Seeking a cure for human blindness in a frog’s cells

AAARodPRs2Growing retinal cells in frogs may teach us how to do the same in humans, which could restore sight to those whose vision has been impaired.

This image is a close-up section of a tadpole eye with the rod photoreceptor cells marked in red. The tadpole received retinal progenitor cells (which would develop into eye cells) that were derived from pluripotent frog cells, marked in green. Like human stem cells, pluripotent frog cells have the ability to develop into any type of cell. The blue dye marks the cell nuclei.

To make the pluripotent cells turn into retinal cells, Upstate scientists Andrea Viczian, PhD, and Michael Zuber, PhD, discovered the cocktail of proteins that are normally found in the developing tadpole eye at the time when the eye is first forming. Viczian and graduate student Kim Wong, PhD, built on that work with the discovery of a new signaling pathway that directs retina formation.

This article and photo appear on the back cover of the summer 2015 issue of Upstate Health magazine.


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Can older people ride roller coasters?

roller-coasterQuestion: Roller coasters and other wild rides provided so much enjoyment in my youth, but as I’ve gotten older, riding these rides leaves me feeling ill, with nausea, dizziness and/or headaches that last for hours afterward. What’s going on?

Dale Avers, RPT, PhD

Dale Avers, RPT, PhD

Answer: “You have described not-uncommon symptoms related to the vestibular system contained in the inner ear,” says physical therapist Dale Avers, DPT, PhD, who directs Upstate’s post-professional program for physical therapists who want to obtain their doctorates.

“As we get older, the vestibular system gets less efficient, meaning it doesn’t respond as easily to motion of the head or to movement around us. Normally the inner ear responds to movement automatically, so we aren’t aware that it is working until the movement is too much for our vestibular system to handle.

“When that happens, such as riding a roller coaster or even riding in a car or airplane, we experience motion sickness, which are symptoms you describe.

“The good news is that you can train the vestibular system to be less sensitive, although the training isn’t fun. Basically you have to provoke the symptoms so that the vestibular system becomes more tolerant.

“Or, you can just avoid those roller coaster rides.”summercover

This article, an “Upstate Answers” column, appears in the summer 2015 issue of Upstate Health magazine.




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Program shows teens that distracted driving can be deadly


“Trying to focus on two things while you’re driving means you’re not focused on driving,” warns this graphic from, the official federal website about distracted driving. Upstate’s Trauma Center runs its own local program to prevent distracted driving by teens.

Cellphones, alcohol or drug use, passenger conversation and the car radio are the most common distractions for teen drivers, said Kim Nasby, RN, the Upstate Trauma Center’s injury prevention coordinator and an instructor in the Let’s Not Meet by Accident program.

She said motor vehicle accidents remain the leading cause of death for drivers age 15 to 19, and health care providers at Upstate want to help teens drive safely. Here is their advice:

Advice for teens

* Turn off your cellphone while driving, or at least put it on safe mode. If you must use your phone, pull off the road and park safely first.

* Refuse to ride in a car with a driver who is under the influence or alcohol or drugs. Create a backup plan with your parents or other caregivers, so you can count on a safe ride home.

* Limit your vehicle to one passenger if possible, and reduce conversation and movement while on the road.

* Do not encourage speeding or other negative behavior.

* Find your preferred radio station or playlist before your start the car, and stick with it until you reach your destination. Keep music at a low level – and no dancing while driving.

* Review maps and directions before you leave for an unfamiliar destination. If you need to consult a global positioning device, pull over first.

* Keep sunglasses in your car, to minimize the outside distraction of the sun. Reduce the glare from reflective surfaces such as glass and polished metal by purchasing sunglasses labeled “UV 40.”

Advice for parents of teens

* Lead by example. Don’t text and drive. Wear seat belts. Follow traffic laws.

* Explain the dangers of driving under the influence and make sure your teen knows the use of alcohol or drugs is non-negotiable.

* Consider a “no passengers” policy for new teen drivers.

* Look into smartphone applications that monitor a teen’s texting and phone calls while they are driving.

Let’s Not Meet by Accident is a free interactive injury prevention program designed by the Upstate Trauma Center. It’s offered once a month for up to 150 students from schools throughout Central New York. Learn more by calling 315-464-4779.

summercoverThis article appears in the summer 2015 issue of Upstate Health magazine.

Hear a radio interview on this topic with Nasby and her colleague Jerome Morrison, RN, who both are part of the Let’s Not Meet by Accident program presentations.

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Numbers paint varied portrait of people, projects, events, history at Upstate

Words tell stories, but so can numbers.

The eight below help illustrate the missions of Upstate Medical University – medical care, education and research – and reveal the institution’s dedication to the Syracuse community through charitable donations and its environmental stewardship through composting.

