What to do with your great idea


Sean Ammirati believes the world has lots of problems that need to be fixed. “Part of the key to fixing those problems is getting more and more people to think entrepreneurially,” he said at a conference at Upstate’s Central New York Biotech Accelerator this fall.

Ammirati, author of “The Science of Growth,” spent 12 years building and selling businesses in the media and software industries. Today he teaches at Carnegie Mellon University and leads Birchmere Labs, a seed and studio fund focused on community-driven commerce startups. He told conference attendees how to go about commercializing their innovations – and cautioned them that entrepreneurship has a high failure rate, even when done perfectly.

  1. Have a great founders’ vision, one that is contrarian and correct. Entrepreneurs create the world the way it ought to be, Ammirati says, but even if their vision challenges the status quo, it may be incorrect. Or, their vision may be ahead of its time, and the world just has to catch up to it.
  2. Is the market large enough to justify your time and resources? “Enough” is purposefully vague because the threshold differs among entrepreneurs and among projects. “I’m shocked by the number of entrepreneurs who don’t research if they have a scalable idea,” Ammirati says.
  3. Does it solve a real problem? When you create something, it’s easy to fall in love with its features. Just remember that customers only care about the problem you are solving for them.

Entrepreneurs face a straightforward question about whether their product solves a problem for a defined group of people, which Ammirati says is easily answered using the scientific method. That is, you build something, you measure it, you learn from it – and then you rebuild, measure again and learn more.

 This article appears in the winter 2017 issue of Upstate Health magazine.



Posted in health care, health careers, technology | Tagged , ,

Books to nurture the spirit

How to define and achieve wellness

Kaushal Nanavati, MD, explains how nutrition, physical exercise, stress management and spiritual wellness “are the roots of health, peace and contentment” in “Core 4 of Wellness,” a book he published in May.

“You must feed these roots if you want to make real, positive change in your life,” says Nanavati, an assistant professor of family medicine and the medical director of integrative therapy at Upstate.

The book is designed to help readers define and refine their values, goals and vision for life, and to figure out the source of any unhappiness or discontent. It provides exercises to help devise the best ways to handle stress, models for improving eating habits and routines for physical activity.

Nanavati provides guidance in how to pinpoint problems, so they can be solved, and how to remain calm and positive in any given situation by finding balance and peace.

“Core 4 Wellness” is for sale on Amazon.com.

Personal tales of inspiration

“Journeys by Heart,” a new book produced by Upstate’s Center for Spiritual Care, contains 21 inspirational stories from people who work in the hospital.

Bimenyimana Onesime, known as Kofi, was an intern when he interviewed staff members and brought their stories to life in a book designed by Susan Keeter, Upstate’s creative services director.

Onesime tells his own story of fleeing his homeland, the Republic of Congo, for a refugee camp in Tanzania and his life-changing immigration to Syracuse, where he flourished in high school. He now attends SUNY Canton.

“I could not believe that someone like me — who grew up in a camp, had no chance of higher education and struggled with the English language — was on his way to being successful,” Onesime writes.

Copies of this book, the fifth published by Spiritual Care, are available by calling 315-464-4687 or emailing chaplain@upstate.edu

The Rev. Terry Culbertson, who directs the Center for Spiritual Care, says the books have a special purpose. “Spiritual care is about what gives us meaning, purpose and hope in our lives, especially when challenged by suffering and illness,” she says. “It is our hope and prayer that these books are instruments of encouragement for all who read them.”

 This article appears in the winter 2017 issue of Upstate Health magazine. Hear a “HealthLink on Air”  interview with Nanavati on the four principles of wellness outlined in his book.


Posted in alternative/integrative medicine, diet/nutrition, health care, mental health/emotional health, spiritual care

Warning: Liquid nicotine can be lethal

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are small devices that heat a nicotine solution to create a vapor that is then inhaled, or "vaped." If ingested, a quarter teaspoon of that liquid is enough to kill a toddler.

Electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, are small devices that heat a nicotine solution to create a vapor that is inhaled, or “vaped.” If ingested, a quarter teaspoon of that liquid is enough to kill a toddler.


A Mohawk Valley toddler got ahold of an uncapped container of “Heartland Vapes,” a liquid nicotine product. He drank some.

Within minutes, the 18-month-old boy was vomiting. Then the seizures started. His heart stopped beating by the time the ambulance arrived. Paramedics worked to revive him as they raced to the hospital, where doctors and nurses took over. The youngster did not survive.

His death led to the Child Nicotine Poisoning Prevention Act, signed into federal law in January 2016. It requires e-liquid manufacturers to comply with standards established by the Poison Prevention Packaging Act of 1970 by using special packaging that is difficult for children under 5 to open.

Just a quarter teaspoon of liquid nicotine is enough to kill a toddler, Upstate toxicologists point out in the journal Clinical Toxicology. Collaborating on the letter that was published Aug. 19 were doctors of pharmacy William Eggleston, Jeanna Marraffa and Christine Stork, and Nicholas Nacca, MD. The four work together at the Upstate New York Poison Center in Syracuse.

They reported that the American Association of Poison Control Centers saw a 236 percent increase in calls related to e-liquid exposure in 2014, compared with the previous three years. “Nearly 60 percent of those exposure involved children less than 5 years of age,” their article says.

It goes on to say that severe outcomes occurred greater than 2½ times more frequently in children exposed to e-liquid as compared with those exposed to traditional cigarettes.

Pediatricians and professionals working in poison control centers have expressed concerns over liquid nicotine products that are used in electronic cigarettes. The Upstate toxicologists say it’s important for people to be aware of the potential dangers — and to take precautions to prevent additional tragic exposures. Any liquid nicotine product should be kept out of the reach of children.

The Upstate New York Poison Center is available 24 hours per day, every day, at 800-222-1222.

This article appears in the winter 2017 issue of Upstate Health magazine. Hear a radio interview/podcast about the dangers of electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes).

Posted in death/dying, drugs/medications/pharmacy, health care, poison center/toxicology, prevention/preventive medicine, public health, safety, Upstate Golisano Children's Hospital/pediatrics | Tagged , , , ,

Ancient herb appears useful as anti-stress therapy



An herb used for centuries in India is gaining recognition in the United States as a way to reduce stress, and scientists at Upstate say their research indicates the herb, called ashwagandha, can help people with anxiety disorders.

Ashwagandha is an anti-inflammatory supplement that works as an adaptogen, helping the body resist damage from both physical and mental stress, says Kaushal Nanavati, MD, medical director of integrative therapy at Upstate. He says it can also improve sleep quality.

Nanavati was involved in assessing five studies in which people took ashwagandha or a similar-looking pill known as a placebo. All of the studies showed that people who took ashwagandha saw a greater improvement in anxiety than those who took the placebo. Nanavati and colleagues published their assessment in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine. They say additional studies would be necessary to determine the best dose of ashwagandha.

“Ashwagandha has an effect on receptors in the brain that impacts the serotonergic and GABAergic pathways, working as an adaptogen,” Nanavati told PsychiatryAdvisor.com. Serotonin pathways help regulate mood, and GABAergic pathways reduce nerve cell excitability throughout the nervous system.

The herb, sometimes referred to as Indian ginseng, has been used to treat various maladies, from arthritis to hiccups to backache. As a stress-reduction aid, ashwagandha may help people with anxiety disorders and with depression, Nanavati says, although the study in which he was involved focused only on anxiety.

Depression and anxiety disorders affect a wide swath of the American population. An article from the Archives of General Psychiatry projects that nearly 30 percent of Americans will be affected by an anxiety disorder sometime during their lifetime, and the National Center for Health Statistics says use of antidepressants increased by almost 400 percent from 1988 to 2008.

