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Stony Brook University

Port Jefferson Harbor. File photo by Alex Petroski

Port Jefferson Harbor is currently undergoing an alarming phenomenon that an expert called “uncharted territory” locally.

The harbor is currently experiencing a rust tide, or an algal bloom, caused by a single-celled phytoplankton. Rust tides don’t pose any harm to humans but can be lethal to marine life.

Christopher Gobler, endowed chair of Coastal Ecology and Conservation at the Stony Brook University School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, said rust tides are spurred by hot air, water temperatures and excessive nutrients in the water, especially nitrogen. The Gobler Laboratory at SBU, named for the chairman, is monitoring the situation, performing research into its specific causes, and is looking for solutions to reduce nitrogen loading and thus the intensity of events like these, according to Gobler. He said he has been studying the phenomenon on the East End of Long Island for about 12 years, but this is only the second time it has occurred in Port Jefferson Harbor.

“We never had these blooms even on the East End before 2004,” Gobler said. “Now, they occur pretty much every year since 2004 or so.”

Blooming rust tides typically start in late August and last into mid-September.  However, as water and global temperatures continue to rise, Gobler said there are a lot of unknowns. He said this is one of the hottest summers he has ever witnessed regarding the temperature of the Long Island Sound, adding that temperatures in the local body of water have increased at a rate significantly faster than global averages.

“The big issue is temperature, so these blooms tend to track very well with warmer temperatures,” Gobler said.

George Hoffman, a co-founder of Setauket Harbor Task Force, a nonprofit group which monitors and advocates for the health of the harbor, said his organization saw some early evidence of a rust tide in Little Bay while conducting biweekly water testing Aug. 24. Little Bay is located within Setauket Harbor, and within the larger Port Jefferson Harbor complex. Hoffman said the task force’s readings suggested salinity levels and water temperature were within the parameters needed for the growth of a rust tide.

Rust tide is caused by cochlodinium polykrikoides, according to a fact sheet compiled by the Rhode Island Department of Environmental Management. The single-cell phytoplankton may harm fish and shellfish because it produces a hydrogen peroxide-like compound that can damage their gill tissue. Fish can avoid these dangerous blooms by simply swimming away. Fish and shellfish harvested in areas experiencing rust tides are still safe for human consumption.

Gobler said the installation of septic systems capable of removing more nitrogen in homes, especially that fall within watershed areas, would go a long way toward reducing hazardous algal blooms. Suffolk County has taken steps in recent months to increase grant money available to homeowners interested in installing septic systems with up-to-date technology capable of reducing the amount of nitrogen discharged into local waters. In addition, members of the New York State-funded Center for Clean Water Technology at SBU unveiled their nitrogen-reducing biofilter April 26 at a Suffolk County-owned home in Shirley.

Stony Brook University President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. recently announced the success of The Campaign for Stony Brook fundraising efforts which raised more than $600 million for the school. File photo by Greg Catalano

Stony Brook University continues to make history.

After graduating the largest class in May since SBU opened, the university announced Aug. 21 it concluded the most successful fundraising effort in the State University of New York’s history.

The breakdown of donations to The Campaign for Stony Brook and what areas the funds will go to. Graphic from Stony Brook University

In the past seven years, The Campaign for Stony Brook raised $630.7 million, according to a press release from SBU. A total of 47,961 friends, alumni, foundations and corporations donated to help the university achieve its campaign goal of $600 million.

“Philanthropy, and the generosity of our donors, provides the margin of excellence for an R1, [Association of American Universities] public research university like Stony Brook, during a time when state support is waning, and more and more students are seeking access to excellence,” said university President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. in a statement. “The Campaign for Stony Brook dramatically underscores the importance and impact of philanthropy across our campus and I am extremely grateful to my fellow campaign leaders, and to those who contributed the extra resources we need to continue to educate and prepare the leaders of tomorrow.”

The money raised from the campaign has enabled the university to add 44 endowed chairs and professorships in various departments. Before the campaign, SBU only had 11 endowed faculty positions on campus, according to the press release. In addition to the endowed positions, new investments have been made in areas such as the Southampton graduate programs in creative writing and film, undergraduate research, the Alda Center for Communicating Science, the Gelfond Fund for Mercury Research, and the Dubin Family Athletic Performance Center.

The university will use $52.6 million of the funds raised for student financial aid, with $40.3 million for current use and $12.3 million for endowed undergraduate scholarships and graduate student fellowships. According to the press release, the contributions will also benefit the Medical and Research Translation and Stony Brook Children’s Hospital buildings scheduled to open this fall, the university pool will be refurbished, and plans are underway to modernize the North and Central Reading Rooms in the Melville Library and to expand the Simons Center for Geometry and Physics. To create and support academic centers, $209.1 million has been set aside. Among the centers that will benefit are the Bahl Center for Metabolomics and Imaging, the Institute for Advanced Computational Science, the Laufer Center for Physical and Quantitative Biology, the Mattoo Center for India Studies, the Shinnecock Bay Restoration Program, the Lourie Center for Pediatric MS and the Thomas Hartman Center for Parkinson’s Research.

