Tags Posts tagged with "Stony Brook University"

Stony Brook University

by -
0 1112
Jennifer Portnoy and her son Javier cut the ribbon. Photo from Stony Brook University Hospital

By Rebecca Anzel

When Jennifer Portnoy of Stony Brook was given her son’s diagnosis, the doctors told her that there was nothing she could do but love him and enjoy her time with him. Javier, she was told, had a rapidly progressive form of Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy, an incurable genetic disorder most prevalent in boys.

“I’m not the type of person that finds that an acceptable treatment plan,” she said. “I needed to get to work to try and create a different outcome.”

“My son is either a part of the last generation to die of the disease or the first generation to survive it.”
—Jennifer Portnoy

Portnoy co-founded Hope for Javier Inc. a few months later as a not-for-profit organization to help fund research that might lead to an effective treatment or cure. Her family travelled to Cincinnati for doctors’ appointments and medical treatments.

Along the way, she met other families in the New York-area who did not have the job flexibility or financial resources to travel for out-of-state care. Portnoy said she realized that with Hope for Javier’s size, it could have an “enormous impact” by addressing that disparity in access to health care.

After researching other area hospitals, Portnoy and Hope for Javier formed a partnership with Stony Brook Children’s Hospital to create the first DMD Center in the tri-state area. The center opened Oct. 5 after a $600,000 donation from Hope for Javier.

“As an academic medical center, we will be able to identify clinical trials as we continue to fight this disease, and your support gives patients and families hope, and it will enable our clinical leadership to provide a level of research, care and support that is unrivaled in the region,” Samuel Stanley, Stony Brook University president, said in a public comment to Portnoy at the center’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

He added that the center will be a “destination” for residents of the tri-state area, and according to a Stony Brook University Hospital press release, the new center is the only one of its kind between Boston, Massachusetts and Baltimore, Maryland.

“This new program extends our geographic reach and continues our development as a regional healthcare provider of choice for thousands of patients and their families across the tri-state region,” L. Reuven Pasternak, SBUH CEO, wrote in a blog post.

Boys with DMD do not have a protein called dystrophin, which keeps muscle cells in one piece. Muscle weakness usually begins before age 5, showing first in their upper arms and legs. DMD can also affect a patient’s throat, brain, stomach, spine and chest muscles.

It affects about 1 in 5,000 boys in the United States, according to a hospital press release. DMD used to kill boys not long after their teen years, but with modern medicine, patients usually live into their early 30s, according to the Muscular Dystrophy Association’s website.

“This will be a comprehensive center, including pediatric specialists from neurology, cardiology, pulmonary medicine, gastroenterology [and] orthopedics” to name a few, Margaret McGovern, physician-in-chief of Stony Brook Children’s Hospital, said at the new center’s ribbon-cutting ceremony.

Studies have shown that access to this sort of multidisciplinary care adds an average of 10 years to the life expectancy of a boy with DMD, Portnoy said, and with the research being conducted on the disease, those 10 years are of the utmost importance.

“We’re at this tipping point, where ten years is the difference between being here when a cure is found and not,” she said. “My son is either a part of the last generation to die of the disease or the first generation to survive it.”

Stony Brook Children’s Hospital is Suffolk County’s only children’s hospital and has more than 160 pediatric doctors in over 30 specialties. It is set to occupy 10 floors of Stony Brook’s new Medical Center Hospital Pavilion, set to open in 2018, next to the main university hospital.

by -
0 778

friend of mine, who is about my age and grew up on Long Island, was somewhat timid about going into the Big Apple on her own because she didn’t feel she knew how to get around, but she now is empowered by her car service. She is a member of the customer base of Uber or Lyft or Via — one of those and others that she can summon with her cellphone to take her on her errands around the city. The service comes within two or three minutes, and she gets in and gets out, sometimes sharing the ride with another passenger, without having to so much as reach for her wallet. The fee and tip are automatically charged to her credit card and the price is significantly cheaper than an ordinary taxi. It is as if she had a chauffeured limo at her beck and call. As a result she uses the service more often.

When a store charges prices that are generally considered too high by shoppers, the store invites competition to come into the neighborhood. The same rule of economics applies to manufacturers and to industries. Sometimes that competition takes the more profound form of disruption by competitors who are aided by advances in technology, like the cellphone. In the instance of my friend and many like her, the car services have severely disrupted the taxi industry, dropping the NYC medallion price considerably.

Another vulnerable industry is higher education. As the cost of a college education has gone up over the last 50 years by about twice the rate of inflation, the ability to secure a bachelor’s degree has moved beyond the reach of the average household. The result has been an untenable explosion of student — and parent — educational debt. This trend has also exacerbated the widening gulf between the haves and have-nots. Those without a four-year degree earn less over the course of their lives.

