeting specific types of health disorders.

Gonzalez emphasized that the choice of using myCompass as a part of this experiment was his and might not be NASA’s. The purpose of this study is to investigate different methods for communicating for mental health purposes when real-time communication isn’t possible.

William suggested that Gonzalez’s work, among others, could lead to individualized procedures for each astronaut. In addition to his work with NASA, Gonzalez also assists people at the front lines after man-made or natural disasters. He has worked with Benjamin Luft, the director of Stony Brook University’s WTC Wellness Program, on a program that offers assistance to first responders after the 9/11 attacks.

Gonzalez’s father, Peter, was a police officer who worked on the World Trade Center cleanup and recovery efforts. The elder Gonzalez has since had 9/11-related health conditions.

Gonzalez and associate professor Anka Vujanovic, the co-director of the Trauma and Anxiety Clinic at the University of Houston, are putting together a research project for the Houston area. Vujanovic did a mental health survey on Houston area firefighters earlier this year. They are inviting these firefighters to complete an online survey and telephone assessment to determine their mental health after Hurricane Harvey.

They are also conducting a three- to four-hour resilience training workshop for Houston area firefighters engaged in Harvey disaster relief efforts. “This resilience program, developed by [Gonzalez] and his colleagues, has shown promising results in reducing various mental health symptoms when tested among first responders in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy,” Vujanovic explained in an email.

Vujanovic has known Gonzalez for over 10 years and suggested his questions were focused on “how can we better serve others, how can we improve existing interventions and how can we develop culturally sensitive approaches for vulnerable, understudied populations.” Gonzalez, who grew up in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, and came to Stony Brook in 2012, said he was always interested in helping others.

Williams suggested that this kind of research can help people outside the space program. “We openly share and encourage the sharing of any of our relevant research findings to help address societal needs,” he added. Gonzalez’s research is “a great example of how a NASA focus on delivering personalized interventions in support of long-duration spaceflight could potentially be generalized to more rural settings where mental health providers may be scarce.”

Stony Brook University students grab a cup of coffee with campus police officers during Coffee with a Cop Oct. 4. Photo by Kevin Redding

By Kevin Redding

Instead of handing out tickets, officers at Stony Brook University were handing out free food.

Stony Brook University police officers and students mingled over pastries and coffee on campus Oct. 4 as part of a nationwide effort to better connect officers with the citizens they serve.

Half a dozen members of the university’s police department spoke with passing students as well as faculty outside the Student Activities Center on a number of topics, from current events to police training to food, during the college’s second “Coffee with a Cop,” an initiative that began in 2011 in Hawthorne, California and was adopted by local districts last year.

Community relations team Officer Joseph Bica answers a student’s questions. Photo by Kevin Redding

“This is a great way for students to get to know a police officer as an individual,” Eric Olsen, assistant chief of police at Stony Brook University said. “The media largely groups cops as one thing and it sort of dehumanizes them. We think this is a great concept.”

Community relations Officer Jared King, a former patrol officer who regularly pulled people over and made arrests, said he was excited to show off a more down-to-earth side to the police force.

“Nobody really knows the nice side of police work, which is interacting positively with people during the day, walking the beat, meeting and talking with people,” King said. “Here, we get to meet everyone during the day and talk about what’s going on on campus, address their questions, whatever they bring to the table.”

Jhinelle Walker, an anthropology major in her second year, made the rounds to each officer and asked several questions, even asking about their uniform colors. She commended the event for “bridging a gap.”

A student and Stony Brook University campus officer have a discussion during Coffee with a Cop. Photo by Kevin Redding

“I think this is a wonderful idea because often there’s a miscommunication that comes between people in the community and police officers,” Walker said. “We have to understand they’re regular people with lives. Here, students get to know who they are, what they do and can clear up misconceptions.”

A mechanical engineering major, Sagardeep Singh, said, “It’s good to get to know the cops better. They’re just trying to do their job and want to get familiarized with us students.”

Patrick Bazemore, another officer, fielded questions about recent national events and how he became an officer.

“I love dealing with people,” Bazemore said. “Everything is about communication and interaction. That’s how you move forward in life.”

This event is far from the department’s only outreach to the campus community,Olsen said. Officers regularly take part in a game night with the students and hold a one-credit citizen’s police academy, a course designed to provide insight into the daily functions and responsibilities of law enforcement personnel.

“It’s great to know how the students think of our cops,” Olsen said. “We always need to get input from people to know if we need to improve or change. And it’s a pleasure to do this style of policing.”

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