“The Campaign for Stony Brook dramatically underscores the importance and impact of philanthropy across our campus.”

— Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr.

The campaign began in the fall of 2011 with a lead gift of $150 million from the Simons Foundation and former Math Department Chair Jim Simons and his wife Marilyn. After the Simons’ donation, employees of Renaissance Technologies in Setauket, a hedge fund firm Jim Simons founded, donated more than $127.4 million.

Richard Gelfond, chair of the Stony Brook Foundation board and CEO of IMAX Corporation, said in a statement that the Simons’ donation “created a groundswell of support.”

“Their confidence in Stony Brook and the investments they inspired have given the University the financial capacity to compete for the best researchers, clinicians, teachers and students and to aim for excellence in every way,” Gelfond said.

Funds raised have already helped to catalyze several innovative and impactful research and clinical programs, according to Dr. Kenneth Kaushansky, Stony Brook University School of Medicine dean and senior vice president for Health Sciences.

“Campaign funding has also greatly enhanced our strength in imaging technology to diagnose and treat disease, in leveraging big data to help detect patterns of disease and response to treatment, and in new procedures to reduce the risk of stroke, colon cancer and heart disease,” Kaushansky said.

For more information on The Campaign for Stony Brook results, visit www.stonybrook.edu/campaign.

Dean Fotis Sotiropoulos, SBU president Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., state Sen. Ken LaValle and state Sen. John Flanagan in front of the current engineering building at the university. Photo from Stony Brook University

Two state senators are doing their part to engineer a better future for Stony Brook University and Long Island.

New York state Sens. John Flanagan (R-East Northport) and Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson) joined SBU President Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. Aug. 16 to announce the award of $25 million in state funding to the university for the initial phase of developing a new engineering building on campus — one that is estimated to cost $100 million in total. The 100,000 square-foot facility will include industrial-quality labs, active-learning classrooms and prototyping/manufacturing space.

“We have the opportunity to provide funding, sometimes discretionary, and this is a very strong investment.”

— John Flanagan

The official announcement was made at the university’s College of Engineering and Applied Sciences building with representatives of local engineering companies in attendance, including VJ Technologies, Inc., Cameron Engineering & Associates, LLP, and H2M Architects & Engineers.

“We have the opportunity to provide funding, sometimes discretionary, and this is a very strong investment,” Flanagan said.

He thanked the owners and board members of the local engineering companies who traveled to Albany a few months ago to discuss the needs of engineering companies as well as the importance of recruiting talent and retaining students on Long Island.

LaValle, chairman of the Senate’s higher education committee, said he believed the new building will attract preeminent students to SBU, and thanked Flanagan for helping to secure the funds during a time when spare money isn’t plentiful

“I think it will go a long way in ensuring that we enhance where we are today in terms of providing students and faculty with an optimum state-of-the-art facility,” LaValle said.

Stanley recognized the senators as visionaries for acknowledging how critical the university is when it comes to building the technology that Long Island needs.

“I think it will go a long way in ensuring that we enhance where we are today in terms of providing students and faculty with an optimum state-of-the-art facility.”

— Ken LaValle

“The demand is tremendous,” Stanley said. “So, we really need to grow this school. We’re turning away qualified applicants from the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences because we don’t have enough space and because we need more faculty to teach.”

Fotis Sotiropoulos, dean of the College of Engineering and Applied Sciences, said the number of students applying to SBU has grown 60 percent since 2012, and the university has become more selective due to the lack of space. Currently, engineering students need to score at least 1400 on the SATs and to be in the 95th percentile in their class.

The dean said the research conducted at the school, in addition to impacting the economic development on Long Island, also affects the state and nation. The university focuses on engineering-driven medicine, artificial intelligence discoveries and energy systems for sustainability.

“This is where we are going to develop the medicine of the future,” Sotiropoulos said, adding SBU wants to be the hub for the state in artificial intelligence research.

Sotiropoulos said as the university develops the new facility the curriculum will be reconstructed to build learning around projects that start early in a student’s college years and continue all the way to incubating start-up companies. He said one of the goals is to keep students local after graduation.

“We want to grow the size of the engineering workforce for Long Island and the state, but we also want to educate the new kind of engineers,” Sotiropoulos said.

A Stony Brook University student has alleged that a professor sexually harassed her. File photo

A 2018 Stony Brook University graduate has filed a lawsuit against a Stony Brook history professor claiming he verbally and sexually harassed her while giving preferential treatment to the male students over female students.

Erin Mosier, 24, filed a $3 million suit under Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 in Manhattan federal court Aug. 9 saying that Stony Brook associate professor Larry Frohman sexually harassed her and degraded her for her looks and gender, sometimes together during his office hours and other times in front of her peers during class.

Mosier enrolled at Stony Brook for the Fall 2015 semester desiring to become a teacher. She entered in the social studies education program in spring 2016 where Frohman was the sole undergraduate adviser, according to the court filings.