While there are good public universities and community colleges, like Stony Brook University and Suffolk County Community College, that are more reasonably priced and often allow the student to live at home and avoid room and board fees, there is another, growing option for students. Some colleges, including those with more well-known names, are offering bachelor’s degrees online. Although this may have struck many as snake oil in the past, today an online degree has become a viable option thanks to enormous technological gains — with more to come.

Professors can stand in front of a class of students numbering from a handful to several hundred on campus. But thanks to webinars and other advances on the web, their student listeners may number in the thousands. Ah, you say, but they miss the live interaction of a classroom setting. Wrong. The students can now hear each other, as well as the professor, speak to each other and even see each other. There is more interaction over the Internet, in fact, than there is typically in large lecture classes. Shortly the speed of the Internet will reach unimaginable numbers to accommodate the instant transmission of incredible amounts of information. Professors attest to the high quality of response from the online students handing in assignments. There is even technology for locking down computers during tests to prevent cheating.

Online education has already disrupted traditional education, and not just for special one-off events that are typically used by businesses and special-interest groups but for long-term degrees. Just Google “online degree programs USA,” and you will find 10 pages of names for starters. These include 2016 Top Online Colleges & Degrees, The 50 Best Online Colleges for 2016, List of Accredited Online Colleges & Universities, U.S. News & World Report 2016 Best Online Programs, Boston University online programs and so forth.

Habits change more quickly today than at any other time in history. Just ask me how people get the top of the news each day: It’s not so much from newspapers or radio, or from network television or even cable TV — we get up in the morning and eyeball our mobile phones. Pay attention, college administrators and trustees, serious disruption is near.

Alfredo Fontanini in front of a poster of a neuron in his office. Photo from Alfredo Fontanini

By Daniel Dunaief

Pull into the parking lot of your favorite restaurant and you can almost taste the onion rings, the fresh baked bread or the steamed clams. The combination of the sign, the smell of the food piped out of the familiar building, and even the familiar voice of the restaurant owner welcoming you back is a hint of the experience of eating. Indeed, when these anticipatory stimuli are a part of the dining experience, they contribute to forming flavor.

Alfredo Fontanini, an associate professor in the Department of Neurobiology & Behavior at Stony Brook University, recently conducted research on rodents in which he explored how other senses — touch, taste, smell and sight — contributed to the part of the brain responsible for taste, the gustatory cortex.

In work published recently in the journal eLife, Fontanini demonstrated that rats who heard particular sounds, smelled odors, felt a puff of air against their whiskers, or saw the flash of an LED light before they ate showed increased activity in the gustatory cortex even before they started eating. If this experiment sounds familiar, it’s because Russian scientist Ivan Pavlov demonstrated the anticipation of food in conditioning experiments with dogs, showing that their digestive systems became active when they heard a tone before they ate, associating the sound with the presentation of food.

Dr. Alfredo Fontanini looks at slides of the gustatory cortex, the part of the brain that mediates the perception of taste. Photo from Stony Brook University
Dr. Alfredo Fontanini looks at slides of the gustatory cortex, the part of the brain that mediates the perception of taste. Photo from Stony Brook University

Fontanini took this research further, however, showing that the brain regions responsible for taste can, and did, show activity prior to eating. “As we paired the stimuli in a Pavlovian task, the animal would produce mouth movements and licks in response,” Fontanini said. These movements were not there right away, but developed after three to seven days of training, suggesting that the animal could infer taste. He recorded the responses of single neurons in the gustatory cortex. Before conditioning, the neuronal response in the gustatory cortex varied according to the sense stimulated. Prior to training, neurons in the gustatory cortex showed a 16 percent response, while that went up to 33 percent after learning. “This suggested that the stimulation was predictive of taste,” Fontanini said. “More neurons were integrating between all the stimuli.”

Donald Katz, a professor of psychology at Brandeis University who oversaw Fontanini’s graduate research for five years, suggested that his former student was one of a few neuroscientists studying how anticipation of an experience, knowing what’s coming, impacts how the brain handles that experience. This study, he explained in an email, “makes perfect sense — while few researchers study how different sensory systems work together, it is well-known that taste is linked to all of the other senses. It is of great evolutionary import that this be so,” because the animal that can recognize something good to eat at the greatest distance will be the one that eats.

Katz described Fontanini’s recent work as a “wonderful finding in that it provides a substantial, natural extension” to work completed in his lab, Katz’s lab and those of other scientists. In exploring which specific senses are most important to the gustatory reflex, Fontanini said olfaction and touch are considered more relevant for food-related decisions. “These are animals that use these senses to navigate their world and explore food,” he said.

In the bigger picture, Fontanini would like to understand how the brain integrates and fuses sensory perceptions with emotions. He explained that one of the tests in animal models of depression is to look at how much a test subject still likes something sweet. “Studying taste allows us to understand how the brain creates pleasure or creates aversion that negates emotions,” he said.