Physicians are eager to find reliable alternative treatments, to reduce the side effects from commonly prescribed antidepressant and anti-anxiety medications.

Upstate’s Christopher Morley, PhD, told PsychiatryAdvisor.com that both patients and physicians are becoming more open to plant-based remedies for mental disorders, partially because “while the ‘Western’ medical system has produced amazing strides in the treatment of human health issues, there are often trade-offs associated with standard treatments.” Morley, an associate professor of public health, family medicine and psychiatry, serves as interim chair of the department of public health and preventive medicine, as well as vice chair for research in the department of family medicine.

Ashwagandha is available in pill form or as a liquid extract. Nanavati says it is generally well-tolerated in lower doses of up to 3 grams, but he cautions that people should consider taking it only with the advice of a health care provider.

Whether ashwagandha is likely to help you depends on your reason for taking it, and what other health conditions you have, he says.

Can ashwagandha help?

The Indian herb called ashwagandha is gaining acceptance as a possible treatment for stress, which often manifests as a symptom of anxiety, depression or both.

bottle* Anxiety is a mental health disorder characterized by feelings of worry, anxiety, or fear that are strong enough to interfere with one’s daily activities.

* Depression is one of the most common mental disorders in the United States, an illness that negatively affects how you feel, the way you think and how you behave.

Sources: National Institute of Mental Health, American Psychiatric Association

This article appears in the winter 2017 issue of Upstate Health magazine.

Posted in alternative/integrative medicine, drugs/medications/pharmacy, health care, mental health/emotional health, psychology/psychiatry | Tagged , , , , ,

Syracuse hospitals collaborate as well as compete


Advertisements for the various Syracuse hospitals may lead you to believe they’re locked in a competitive battle. But for the past two years, medical staffs and administrators have worked together on quality initiatives designed to keep patients safe.

Upstate University and Crouse hospitals, and St. Joseph’s Hospital Health Center collectively are improving hand hygiene practices and reducing the rate of surgical site infections and life-threatening infection complications. They have also standardized some protocols to improve patient safety. For example, wristband identification colors are the same at all of the hospitals.

“Our vision is to create a community of care in which a patient can receive the same commitment to quality and safe care in any hospital in the Syracuse area,” hospital officials wrote in The Post-Standard newspaper in October. Signing the letter to the editor were Hans Cassagnol, MD, Upstate’s chief quality officer; Bonnie Grossman, MD, associate chief medical officer at Upstate; nurse Christopher Jordan, director of quality resources at St. Joseph’s; and Mickey Lebowitz, MD, clinical quality medical director at Crouse.

Through this quality collaborative, officials have shared the best ways to treat patients and reduce medical errors and readmission rates.  Working together helps eliminate variations in care and can help improve the overall health of the community, known as “population health.” It can also lead to more efficient use of health care resources.

This article appears in the winter 2017 issue of Upstate Health magazine.

Posted in community, health care, infectious disease, prevention/preventive medicine

Breast-feeding is healthy for baby and mother


The majority of babies born in the United States receive some breast milk, but experts including Upstate’s Jayne Charlamb, MD, say mothers and their infants would benefit from breast-feeding exclusively for at least six months.

Charlamb, an associate professor of obstetrics and gynecology, medicine and pediatrics, specializes in breast health and breast-feeding medicine at Upstate. She points out that humans have nourished infants through breast-feeding for millennia.

“Breast-feeding is the physiologically normal way to nourish human infants,” says Charlamb. Bottle-feeding overshadowed the practice so that in the early 1970s, just one of four infants was breast-fed at hospital discharge, she says. “Since that time, we’ve seen our breast-feeding rates go up.”

Seventy-nine percent of babies receive some breast milk. By six months of age, 49 percent are still breast-feeding, and just 19 percent are exclusively breast-fed, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention national immunization survey conducted in 2011.

Charlamb says what’s optimal is for mothers to feed their babies only breast milk for the first six months of life and then gradually add complementary foods along with breast milk for the first one to two years of life — and even beyond if the mother and child both wish to continue.