The lawsuit claims that during Mosier’s first semester at Stony Brook she took a class with Frohman and within weeks he started to privately and publicly make demeaning comments at Mosier based on her looks. The comments continued on into 2017 during her time in the social studies program. At one point during office hours Frohman told Mosier she “talks too much,” and that “all women should use their mouth for men’s pleasure.”

The lawsuit also alleges on another occasion April 2017 that after applying oil to her hands to calm herself, Frohman stated to her in front of her class, “What would calm me down is taking you through a ride on the beaver car wash with me,” alluding to a sexual act with Mosier.

Mosier’s legal representative, Brian Heller, an attorney from Manhattan-based Schwartz Perry & Heller LLP that focuses on employment harassment and discrimination law, said with this case he hopes more people will speak out about sexual harassment in education.

“These are the kind of painful experience that can destroy a young person’s confidence and impact them for the rest of their lives,” Heller said. “I hope that by coming forward [Mosier] is able to reclaim part of her self-worth and her confidence.”

The suit further claims Frohman gave preferential treatment to male students, giving higher grades to male students on average rather than female students. The lawsuit also claims the professor partnered women together on projects and not men as a sign of Frohman’s belief in their capabilities.

Frohman has not responded to requests for comment by press time.

The lawsuit continues that Mosier brought her complaints to Paul Gootenberg, the history department chair of the social studies program, but that he first asked Mosier “What is your appearance and how are you acting to be treated like this?” and that he further commented about how she was not the first to bring complaints to him about Frohman.

Gootenberg declined to comment saying the university does not comment on pending personnel questions.

The suit claims Mosier’s Title IX complaints were mishandled by the university, that the investigation took six months instead of a promised 60 days to finish the investigation and that the office did not adequately give information as to the status of her complaint. On Oct. 30, 2017, Mosier received a letter from the Title IX office saying the case was “closed” and her complaints were “substantiated” but she did not receive any details on what actions the university would take against the professor.

Stony Brook spokeswoman Lauren Sheprow said that the university does not comment upon ongoing litigation.

“The university does have policies and procedures in place to fully investigate claims that are brought to our attention,” Sheprow said.

Heller said he is still waiting for Stony Brook to be formally served and initial hearings won’t begin until December.

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Hauppauge firefighter Larry Kunzig, left of center, and his wife, Grace, right, recount when a pregnant woman collapsed in front of their home Aug. 6. Photo by Kyle Barr

When 45-year veteran firefighter Larry Kunzig, 64, heard his wife, Grace, tell him a pregnant woman had collapsed in front of their Hauppauge house, he didn’t hesitate for a second — not even to grab his shoes. 

“I just ran out of the front door,” Kunzig said. “You don’t even think, you just do.”

Kunzig darted across his front yard at approximately 6:50 p.m. Aug. 6 while still in his socks. He assessed the 47-year-old woman, and upon seeing she was unconscious and not breathing, the firefighter immediately began performing CPR. 

The woman had pulled up with her husband in front of the house in an SUV, according to Assistant Chief Brett Martinez of Hauppauge Fire Department. Her husband was starting to panic when she fell unconsciousness. The woman’s lips were blue and foam was coming from her mouth, according to the accounts of first responders. 

The seven-month pregnant woman was transported by a Stony Brook medic to Stony Brook University Hospital where she underwent an emergency C-section. The name of the mother or baby has not been released; however, officials from the fire department said both are doing well.

“She had a very shallow heartbeat,” Kunzig said. “You just keep doing the CPR. When you see she’s pregnant you want to be careful — you can’t go too low because you don’t want to hurt [the baby.]

Two young volunteers of the Hauppauge Fire Department Andrew Mendola, 18, and Jonathan Munro, 18, just happened to be driving nearby. They heard of the situation through their radio, and saw what was happening in front of their fellow firefighter’s house, they jumped out of the car and took positions on either side of the woman and started helping with CPR. 

“It was shocking to see,” Munro said. It was his first time performing CPR in a real-life emergency. “We just helped in any way we could.”

Mendola said he asked Kunzig if he needed to swap out, but the man was laser focused.

“We asked if he needed help and he said ‘I got this, I got this,” Mendola said. “His adrenaline was going, he was not stopping.”

All together the group kept up CPR for about five minutes before more emergency responders arrived from Nesconset and Hauppauge fire departments. Officials said that the first responder’s actions saved the woman’s life.

Kunzig’s wife said she had stayed up all night praying for the family. 

“I know emotionally what she’s going through,” said Grace Kunzig, 60, a teacher’s aide at Hauppauge School District.

The event hit close to home for the Kunzigs, because Jan. 1 Grace had suddenly collapsed unconscious and was no longer breathing. Emergency medical technicians from the Hauppauge Fire Department, including Mendola, came to help and managed to resuscitate her with an defibrillator. Kunzig remembers how difficult it was for him not knowing if his wife would pull through. 

“It’s hard to work on someone you love,” he said. “It just changes your whole perspective.”

Now the couple said they see what happened Monday as a way of paying it forward in gratitude for all the personnel who helped them in their greatest time of need.