Fontanini plans to extend this study to additional research. He would like to know the neurological pathways that link the visual, auditory, somatosensory and olfaction senses that contribute to forming an expectation about taste. He is also eager to understand how the anticipatory activation influences the way taste is perceived. This, he explained, would be a way to explore how expectations shape perception.

Fontanini, who grew up in the town of Brescia, Italy, which is near Milan, arrived at this particular field of research because of his interest in understanding perception and emotion. He would like to explore how the brain creates emotions. Recognizing the multisensory element to taste and eating, Fontanini suggests that understanding how olfaction and taste can interact may lead to eating sweets where the smell enhances the flavor and taste, even of a lower-calorie dessert, like a piece of chocolate cake. “If you can leverage more of the odor and less” of the taste, “you can find a way of having that richness without the need for overwhelming sweetness.”

A resident of Setauket, Fontanini lives with his wife Arianna Maffei, who is an associate professor in the Department of Neurobiology & Behavior at Stony Brook and their 11-year-old son Carlo. Relying on vocabulary of the gustatory cortex, Fontanini suggested Long Island has a “soothing sweetness” that springs from the quaint and beautiful setting his family enjoys.

As for his work, Fontanini said studying taste in the brain is challenging. “What happens when you taste chocolate: are you activating chocolate neurons or are you activating a complex pattern of activity?” The answer, he said, describing taste while borrowing from another sense, is much more like a musical ensemble during a symphonic experience than like a solo. “Understanding how taste is represented in the cortex is incredibly complex,” he said.

Front row, from left, Liliana Dávalos, Heather Lynch and Christine O’Connell; back row, from left, Robert Harrison, IACS director and STRIDE PI, Arie Kaufman, and Janet Nye. Photo from Stony Brook University

By Daniel Dunaief

If Stony Brook University has its way, the university will stand out not only for the quality of the research its graduate students produce but also for the way those budding scientists present, explain and interpret their results to the public and to policy makers.

Pulling together faculty from numerous departments across the campus, Robert Harrison, the director of the Institute for Advanced Computational Science, created a program that will teach graduate students how to use big data sets to inform difficult decisions.

The institute recently received a $3 million grant from the National Science Foundation Research Traineeship for this effort, called Science Training & Research to Inform DEcisions, or STRIDE. The grant will be used for students in the departments of Applied Mathematics and Statistics, Biomedical Informatics, Computer Science, Ecology and Evolution and the schools of Journalism and Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.

“This is unique,” said Arie Kaufman, a distinguished professor and chair of the Department Computer Science at Stony Brook. “It’s a new kind of approach to training and adding value to Ph.D. students.” Indeed, the students who complete the STRIDE training will earn their doctorates and will also receive a certificate for their participation in this program. Students in the participating departments will need to apply for one of the 10 positions available in the program next year. The partners involved in this program expect it to expand to 30 students within five years.

Kaufman said what enabled this collaboration was the range of skill sets across Stony Brook, including the Alan Alda Center for Communicating Science, which is a growing program that already offers the type of training more typical for an actor studying improvisation techniques than for a scientist studying neurotransmitters or DNA.

The Alda Center is “creating a new course,” said Christine O’Connell, an associate director at the center and assistant professor in the School of Journalism. She is currently working on developing the course description, which will include communicating to decision makers. O’Connell, who has a doctorate in marine and atmospheric sciences, sees her work with the Alda Center and with STRIDE as the “perfect combination in bringing the decision making piece to work with scientists to help them talk about their research.”

Scientists who take courses at the Alda Center with STRIDE learn how to understand their audience through various role-playing scenarios. They will also develop their abilities to present their goals or messages in a visual way and not just talk about their work.

Heather Lynch, an associate professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution who is also a co-principal investigator on the STRIDE grant, will help design the program, mentor students and develop courses. She’s been involved with this proposal since its inception, over three years ago. “In many ways,” she explained in an email, “my interest stems from my own difficulties communicating effectively with policy makers, and finding tools and visualizations that are compelling to a non-scientist.” Lynch recounted her frustration with presenting science to help a policy making body, such as a committee, with the kind of analysis she believed they were seeking. After she did her best to answer the question, the committee sometimes dismissed her work as not being what they wanted. “That’s frustrating because that means I failed at the outset to define the science question and that’s what I hope we can teach students to do better,” Lynch explained.

Lynch said she wishes she had the training these students will be getting. For scientists, computers are an invaluable tool that can help delve into greater breadth and depth in analyzing, interpreting and collecting information. The STRIDE effort includes a greater awareness of the way computers can inform political or social science. Researchers generate “tremendous amounts of data that can be used to analyze trends or detect diseases,” Kaufman said. “The data science is tremendous in every discipline.”