Print1,168 babies were born at the Community campus of Upstate University Hospital in 2014. That’s the highest number of deliveries since 2007, when it was the former Community General Hospital. The increase can be attributed to the launch of the Midwifery and Gynecology Program and Upstate’s partnership with the Syracuse Community Health Center.

compostMore than 150,000 pounds of food scraps have been diverted from the trash at Upstate Medical University since an initiative to compost food scraps began in 2011.

is the number of the fruit fly gene named by scientists in the laboratory of Upstate’s Francesca Pignoni, PhD. They chose the name Lilipod, an acronym for Lipocalin-like membrane protein receptor. The scientists work on fruit flies because their genome is so similar to that of humans, and they anticipate their research will someday have an impact on cancer and other human diseases.

ribbon266 mammograms were provided to women living in the Syracuse Housing Authority’s Pioneer Homes development through a program called “She Matters.” A grant from the Susan G. Komen foundation helped create the program, which relies on trained resident health advocates to educate, support and encourage breast cancer screenings among low-income women. A grant renewal means the program is expanding to Syracuse’s Toomey Abbott Towers.


dia527,956 dollars were pledged to be donated to charities by Upstate employees through payroll deduction during 2015.

-164 degrees Celsius is the temperature at which stem cells are stored while awaiting transplant at the Upstate Cancer Center.

NYS94.2 percent of first-year medical students at SUNY Upstate are New York state residents, according to the Association of American Medical Colleges. Interim President Gregory Eastwood, MD, says, “The education of New York residents is directly tied to Upstate’s mission. When we commit to improving the health of our community, growing our own to be the next generation of doctors is an integral part of that process.” Upstate is competitive, receiving 4,412 applications for the 154 spots in its first-year medical class this year.

past and present chief executive officers for Upstate University Hospital gathered for a ceremony in June that dedicated and renamed the main lobby after James H. Abbott, the hospital’s first leader.


A commemorative wall overlooking the lobby at University Hospital’s Downtown campus shows all of the hospital’s chief executives.









This article appears in the summer 2015 issue of Upstate Health magazine.



Posted in cancer, community, education, environment, eye disorders, genetics, health care, history, hospital, maternity, medical student, public health, research, sustainability, women's health | Leave a comment

Mediterranean chickpea salad offers a light, adaptable meal

Here’s a light meal that you can change with the addition of seasonal greens, such as spinach, kale, arugula or frisee. This recipe yields four 2-cup portions.

Mediterranean Chickpea SaladIngredients

6 ounces “spring mix” lettuce

4 ounces romaine lettuce, chopped

1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped

1/4 cup fresh mint, chopped

1 1/2 cup cucumbers, sliced like half moons

2 cups fresh diced tomatoes

1 1/2 cup canned garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

2 ounces feta cheese, crumbled

1/4 cup fresh red onions, julienne sliced

6 tablespoons Greek feta vinaigrette


Mix lettuces and herbs together. Place all vegetables, except onions, in a bowl and toss gently with the dressing. Garnish with feta cheese and onions.

Nutritional information per 2-cup serving

242 calories

10 grams protein

26 grams carbohydrates

12 grams total fat

14 milligrams cholesterol

804 milligrams sodium

summercoverThis recipe comes from Morrison Healthcare, food service provider for Upstate Medical University and appears in the summer 2015 issue of Upstate Health magazine.


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Endoscopic surgery leaves salivary gland intact, no scars

People in need of salivary gland surgery have more options, thanks to a new ear, nose and throat surgeon on staff at Upstate.

Mark Marzouk, MD

Mark Marzouk, MD

Mark Marzouk, MD, the chief of the division of head and neck oncologic surgery, is one of the few surgeons in New York who is trained in an endoscopic procedure that allows the surgeon to simultaneously detect, diagnose and treat inflammatory and obstructive disorders of the salivary ductal system without having to remove the salivary gland.

“Our ability to visualize and treat the specific cause of the inflammation or obstruction allows us to save the salivary gland, leaving the patient with no external scars and at no risk of facial nerve injury,” Marzouk said. “Other benefits include less recovery time, same day discharge, and the resumption of normal activity the next day.”

summercoverThe salivary glands play a role in digestion, keeping the mouth moist and supporting healthy teeth by producing saliva. Depending on the severity of their condition, patients who have surgery on the salivary glands may be able to return home the same day.

Hear a radio interview with Marzouk on the subject.

This article appears in the summer 2015 issue of Upstate Health magazine.



Posted in cancer, community, ENT, hospital, surgery | Leave a comment

Tech expert offers computer training to help bridge the digital gap

Joe Huber (background, standing) works with (from front to back) Robert Chapman, Jorge Varona and Patrick Carroll in the computer lab at the Rescue Mission on GIfford Street in Syracuse. (PHOTO BY ROBERT MESCAVAGE)

Joe Huber (background, standing) works with (from front to back) Robert Chapman, Jorge Varona and Patrick Carroll in the computer lab at the Rescue Mission on Gifford Street in Syracuse. (PHOTO BY ROBERT MESCAVAGE)

A senior programmer at Upstate spends some of his free time helping to close the digital divide. That’s the division between those with computer and Internet access and skill sets, and those without.

Joe Huber volunteers at the Rescue Mission in Syracuse, where he teaches computer skills to clients and serves on the mission’s Information Technology steering committee.