“I was so grateful when they stopped my own cardiac arrest — I can’t thank the men and women enough for helping me,” Grace Kunzig said. 

Stony Brook University hosts opioid forum featuring health care community

Medical professionals participate in an opioid ethics symposium at Stony Brook University Aug. 3. Photo by Kyle Barr

The opioid crisis has reached its tendrils out to touch every person in the U.S., and the doctors who prescribe those opioids for pain relief see the ethical dilemma; whether they should treat their patients’ pain or not out of concerns of misuse.

At an opioid ethics symposium hosted at Stony Brook University Aug. 3, Dr. Kevin Zacharoff, an expert in pain medicine and a sitting member of the Anesthetic and Analgesic Drug Products Advisory Committee of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, said a number of doctors no longer prescribe opioids for pain management because of how quickly the repercussions of misuse will come down on them. 

“All the regulatory agencies are coming down and tightening the screws of people in primary care, and people in primary care are saying ‘I wash my hands of it,’” Zacharoff said. “This is all falling on the shoulders of health care providers — when people dying from heroin and fentanyl has overtaken pain medication.”

Dr. Kevin Zacharoff delivered the keynote speech and discussed the effects of regulatory agencies on addiction. Photo by Kyle Barr

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services reports that nationally 116 people a day died from opioid-related drug overdoses in 2016. A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released in 2016 said that the rate of death from drug overdoses has increased 137 percent and a 200 percent increase in the rate of opioid overdose deaths from 2000 to 2014. 

CDC data shows that regulations on prescription opioids restrained the rise of overdose deaths involving legal drugs, but since 2011 there has been a spike in the number of deaths caused by illicit drugs such as heroin and other painkillers including fentanyl. Zacharoff said he fears that these regulations on opioid prescribing pushes stable patients who could have been using opioids to treat long-term pain into using illicit drugs.

“Prescription drug monitoring programs have made a positive impact, but they have also had a negative impact on health care providers, because it takes a lot of time and energy,” Zacharoff said. “Should we sacrifice our care for patients for the sake of people using the substances illicitly?”

For the past several years federal agencies, as well as state governments, have started to restrict the number of opioids available for pharmacies as well as scrutinizing how doctors prescribe that medication. A large number of federal agencies, such as the CDC, the FDA, the Drug Enforcement Administration, just to name a few, are involved in opioid research and regulations. This is on top of state prescription drug monitoring programs, which make doctors fill out forms on patients, saying whether they informed them of the dangers of the drugs and whether they asked if there was a person in the house with a history of addiction.

In April, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the DEA would propose setting more limits on the numbers of opioids that a drug manufacturer could produce. Prescribing doctors said they have seen multiple problems with a shortage of opioids due to these limits on manufacturing and distribution.

“We are seeing an inability to get our prescriptions filled on Long Island,” said Laureen Diot, a nurse practitioner from East Patchogue.

Though that is not to say there have not been bad actors. In May, Merrick doctor Michael Belfiore was convicted of prescribing hundreds of opioids for profit and for causing the deaths of two men via overdoses. He wrote 5,000 prescriptions for 600,000 pain pills between January 2010 and March 2013, but Belfiore is asking a federal judge to dismiss the case, saying it was the pharmaceutical companies who promoted the drugs while downplaying their risks.

The issue, Zacharoff said, stems from doctors’ lack of education when it comes to pain medicine. A 2011 study in the National Academies Press showed that out of 117 U.S and Canadian medical schools only four U.S schools offer a required course on pain.

“That’s despite the fact that pain is the most common reason people seek medical attention,” Zacharoff said. “Doctors will often say to me, ‘I have to think about hypertension, diabetes, heart disease,’ but pain is more prevalent than diabetes, cancer and heart disease combined.” 

Suffolk County officials are hoping to see a decline in the number of opioid-related deaths this year. In a report presented at the May 31 Suffolk County Legislature’s health committee meeting Chief Medical Examiner Michael Caplan said that if numbers stay low, approximately 260 opioid-related deaths are expected this year — a near 100-person decrease compared to 2017. However, the county will not know the total opioid-related deaths until the year’s end.

There are options for nonopioid pain relief, such as rehabilitative and psychological therapies. Doctors at the symposium said they expect as opioid prescribing ebbs, then other practices or drugs will become more prevalent. While some medical professionals said medical marijuana might one day work as effective pain relief, it not being legal in New York and without the necessary number of tests, the drug is not viable at this moment.

“It’s too early to write the book on marijuana for chronic pain,” said Marco Palmieri, the director of the Center for Pain Management at Stony Brook University. “Some physicians have gotten around this by opting not to test for marijuana [when doing prescriptions]. Whether that’s right, I don’t know. There certainly needs to be more data available.”

From left, Peter Tonge with Eleanor Allen and Fereidoon Daryaee. Photo from SBU

By Daniel Dunaief

The journey begins at one point and ends at another. What’s unclear, however, is the process that led from beginning to end. That’s where Peter Tonge, a professor in the Department of Chemistry and Radiology at Stony Brook University’s College of Arts & Sciences, recently discovered important details.