The faculty who are a part of this program said they have already benefited from the interactions they’ve had with each other as they’ve developed the curriculum. “I know a few people in Ecology and Evolution and I know more people in Marine Sciences, but these particular individuals were new to me,” said Kaufman. “We have already been communicating about ideas for how to use the Reality Deck for other projects.”

Completed in late 2012, the Reality Deck is a $2 million rectangular room in the Center of Excellence in Information Technology building. The room has hundreds of monitors that cover the wall from floor to ceiling and provides a way for researchers to study images in exquisite detail.

Other scientists in the program include Liliano Dávalos, an associate professor in the Department of Ecology and Evolution, Janet Nye, an assistant professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, Joel Saltz, the founding chair of the Depatment of Biomedical Informatics, Erez Zadok, a professor in the Department of Computer Science and Mighua Zhang, a professor in the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences.

Lynch said the program will bring in people who are working on real-world problems, including those in government, industry and nongovernmental organizations who are “in a position to take science and use it for practical purposes.” As a part of the program, the scientists will monitor the progress of the STRIDE candidates, O’Connell said.

The evaluations will check to see if “they become better communicators and better at interpreting their data for different audiences,” O’Connell said. “The evaluation piece built in will help us assess the program.”

Dr. Samuel L. Stanley

By Dr. Samuel L. Stanley

Implementation of Stony Brook University’s new Plan for Equity, Inclusion and Diversity is off to a great start, with several initiatives underway to take us to the next level in enhancing student, faculty and staff diversity and building an inclusive community.

Gender equality is one of the focal points of our plan. As one of 10 University IMPACT Champions worldwide for UN Women’s HeForShe movement, Stony Brook is committed to being a national leader in gender equality and serving as a model for other colleges and universities.

HeForShe encourages men and boys to become agents of change in achieving global gender equality by building on the work of the women’s movement as equal partners, crafting and implementing a shared vision of gender equality that will benefit all of humanity. For Stony Brook, HeForShe provides a visionary and sound foundation from which we can work to improve diversity and the human condition on our campus and beyond.

To highlight our commitment to achieving gender equality, Stony Brook University co-hosted the HeForShe second anniversary event, welcoming world leaders, activists, change-makers and celebrities to the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan on Sept. 20. At the event, we celebrated the launch of the first HeForShe IMPACT 10×10×10 University Parity report, which charts Stony Brook’s progress toward gender equality along with nine other leading universities from around the world.

Some of our progress includes building gender sensitization programming and gender equality themes into our mandatory freshman seminar class; forming a HeForShe Steering Committee of students, faculty and staff to oversee the implementation of our commitments; and hosting the first SUNY-wide HeForShe conference last March to work with all 64 SUNY campuses in developing programs to increase gender equality, giving us the potential to impact the experiences of more than 459,000 students and almost 90,000 faculty and staff.

Stony Brook is also now a leader in the field, offering the first-ever master’s degree program in masculinities studies within the university’s Center for the Study of Men and Masculinities led by Distinguished Professor of Sociology Michael Kimmel.

On Sept. 12, Stony Brook welcomed Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, executive director of UN Women and under-secretary-general of the United Nations, who delivered a timely and provocative lecture to our students, faculty and staff. To quote Mlambo-Ngcuka: “There aren’t enough universities in the world that have put this issue at the center of our work. It is in universities where we produce thought leaders and people who can truly change the world.”

Stony Brook is proud to be a pioneering university in our progress toward gender equality. Visit stonybrook.edu/diversityplan and stonybrook.edu/heforshe for more information.

Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr. is the president of Stony Brook University.

The Suffolk County Police Department has saved more than 600 lives since 2012 using Narcan to reverse opioid or heroin overdoses. Data from SCPD.Graphic by TBR News Media

Medical professionals, law enforcement and government officials gathered at Stony Brook University this past weekend to have an open and honest dialogue about the growing opioid problem facing the North Shore and the rest of Suffolk County.

The complexity of the problem and how it relates to communities across the county was the topic of the discussion Oct. 1. A common theme among the speakers was opioid addiction should be treated like a legitimate medical crisis and not a moral failing.

Dr. Constantine Ioannou, director of Stony Brook Medical Center’s Adult Inpatient Unit addressed the current opioid crisis in the United States and specifically in Suffolk County during the event.

“This is not the first opioid epidemic in the United States — this is one of many,” Ioannou said. He likened the current state of opioid prescribing and subsequent widespread addiction to a period in the late 1800s when morphine was first developed. He said doctors overprescribed the powerful painkiller and, in turn, opioid dependence skyrocketed.