His Digital Bridge Class is offered to Rescue Mission clients who are seeking employment or general computer skills. They learn Microsoft Windows and Office, including Word, and they learn how to search the Internet and use email. In addition, they learn about identity security and precautions they should take in cyberspace. At the successful completion of the course, students are awarded personal computers that have been donated by local supporters of the mission.

“It’s been a real eye opener. It’s been one of the most interesting things I’ve ever done,” Huber said. The class had to be adapted. Some of the students needed beginner-type training. which focused on the keyboard, punctuation and literacy, before they could move on to computer skills.

summercoverThe first group recently graduated, and Huber said he looks forward to future classes. He enjoys teaching, and he enjoys learning about the people whom he helps.

This article appears in the summer 2015 issue of Upstate Health magazine.

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Medical student reviews book: ‘Internal Medicine’

By John Lofrese

51fel5lylqL._SX329_BO1,204,203,200_Terrence Holt, MD, PhD’s book, “Internal Medicine: A Doctor’s Stories,” follows its author under the pseudonym Harper through his residency training in a series of nine vignettes that capture the gravity, intensity and absurdity of medical education’s most formative years.

Neither sterile case review nor dramatic storytelling, each chapter seamlessly falls somewhere in between, demonstrating both the author’s talent and the reality of daily life as a resident. Sharing the experience of a resident’s nerve-wracking first night on call, the guilty pleasure of an exciting diagnosis, and misguided feelings of detached expertise, readers are brought to Holt’s conclusion that the study of medicine is never truly over.

For busy medical professionals, this collection of short stories is the perfect way to relax and reflect.

Lofrese is a medical student at Upstate Medical University.


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Cellphone-assisted diagnosis saved a newborn, guided a career

Rahul Dudhani, MD, remembers when he was new to Syracuse and had a chance – but influential – encounter in June 2012 at Café Kubal.

Rahul Dudhani, MD

Rahul Dudhani, MD

He was a few weeks away from starting his surgical training at Upstate, and enjoying a rare day off, when he noticed a man looking intently at his cellphone in the downtown Syracuse coffee shop. The man turned out to be pediatric cardiologist Frank Smith, MD.

Samaritan Medical Center in Watertown had contacted Smith for his expertise because a newborn baby was in cardiac distress, and there was no pediatric cardiologist on hand. Smith was trying to view the echocardiogram and highly detailed images of the newborn’s heart, but his new cellphone did not immediately connect to the café’s wireless network.

Dudhani helped him. Moments later, the young physician received his first lesson in cardiac pathology from Smith, a member of Upstate’s faculty, and a man who would become a mentor.

Examining the echocardiogram and images of the newborn’s heart, Smith diagnosed a rare and dangerous condition called total anomalous pulmonary venous return. Blood was not flowing properly within the heart’s chambers. The baby would need surgery, and soon.

“Rahul’s help was well timed,” Smith said. “This was a rare heart problem, potentially a life or death situation for the baby.”

summercoverThe baby was transferred to the neonatal intensive care unit at Crouse Hospital and days later underwent surgery at Upstate University Hospital.

Dudhani began his surgical residency at Upstate a few months after meeting Smith. Today he is a fourth-year resident, specializing in pediatric cardiac surgery.

This article appears in the summer 2015 issue of Upstate Health magazine.

Posted in cardiac, community, emergency, Golisano, hospital, medical student, surgery | Leave a comment

Minimally invasive laser surgery targets excess tissue while leaving prostate intact

Jessica Paonessa, MD

Jessica Paonessa, MD

An enlarged prostate can affect the flow of a man’s urine and create urgency and frequency issues that can impact his daily activities and sleep. Medications are often prescribed, but they may only offer temporary relief and intolerable side effects.

“For many men, taking medicine for this condition isn’t something they want to do long term, and for other patients, the medications may not be effective,” said Jessica Paonessa, MD, an assistant professor of urology at Upstate who offers an alternative. “In these cases, the next step is to remove the obstructive tissue surgically.”

Male prostate anatomy lateral view

A side view of the prostate (in red)

She offers a minimally invasive surgery called holmium laser enucleation of the prostate. A high-powered laser removes the obstructive portion of an enlarged prostate in its entirety. The surgeon accesses the prostate through the urethra and uses the laser to separate the obstructive tissue from the original prostate. A device cuts the tissue into small pieces and extracts it using suction.

“This allows for a thorough cleanout of the blocking tissue and offers patients many benefits,” Paonessa said.

The prostate, which is left intact, retracts to its original size and allows the patient to regain the ability to urinate without difficulty. Patients remain in the hospital for approximately 24 hours and are able to return to their daily activities without restrictions in seven to 10 days.

Paonessa said the results of the surgery are long-lasting, “and patients experience life-changing results. They can travel, sleep through the night and return to their normal daily activities.”

summercoverHear a radio interview with Paonessa about this procedure.

This article appears in the summer 2015 issue of Upstate Health magazine.

Posted in community, health care, hospital, surgery, urology | Leave a comment