Working with a protein called dronpa, Tonge wanted to know how the protein changed configurations as it reacted to light. There was more than one theory on how this process worked, Tonge said. “Our studies validated one of the previous hypotheses,” he said. Structural changes occur on different time scales. With a team of collaborators, Tonge was able to follow the photoreaction from absorption to the final activated form of the photoreceptor.

The technique Tonge used is called infrared spectroscopy. Through this approach, he looks at the vibration in molecules. People generally “have this picture of a molecule that isn’t moving,” he said. “In fact, atoms in the molecule are vibrating, like balls on a spring going backwards and forwards.”

Tonge uses the technique to look at vibrations before and after the absorption of light and subtracts the two. “People knew what the structure of dronpa was at the beginning and they knew the final structure,” but they had only developed educated theories about the transition from one state to another, he explained. The application of this work isn’t immediate.

“The knowledge we gained will be a foundation that will be combined with other knowledge,” Tonge said. Theoretically, scientists or drug companies can redesign the protein, fine-tuning its light-sensitive properties.

Tonge’s lab, which includes 11 graduate students, two postdoctoral researchers, two undergraduates and six high school students, explores several different scientific questions. They are studying how proteins use the energy in a photon of light to perform different biological functions.

In optogenetics, scientists have developed ways to use light to turn processes on or off. Eventually, researchers would like to figure out ways to control gene transcription using this technique. According to Tonge, scientists are “interested in using these processes that have naturally evolved to tailor them to our own purposes.”

Tonge’s other research focus involves understanding how drugs work. Most drugs fail when they reach clinical trials. “Our ability to predict how drugs will work in humans needs to be improved,” he said, adding that he focuses on something called the kinetics of drug target interactions to improve the process of drug discovery.

In kinetics, he explores how fast a drug binds to its target and how long it remains bound. Companies look to design drugs that remain bound to their desired target for longer, while separating from other areas more rapidly. This kind of kinetic selectivity ensures the effectiveness of the drug while limiting side effects.

By thinking about how long a drug binds to its target, researchers can “improve the prediction of drug activity in humans,” explained Tonge. “We need to consider both thermodynamics and kinetics in the prediction of drug activity.”

A study of kinetics can allow researchers to consider how drugs work. Understanding what causes them to break off from their intended target can help scientists make them more efficient, reducing their failure rate.

Borrowing from sports, Tonge suggested that kinetics measures how quickly an outfielder catches a ball and throws it back to the infield, while thermodynamics indicates whether the outfielder will be able to make a catch. He believes the most interesting work in terms of kinetics should occur in a partnership between academia and industry.

Tonge is the newly appointed director of the Center for Advanced Study of Drug Action at Stony Brook, where he plans to develop a fundamental understanding of how drugs work and the role kinetics play in drug action.

Joanna Fowler, a senior chemist emeritus at Brookhaven National Laboratory, worked with Tonge for several years starting in 2005. She said Tonge developed ways to label tuberculosis and other molecularly targeted molecules he had developed in his lab. They did this to image and follow it in the body using the imaging tools BNL had at the time.

In an email, she described Tonge as a “scholar” and a “deep thinker,” who investigates mechanisms that govern the interactions between chemical compounds including drugs and living systems, adding, “He uses his knowledge to address problems that affect human beings.”

Finally, Tonge is also pursuing research on positron emission tomography. He would like to synthesize new radio tracers and use PET to see where they go and learn more about how drugs work. He would also like to enhance ways to locate bacteria in humans.

The professor is trying to detect infections in places where it is difficult to diagnose because of the challenge in getting clinical samples. Samples from throat cultures or mucus are relatively easy to obtain — the short-term agony from a swab in the back of the throat notwithstanding.

“It is more difficult to get samples from locations such as prosthetic joints,” which makes it more challenging to detect and diagnose, he said.

If an infection isn’t treated properly, doctors might have to remove the prosthesis. Similarly, bone infections are difficult to detect and, if left unchecked, can lead to amputations.

A resident of Setauket, Tonge lives with his wife, Nicole Sampson, who is a professor in the chemistry department at SBU and is the interim dean for the College of Arts and Sciences, and their two children, Sebastian, 18, and Oliver, 14.

Tonge, who was raised in the United Kingdom, said he enjoys running on Long Island.

Tonge and Sampson are co-directors of a graduate student training program in which they train students to improve their ability to communicate their science. One of the activities they undertook was to visit a high school and have grad students present their research to high school students.

As for his work, Tonge said he is “genuinely curious about the chemistry that occurs in biological systems.”

From left, Emmy award-winning actor Brian Cox with Alan Inkles, founder and director of the Stony Brook Film Festival at the U.S. Premiere of ‘The Etruscan Smile’ on July 21. Photo by Nick A. Koridis

The 23rd annual Stony Brook Film Festival wrapped up with a Closing Night Awards Reception on July 28. The evening recognized the outstanding new independent films screened at the festival, which was held at the Staller Center for the Arts at Stony Brook University from July 19 to 28.