SCPD Deputy Sheriff Mike Kern speaks about the opioid crisis in Suffolk County. Photo by Alex Petroski
SCPD Deputy Sheriff Mike Kern speaks about the opioid crisis in Suffolk County. Photo by Alex Petroski

The director traced the origin of the current crisis back to two events in 1995. Purdue Pharma, a pharmaceutical company, began marketing OxyContin, its version of the powerful opioid oxycodone, to doctors. In addition the American Pain Society, an organization dedicated to advocating for public policies to reduce pain-related issues, named pain as the fifth vital sign. Like the other four — pulse rate, temperature, respiration rate and blood pressure —  pain would be monitored in patients from then on. Pain was the only one of those five vital signs that is completely subjective and based on what a patient tells a nurse or doctor, Ioannou said.

Those two events, in accordance with nurse ratings and even payment being tied to patient satisfaction and reduction, created an environment of overprescribing, Ioannou said. He also said training of doctors in pain management needs to be addressed — he graduated from medical school in 1985 with “zero” training in pain management.

“There are states in the United States where there are more prescriptions for opiate pain medications than there are people — this is a staggering number,” Ioannou said.

Jermaine Jones, Ph.D., an assistant professor of clinical neurobiology in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University, also spoke and reiterated some of what Ioannou said regarding the United States’ views on pain management.

“I’ve had friends from other countries say that unless you come into the E.R. with an arm missing, you’re not going to get a prescription that you could get here for having a root canal,” Jones said. “We make up about 5 percent of the world’s population yet we consume about 80 percent of the prescription opioid [painkillers].”

Jones is involved in a study called Risks and Benefits of Overdose Education and Naloxone Prescribing to Heroin Users and spoke about some of his findings. Naloxone, commonly known by the brand name Narcan, is a drug used to reverse opioid overdoses.

“We’re trying to better understand how to tease apart ways to attenuate what people like about opioids,” Jones said of the five-year study, which is currently in its second year.

Jermaine Jones, Ph.D., an assistant professor of clinical neurobiology in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University, was on the opioid discussion panel. Photo by Alex Petroski
Jermaine Jones, Ph.D., an assistant professor of clinical neurobiology in the Department of Psychiatry at Columbia University, was on the opioid discussion panel. Photo by Alex Petroski

He said the study was created to monitor people who are administered naloxone and see if it is being used for the correct purposes. One concern in the creation of an overdose reversal drug is that users will be more confident in their ability to combat an overdose and may decide not to call 911 if that day ever comes. Other potential unintended consequences of naloxone, including how to deal with a user who may be irate after being saved from an overdose and is now “dope sick” and without the expensive drug they just bought, are the focus of the study. They are also researching some potential new medications or existing ones that could work in accordance with opioids to reduce pain, while reducing the effects that lead to addiction.

“We know that detox by itself is actually one of the highest risk factors for opioid overdose because you’re tolerance decreases,” Jones said. “So once someone comes out of a detox program they swear they’re never going to touch this stuff again, but relapse is very, very common. So they use again thinking that if they were using two bags before, they can continue using two bags now that they’ve gotten out, but their physiological tolerance has decreased and people overdose as a result.”

Ioannou indicated he’d like to see changes in treatment options for addicts.

“We treat all addiction by the same model,” he said. “You have a five-day detox, 28-day rehab and you have an after care that is all based on 12 steps. That is the model of care in the United States. We need to realize with a complex disease, you need a complex set of interventions.”

Suffolk County Police Department Deputy Sheriff Mike Kern is an expert in recognizing drug users. He called overdoses the most powerful “advertisement” for drug dealers because it is a clear indication of how strong their product is. He echoed sentiments from both doctors about the dangers of overprescribing and to what it can lead.

“Why can a doctor prescribe an OxyContin to a 16-year-old or a 15-year-old who just had a root canal?” Kern asked. “It just doesn’t make any sense.”

From left, Lorne Golub, Joseph Scaduto, Francis Johnson, Ying Gu, Hsi-Ming Lee and Maria Ryan. Photo courtesy of Stony Brook Medicine

By Daniel Dunaief

You might not be able to teach an old dog new tricks for a variety of reasons, including that your old dog might be suffering from periodontal disease. An inflammatory condition of the mouth that affects about 80 percent of dogs by the age of three, periodontal disease often starts out as gingivitis, a swelling or reddening of the gums, and then proceeds to affect the soft and hard tissues that support teeth.

Scientists and dentists at Stony Brook have developed a new treatment for periodontal disease for dogs, and, they hope, eventually for humans. The National Institute of Dental and Craniofacial Research, a unit of the National Institutes of Health, recently awarded Stony Brook University’s School of Dental Medicine and Traverse Biosciences Inc., a Long Island research company, a $1.3 million award to continue to evaluate the preclinical safety and effectiveness of TRB-NO224 to treat periodontal disease.

“The grant was approved for funding because a panel of nationally prominent dental and medical scientists agreed that our grant proposal, and our qualifications and academic records were exemplary,” Lorne Golub, a distinguished professor in the Department of Oral Biology and Pathology explained in an email. Golub, who holds 55 patents and developed Periostat and Oracea, will lead the research, along with Ying Gu, an associate professor in the Department of General Dentistry at SBU.