“The Etruscan Smile,” featuring acclaimed actor Brian Cox in the lead role, won the Grand Prize. The sold-out U.S. Premiere was screened on July 21 with Brian Cox, Thora Birch and Sandra Santiago attending and hosting a Q&A. 

Alan Inkles, founder and director of the Stony Brook Film Festival announced additional awards at the reception. “We received so many enthusiastic responses from our astute audience members over the ten days of the festival,” he said. “‘The Etruscan Smile’ was hailed as a favorite. I was fortunate to have Brian Cox reach out to us just as we were finishing our schedule. He had been to the Stony Brook Film Festival for his film ‘The Carer’ and was keen on having the U.S. Premiere of ‘The Etruscan Smile’ at Stony Brook.”

The Stony Brook Film Festival has awarded eight Grand Prizes in its 23-year history. “The Etruscan Smile is the ninth to receive a Grand Prize.” 

And the winners are:

2018 Grand Prize 

“The Etruscan Smile” (United States)

U.S. Premiere 

Directed by Oded Binnun and Mihal Brezis. Written by Michael McGowan, Michal Lali Kagan and Sarah Bellwood. With Brian Cox (“Braveheart,” “The Carer”), Thora Birch (“Ghost World”), JJ Feild (“Austenland”) and Rosanna Arquette (“Pulp Fiction”). 

2018 Jury Award – Best Feature (tie) 

“Octav” (Romania)

U.S. Premiere 

Directed by Serge Ioan Celebidachi. Written by Serge Ioan Celebidachi and James Olivier. With Marcel Iures, Victor Rebengiuc, Eric Aradits and Alessia Tofan.

“Symphony for Ana” (Argentina)

East Coast Premiere 

Directed by Ernesto Ardito, Virna Molina. Written by Ernesto Ardito, Virna Molina and Gaby Meik. With Isadora Ardito, Rocio Palacin, Rafael Federman, Ricky Arraga, Vera Fogwill and Rodrigo Nova.

2018 Audience Choice – Best Feature 

“The Guilty’ (Denmark)

Directed by Gustav Möller. Written by Emil Nygaard Albertsen and Gustav Möller.With Jakob Cedergren, Jessica Dinnage and Omar Shargawi.

2018 Spirit of Independent Filmmaking  

“Thrasher Road” (United States) 

East Coast Premiere

Written and Directed by Samantha Davidson Green. With Allison Brown and Christian Kohn.

2018 Jury Award – Best Short

“Unnatural” (United States)

East Coast Premiere 

A film by Amy Wang. 

2018 Audience Choice Award – Best Short

“Internet Gangsters” (United States)

New York Premiere 

A film by Sam Friedlander. 

This year the films at the 2018 Stony Brook Film Festival spanned 19 different countries and the festival welcomed over 40 filmmakers to represent their films at screenings. With support from presenting sponsor Island Federal Credit Union and others, SBU was able to welcome guests from Israel, India, England, New Zealand, Spain, Belgium, and many from the West Coast.

The Closing Night Awards reception held in Staller Center’s Paul W. Zuccaire Gallery was sponsored by HBO. Catering for the reception was provided by The Meadow Club. 

Additional sponsors include Campolo, Middleton & McCormick, LLP; Altice Media Solutions, Suffolk County; and WLIW21. Staller Center Media Sponsors include WSHU Public Radio, Times Beacon Record News Media, WALK 97.5, LI News Radio and Oldies 98.1.

The Stony Brook Film Festival will announce the start date for 2019 entries later in the year at www.stonybrookfilmfestival.com.

Kenneth Shroyer and Luisa Escobar-Hoyos are the recent recipients of a two-year research grant from PanCAN. Photo by Cindy Leiton

By Daniel Dunaief

Stony Brook University has collected its first PanCAN award. Pathology Chair Kenneth Shroyer and Assistant Professor and Co-Director of the Pathology Translational Research Lab Luisa Escobar-Hoyos have earned a two-year $500,000 research grant from the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network.

The tandem has worked together for seven years on the protein keratin 17, or k17, which started out as an unlikely participant in pancreatic cancer and as a molecule cancer uses to evade chemotherapy.

Shroyer and Escobar-Hoyos were “thrilled to get the award,” said Shroyer in a recent email. “While we thought our proposal was very strong, we knew that this was a highly competitive process.”

Indeed, the funding level for the PanCAN grants program was between 10 and 15 percent, according to PanCAN.

The grants review committee sought to identify projects that “would constitute novel targets for treating pancreatic cancer,” said Maya Bader, the associate director of scientific grants at PanCAN. 

“Given that k17 represents a potential new target, the committee felt the project was a good fit with exciting potential to meet this goal. We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Shroyer to the PanCAN grantee research community and look forward to following both his and Dr. Escobar-Hoyos’ contributions to the field,” she said.

Escobar-Hoyos explained that she and Shroyer hope “this work will shed scientific insight into potential novel ways to treat the most aggressive form of pancreatic ductal adenocarcinoma,” which is the most common type of pancreatic cancer.

Although they are not sure if their approaches will be successful, she believes they will provide information that researchers can use to “further understand this aggressive disease.”

Thus far, Shroyer and Escobar-Hoyos have focused on the role of k17 in pulling the tumor suppressor protein p27 out of the nucleus into the cytoplasm, where it is degraded. More recently, however, they have explored how the k17 the tumor produces reprograms the cancer metabolome.

They have data that suggests that k17 impacts several dozen proteins, Escobar-Hoyos suggested. If the tumors of patients express k17, around half the protein content will go to the nucleus of the cell. 

In addition to understanding what k17 does when it enters the nucleus, Escobar-Hoyos and Shroyer are testing how they might stop k17 from entering the nucleus at all. Such an approach may prevent pancreatic cancer from growing.

Shroyer and Escobar-Hoyos are working with a graduate student in the lab, Chun-Hao Pan, who is testing molecular pathways that might make pancreatic cancer more resistant to chemotherapy.

Dr. Yusuf Hannun, the director of the Stony Brook Cancer Center, was pleased that his fellow Stony Brook scientists earned the PanCAN distinction.

“It is an important award and speaks to our growing significant efforts in research in pancreatic cancer,” he said, suggesting that the research could have important benefits for patients battling with pancreatic cancer.

“This defines at the very least a novel and important biomarker for pancreatic cancer that can also extend into novel therapeutic approaches,” Hannun said. This type of research could enhance the diagnostic process, allowing doctors to subtype pancreatic cancers and, if the pathways become clearer, enhance the effect of chemotherapy.

The funds from the PanCAN award will support experiments in cell culture and in animal models of pancreatic cancer, Shroyer explained.

Shroyer has teamed up with numerous researchers at Stony Brook and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on this work.

As proof of principle for one aspect of the proposal, he accessed chemosensitivity data from pancreatic cancer organoids. Hervé Tiriac, a research investigator who works in David Tuveson’s lab at CSHL, generated these organoids from SBU pancreatic cancer specimens.

In addition to their work with organoids at CSHL, Shroyer and Escober-Hoyos benefited from their collaboration with SBU’s Ellen Li, a professor of medicine, who ensured patient consent and specimen collection.

Going forward at Stony Brook University, the key collaborator for this project will be Richard Moffitt, an assistant professor in the departments of Biomedical Informatics and Pathology.

Shroyer described Moffitt as an “internationally recognized leader in the field of pancreatic cancer subtyping” who is working to understand better how k17 could serve as a prognostic biomarker.

At the same time, Wei Hou from the Department of Family, Population and Preventive Medicine will provide biostatistical support throughout the course of the project.

PanCAN, which has donated $48 million to support pancreatic cancer research, awarded nine grants this year in the United States, Canada and France, for a total contribution of $4.2 million. 

The other scientists include Andrew Aguirre from the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute, Scott Lowe, who had previously worked at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and is now at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center and George Miller at New York University School of Medicine.

Previous recipients of PanCAN awards have been able to leverage the funds to attract research dollars to their work.

Grantees who had received $28.2 million from 2003 to 2015 went on to receive $311 million in subsequent funding to support their pancreatic cancer research, according to PanCAN. That means that every dollar awarded by PanCAN converts to $11.01 to fund future research aimed at understanding, diagnosing and treating pancreatic cancer, according to Bader. Most of the subsequent funding comes from government sources.

PanCAN award recipients have published research that other scientists have cited more than 11,000 times in other papers published in biomedical journals. This means “other researchers are reading, learning from and building upon our grantees’ work,” Bader added.

Stony Brook University baseball player Nick Grande slides into third. Photo from SBU Athletics

By Desirée Keegan

Nick Grande was home for a few weeks during winter break, and while his mother joked he could get a job during his extended stay, the shortstop had a different idea.

“No, mom,” he said in response. “As soon as the new year starts that’s it, you won’t see me again. I’ll be at Stony Brook every day.”

The Stony Brook University sophomore was a standout for Smithtown West’s baseball team, helping the Bulls claim two league titles during the three years he was team captain. He was named second team All-State as a senior after posting a .529 batting average, which also earned him the Suffolk County Silver Slugger Award. He also captained the league title-winning basketball team in his senior season. But while there are always adjustments to be made making the jump from high school to Division I college ball, his freshman season didn’t go as smoothly as he’d hoped.

Stony Brook University baseball player Nick Grande turns two. Photo from SBU Athletics

As a freshman at SBU, he played in 35 games, collecting multiple hits in seven of those contests. He notched his first collegiate hit and home run in the same game at Presbyterian College, and went 3-for-3 as the designated hitter in a win against Sacred Heart University. But he wanted to become more consistent, so he got up every morning during winter break at 8 a.m. to work on improving his game, and he did.

Grande batted .377 for the 32-25 Seawolves this past season. His 78 hits were the sixth most in a single season in Stony Brook history; his 32 stolen bases are the second most in a season only behind MLB-draftee Travis Jankowski’s 36 in 2012; he had 22 multi-hit games, including eight in a row; and reached base safely a team-best 22 straight games. Grande batted .418 in America East conference play and had five of his six home runs in conference.