While periodontal disease affects dogs, it is also widely prevalent among humans, with Golub calling it the “most common chronic inflammatory disease known to mankind.” Indeed, developing effective treatments is important not only for oral health, but it has implications for other conditions that are complicated or exacerbated by the collagenase enzyme prevalent in periodontal disease.

“Some studies indicate that chronic periodontitis can increase the risk for pancreatic cancer, head and neck cancer, cardiovascular disease and others,” Golub wrote in an email. “All of these diseases result in an increase in collagenase.”

A challenge in treating periodontitis is that the enzyme that is a part of the inflammatory response, collagenase, is present, and necessary, in normal metabolism. Ridding the body of the enzyme would cause harm. Golub worked with Francis Johnson, a professor of chemistry and pharmacological sciences at Stony Brook, to develop a new treatment using a modified form of curcumin, which is a bright yellow chemical that is a member of the ginger family. Naturally occurring curcumin does provide some benefit for periodontal diseases, Golub said, although the modified version Johnson helped create is more effective. “Very little” curcumin is absorbed from the gut into the blood stream after oral administration, Golub said.

The modification Johnson and Golub made was to make their variant triketonic. With the extra ketone, which has a negative charge, the attraction for zinc and calcium, which are a part of collagenase and have positive charges, is stronger, Golub said.

In dividing the work, Gu explained that Golub will supervise personnel, coordinate and oversee all experiments and provide technical oversight for the animal experiments and biochemical analysis. Gu will work with Hsi-Ming Lee, a research assistant professor in oral biology and pathology, to perform in vivo animal experiments and the biochemical analyses of pro-inflammatory mediator levels on blood, gingival fluid and gingival tissue samples. He and Golub will perform data analysis and prepare publications together. The scientific team involved in the study of TRB-NO224, which includes Maria Ryan, the chair of the Department of Oral Biology and Pathology, intends to develop this treatment for pets first. This, Golub suggested, was in part because the approval process for pet treatments is quicker to market.

The group hopes additional research, including safety and efficacy studies, will lead them to apply to the Food and Drug Administration for human uses. Ryan, who worked as a graduate student in Golub’s lab before she became the head of the department, is pleased with the process and the track record of a department Golub helped start in 1973.

“I am proud to say that this is Department of Oral Biology and Pathology’s fourth NIDCR grant for the development of new therapeutics for the management of periodontal diseases within the past four years,” Ryan wrote in an email. “The aim of this funding mechanism is to move these novel compounds further along in the FDA drug development process.” Ryan added that the benefits of TRB-NO224 extended to other medical arenas and has led to collaborations with additional scientists. TRB-NO224 not only impacts enzymes such as collagenase, but also affects pro-inflammatory mediators, she said.

“This new compound may be useful at preventing and/or treating numerous chronic conditions,” Ryan said. Studies are currently funded to investigate indications for osteoarthritis with the director of Orthopaedic Research, Daniel Grande, at the Feinstein Institute and for acute respiratory distress syndrome with Gary Nieman at SUNY Upstate Medical University in Syracuse. Golub has worked with international collaborators for decades. Some of them praised his legacy and the work he’s continuing to do.

Golub’s patents reflect his “everlasting translational mission from molecular and biotechnological medical/dental research to doctors’ daily and every-day practice,” wrote Timo Sorsa, the Chief Dental Officer in Periodontology at the University of Helsinki Central Hospital in Finland in an email. Golub received an honorary M.D. from the University of Helsinki in 2000.

A resident of Smithtown, Golub lives with his wife Bonny, who is a travel agent. They have two children, Marlo and Michael, and four grandchildren. Golub and his wife were among the first to see a showing at the New Community Cinema in Huntington, now the Cinema Arts Centre, in their own folding chairs. They watched one of Golub’s favorite films, “Henry V,” with Sir Laurence Olivier.

Golub is optimistic about the prospects and progress on TRB-NO224. “We are beginning to see evidence of efficacy in a variety of diseases,” he offered. He also believes the treatment may have rapid acceptance because natural curcumin has been used for decades in a number of populations and is “believed to be safe and effective.”

The content in this version has been updated from the original.

by -
0 3251
Scientists for Policy, Advocacy, Diplomacy and Education officers from left, Treasurer Ashleigh Lussenden, Secretary Kayla Gogarty, President Lyl Tomlinson and Vice President Adrian Di Antonio. Photo from SPADE

Opioid addiction is the focus of a community forum to be held Saturday, Oct. 1 at Stony Brook University, thanks to an organization created by three of the school’s own.

The event, entitled “The Opioid Epidemic,” will run from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. in the theatre at the Charles B. Wang Center. The forum is a product of Scientists for Policy, Advocacy, Diplomacy and Education, an entity created last winter by three doctoral candidates in the Department of Neurobiology.

The story behind the organization’s inception can be traced back to conversations about the future between Adrian Di Antonio, Ashleigh Lussenden and Lyl Tomlinson as they worked toward their doctoral degrees, Di Antonio said in a telephone interview. In their individual labs, they were solving specific problems, but together they wondered about what they could do to learn more and broaden their impact, he said. The three found and presented articles to each other, and eventually invited other graduate students from other disciplines to join in discussions.

The four SPADE leaders are looking to boost membership via their first major campuswide event. There will be speeches by elected officials, who will also participate in a panel discussion with a representative from the Suffolk County Sheriff’s office and medical professionals from Stony Brook and Columbia Universities.

So far, SPADE has one recruit: Kayla Gogarty, a doctoral candidate in Stony Brook’s chemistry department. She grew up in Suffolk County and earned her undergraduate degree from Drexel University in Philadelphia.

“As I’ve been immersed in science, I have realized that even if scientists provide concrete data, it is very difficult for this knowledge [e.g., climate change] to be translated into our laws,” she wrote in an email. “This has led me to my interest in science policy, because the data is not useful unless people in the community understand it and lawmakers use it for policy change.”

The members chose journalism professor Steven Reiner to be the moderator at their event. He has been at Stony Brook University for seven years and previously worked as a producer for 60 Minutes and National Public Radio. He currently hosts a web-series called Science on Tap, in which he helps distill complex information down to comprehensible language in the casual environment of a bar, according to Di Antonio.

Tomlinson is a proponent of making science understandable. Two years ago, the Brooklyn native and CUNY Brooklyn graduate won a NASA-hosted National Science Communication competition called FameLab.

“Think American Idol meets TED talks,” he wrote in an email. “I competed against almost 100 scientists from across the U.S. to deliver interesting science in bite-sized, three-minute chunks that were accessible and informative.” He did not add that he placed second, representing the U.S. in the international competition at The Times Cheltenham Science Festival in the United Kingdom, which brought together FameLab winners from more than 25 countries.

Di Antonio hales from Philadelphia, where he earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Pennsylvania. After SPADE was founded, he said the group explored ways they might get involved on campus. “Some topic at the intersection of policy and people,” he said.

As opioid drug overdoses currently cause more deaths than auto accidents or firearms, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Tomlinson said they want people to know that this is an important issue.

Lussenden will speak on behalf of SPADE at the beginning of the program. A fourth year doctoral candidate, she received a National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship. “I have always been interested in science and politics,” she wrote in an email, “and would like to work in science policy and diplomacy when I graduate.”

Suffolk County's drug problem will be discussed at a public forum Oct. 1. File photo by Erika Karp

Opioid addiction will be the topic of discussion at a community forum on Saturday, Oct. 1 at Stony Brook University. The free event, titled The Opioid Epidemic, will be hosted by the group Scientists for Policy, Advocacy, Diplomacy and Education at the Charles B. Wang Center Theatre from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m.  Hear from policy experts, community leaders and scientists on how to combat this growing threat to our community. A series of short presentations will be followed by a round-table discussion with community participation. Refreshments will be served.

Speakers will include state Sen. John Flanagan (R-East Northport), State Sen. Ken LaValle (R-Port Jefferson), Suffolk County Deputy Sheriff William Weick,  Director of Adult Inpatient Services at Stony Brook Constantine Ioannou and Columbia University Assistant Professor of Clinical Neurobiology Jermaine Jones.

Attendees are encouraged to bring excess or expired medication for the “Shed the Meds” disposal program. Narcan (opioid OD antidote) training is available after the event for selected pre-registered participants.

Free parking is available at the Administration parking lot across from the Wang Center.

For more information or to register online, visit opioidepidemicforum.eventbrite.com or call 267-259-7347.

Participants at the SASI Family Fun Day held last month in Huntington. Photo by Rebecca Anzel

By Rebecca Anzel

A young scientist at Stony Brook University has received a $2.3 million grant to fund research he hopes will eventually lead to new therapies for the treatment of autism spectrum disorder.

Matthew Lerner, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of clinical psychology at Stony Brook University, and director of the Stony Brook Social Competence and Treatment Lab, the focus of which is learning to understand how children and teens with ASD form friendships.

“We use the word lab loosely, only because we collect data there,” he said. “It’s a fun space with games and activities for kids.”

“Matthew Lerner is sort of a pioneer in his thought process, and that’s what makes him special to me.”

— Priscilla Arena

His work thus far has ranged from lab-based studies — evaluating and developing tools to measure what is happening during social interactions and how the brain processes those interactions — to real-world applications. Lerner’s previous studies ask how, when and if kids make friends, and what helps them do so.

Efforts to link these two levels of analysis have never been done simultaneously — until now. Lerner won a highly competitive National Institute of Mental Health award to fund his innovative approach to studying social behaviors of children with ASD.