“There’s a reason why people are talented,” said Nick Grande Sr., who was the head baseball coach and now principal at Island Trees High School. He recalled bringing his son to the field every day after school since he was 3 years old. “It’s all about the time they put into perfecting their craft … his desire, his determination. He hates to lose more than he loves to win, and that’s been since he was 3 years old.”

Although the elder Grande said his son has a fear of failure, he doesn’t show it. Grande Jr. said he’s picked up a philosophy of positivity along the way, from his time spent on the diamond at the age of 7 with his dad at the end of the day from his father’s Island Trees coaching job, to his new head coach Matt Senk, and everyone else he met along the way.

“You have to go into a game expecting to be successful — that’s the only way it’s going to work out of you, I think,” he said. “Even if you’re cold or having a tough day you have to step into the box knowing that you’re going to get a hit. I tried to have a positive mindset out there.”

“He hates to lose more than he loves to win, and that’s been since he was 3 years old.”

— Nick Grande Sr.

The starting shortstop earned back-to-back America East Player of the Week honors March 27 and April 3. He went 6-for-11 with a homer and three RBIs in a home series against the University of Massachusetts Lowell and went 6-for-6 with three doubles and a pair of RBIs in a win against Binghamton University. One of the nation’s top base stealers in 2018, he swiped three in a game twice. He went on to be named second-team ABCA/Rawlings Northeast All-Region, an America East spring scholar-athlete, a first-team Google Cloud Academic All-American and a first-team All-American by Collegiate Baseball.

“It was nice to be able to produce and contribute to help the team win games,” Grande said, adding it helped having role models like recent MLB draftees pitcher Aaron Pinto and infielder Bobby Honeyman and Coram outfielder Andruw Gazzola. “Being in a great lineup where top to bottom guys are having great at-bats didn’t hurt either.”

Despite his strong showing on the offensive side of the ball, Grande said he has a defense-first mentality.

“He’d rather catch a ground ball than get a base hit, and when he makes an error I hear about it for days,” Grande’s father said, laughing. “That’s because we’ve hit thousands of ground balls. He doesn’t stop, he doesn’t quit, and that’s because he wants to be as close to perfect as you can be.”

Senk said though that Grande wanted to be more of a consistent hitter to balance his game. He said he pointed out to his shortstop he had an inside-out swing that didn’t allow him to hit the ball as hard as he could, so he started pulling the ball more. Grande also practiced using his backhand to get to more ground balls.

Stony Brook University baseball player Nick Grande digs into the box. Photo from SBU Athletics

“He has such a tremendous work ethic — that was never an issue,” the SBU coach said. “He worked hardest in the toughest part of the game. He takes well to coaching, he kept working at it and working at it and ended up really clicking in a big way. I knew it when we were playing the defending national champs, University of Florida, and he hit a home run off first-round draft pick Brady Singer. From there his season took off. I think that was because of his dedication, athleticism and intelligence.”

But there’s more to the ballplayer than his devotion and talent. Smithtown West head coach Al Nucci said what he does in the classroom, and the kind of teammate he is makes him exemplary in every which way.

“He stood out from the day he started,” Nucci said of seeing Grande during a Booster Club practice as a youngster. “As crazy as it sounds as a young boy he had an incredible work ethic, he loved the game, he was always looking to improve, he smiled, he was super polite — as a 6-year-old on 60-foot diamond completely and totally standing out from his peers.”

He was pulled up to varsity as an eighth-grader to get more of a challenge, and ended up starting the second half of the season and into the playoffs after an injury sidelined one of his teammates. His coach joked that he might be the only Bulls player in history to hit a home run in his first at-bat and sacrifice bunt his next, showing his team-first mentality.

“He’s probably a better person and a better student than he is an athlete,” Nucci said. “He’s the first on the field and the last one off it, and he backs up his leadership skills and his work ethic with results on the field. And Nick didn’t need to speak — he spoke with his mitt, with his arm, with his bat, with his baseball intellect and with his attitude. Nick is the type of kid that takes a little something from everyone and uses it to his advantage. I hope my son ends up like Nick one day, I’ll tell you that.”

“He takes well to coaching, he kept working at it and working at it and ended up really clicking in a big way.”

— Matt Senk

Grande’s father said although it can be nerve-racking, it’s been nice to take off the coaching uniform and sit back and watch his son play.

“Your stomach is turning, you’re a nervous wreck, your hands are sweating, but there’s not a better place in the world to be than watching your kids play sports,” he said. “The sport to me always had such a positive effect on my life, and from an early age he seemed to be following in the same footsteps, that the game was going to be meaningful for him, too.”

Baseball is a game of highs and lows, and it’s those who turn the lows into highs that tend to become successful. Nick Grande is the epitome of that according to those who know him best.

“When you get a text from your son that says, ‘Dad, I was just chosen as first-team All-American,’ after you pick yourself up off the floor, you take a deep breath and say, ‘Wow, all of his hard work, all of his dedication really paid off for him,’” Grande Sr. said. “People that work hard deserve to be rewarded in life, and in his case he has.”

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