“It’s kind of remarkable that it really hasn’t been done in quite this way before,” he said. “We presume that these things — lab-based measures of how kids think about social interactions and real world interactions themselves — are linked, because otherwise, why would we look at them? But how they’re linked, and importantly, how we can understand how those links differ across individuals, hasn’t really been done thoroughly before.”

Priscilla Arena, the leader of a support group for parents of children with ASD, said Lerner is excited about the potential the grant gives his research.

“Matthew Lerner is sort of a pioneer in his thought process, and that’s what makes him special to me,” she said. “He sees potential in the future.”

It’s not far from her initial reaction after meeting with the Stony Brook researcher, who asked permission to speak to the parents in her group.

The Suffolk Aspergers/Autism Support and Information co-founder wanted to protect the parents, who have “already been beaten and kicked” by others looking for monetary donations and permission to study their children. But when she met Lerner, she said she knew almost immediately that he was different.

“He’s sincere, honorable, impassioned, smart and cerebral,” Arena said. “I don’t think my first impression of him has ever changed, and I think that’s why, from the get-go, I’ve had respect for him.”

The award, called Biobehavioral Research Awards for Innovative New Scientists, was created in 2009 as a way to provide younger scientists with financial support for research. It is for early-stage investigators who are on a tenure track and have no prior research project grants.

“BRAINS” is earmarked for “the most promising early investigators” and is “one of the most competitive [awards]” NIH offers, according to Lisa Gilotty, Ph.D., program officer of Lerner’s grant. Gilotty is also the chief of NIMH’s research program on autism spectrum disorder.

Matthew Lerner is enthusiastic about finding treatments for those with autism spectrum disorder. Photo from Matthew Lerner
Matthew Lerner is enthusiastic about finding treatments for those with autism spectrum disorder. Photo from Matthew Lerner

Lerner is examining how well various biological and social factors, both independently and jointly, can predict how teenagers aged 11 to 17, with and without ASD, socially interact outside of a laboratory. In the five-year project, he and his team are also studying how those factors correlate, and which best explain the resulting social behaviors.

They are hoping to use information gleaned by observing the teenagers inside and outside the lab to make precise predictions about how they make friendships.

Depending on the results, the team might be able to develop generalized patterns that can be applied to a large number of people on the spectrum and be used to create more targeted therapies.

“This is an extremely important study that will shed light on the wide variability observed in social function in ASD,” said James McPartland, director of the Yale Developmental Disabilities Clinic. “Presently, little is understood about the biological reasons for these individual differences. Dr. Lerner’s study will help us understand these differences from both behavioral and brain-based perspectives.”

Dozens of the 260 teenagers — 160 with ASD and 100 without — participating in this study are Three Village students. Lerner and his team have also connected with special educators in the area to see how participants are doing outside the lab in a classroom.

He and his team spend a lot of time in the community, at family events and meetings with parents and educators to introduce themselves, share information about their work and to learn what challenges children are experiencing. Because Lerner wants the work he does to matter to parents and community members, he calls them “stakeholders” in his research.

“The most impressive thing about him is how community-minded he is,” President and Executive Director of Asperger Syndrome and High Functioning Autism Association (AHA) Patricia Schissel said. “It is important that he’s not stuck in a lab. He’s excited to get out into the research community.”

Arena said quite a few study participants are from SASI as well — her son included. Besides hosting support groups, the program, which was co-founded by Arena with Stephanie Mendelson, provides resources and runs events and programs for special needs families.

Arena and her son were asked to complete a 500-question survey as part of the screening process, and have committed to 20 weeks of social groups.

What appealed to her about this study is Lerner’s concentration on trying to develop more effective treatments and therapies for ASD as opposed to looking for a cure.

“I always say, unless you’re going to do a lobotomy, [saying there is a cure] is baloney,” she said. “You can calm certain conditions of it down through behavior modification and therapy, but you cannot cure it. There’s no way to reverse how the brain has been formed. My son will have it forever.”

Schissel said Lerner’s study has the potential to change treatment options for those with autism as genome sequencing did for cancer.

Oncologists previously “threw the kitchen sink” at cancer and attacked tumors broadly. Once genome sequencing was developed, doctors could instead more easily treat tumors directly. Such an approach to ASD therapies would be more effective and “waste less time and enormous amounts of money,” she said.

Michael Greenberg, a social worker for outpatient child and adolescent psychiatry at Stony Brook Medicine, agreed that more specific treatments and therapies are more efficient and effective.

“It creates an opportunity to have the odds be the best the first time,” he said. “No one can predict what he’s going to find, but he’s trying to come up with something that can be replicated and benefit people more widely.”

The results from Lerner’s study might also be applicable to children without ASD. He said it is unclear whether the social patterns he and his team might uncover are unique to kids with autism. There is a potential for any treatments that stem from his findings to benefit any kid who struggles socially.