Some of her patients have asked whether breast-feeding increases their risk for osteoporosis. Charlamb tells them that during pregnancy and lactation, a woman’s bone density naturally decreases. That’s temporary. Bone density is typically restored after the baby is weaned. Charlamb also explains the multitude of lasting health benefits for the woman and her baby, including a decreased risk of certain cancers and other diseases.

“Health outcomes for both mom and baby depend on those first few years of the way we nourish our infants,” she says.

 This article appears in the winter 2017 issue of Upstate Health magazine. Hear Charlamb discuss the benefits of breast-feeding in a radio interview/podcast on “HealthLink on Air.”

Posted in health care, HealthLink on Air, maternity/obstetrics, Upstate Golisano Children's Hospital/pediatrics, women's health/gynecology | Tagged , , , ,

Advanced fertility care now available at Upstate

Alan Penzias, MD (left), and Michael Alper, MD, offer advanced fertility care in Syracuse.

Through a partnership with Boston IVF, Upstate now offers advanced fertility services to individuals and couples in Central New York.

Two reproductive endocrinologists from Boston IVF — Alan Penzias, MD, and Michael Alper, MD — travel to Syracuse two or three times a month to see patients, conduct diagnostic tests and provide general fertility treatments from the Physicians’ Office Building, 725 Irving Ave. in Syracuse. Patients travel to a facility in Albany for implantation, but monitoring takes place in Syracuse.

Robert Silverman, MD, professor and chair of obstetrics and gynecology at Upstate, says Boston IVF provides a valuable addition for patients, as well as medical school residents who will participate in fertility care and innovative reproductive research.

The American Society of Reproductive Medicine says one in eight couples has trouble getting pregnant or sustaining a pregnancy and that almost 25 percent of infertile couples have more than one factor that contributes to their infertility.

“Our extensive cycle volume, treatment data and library of fertility analysis allow us to both quickly diagnose and solve difficult and rare reproductive cases that many other centers cannot handle or have never before encountered,” says Penzias.

Prospective patients can get more information by calling 315-703-3050.

health-winter-2017cvrThis article appears in the winter 2017 issue of Upstate Health magazine. 

Posted in diabetes/endocrine/metabolism, maternity/obstetrics, technology, women's health/gynecology

News about Upstate you may have missed

A drawing of the planned Upstate Health and Wellness Center, as viewed from East Adams Street. The eight-story building will rise on what is now a parking lot across the street from the Upstate Cancer Center. (ARCHITECTURAL RENDERING COURTESY OF STANTEC)


MANIKA SURYADEVARA, MD, and Joseph Domachowske, MD, received the Others’ Award, the highest civic honor bestowed by the Salvation Army, for their efforts to vaccinate children and families in Central New York. Senior research support specialist Cynthia Bonville received a certificate of appreciation for her work with the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital team at the September ceremony.

JENNIFER MOFFAT, PhD, is working on a drug that would treat the shingles virus, which causes a potentially debilitating and painful skin rash. Her lab has partnered with NanoViricides, a development stage company in Connecticut, to study new antiviral compounds and how they might work in nanoparticles. Moffat is an associate professor of microbiology and immunology.

STUDENTS FROM CORNELL and Syracuse universities raised more than $132,000 during dance marathons held on their respective campuses to benefit the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital. The Cornell Big Red Thon pulled in $21,000 on Nov. 5, while SU’s OttoTHON raised more than $111,000 a day later. More than 1,400 students registered to participate in the two events.

A NEW LAW ALLOWING 16- and 17-year-olds to join the New York State Donate Life Registry takes effect Feb. 14. Teens will be able to document their intent for donation. Parents or legal guardians would be notified of the documentation and would still have final authorization.

The law is designed to remove some of the burden from parents who may be left wondering about a child’s wishes with regard to organ donation. If a teen registered intent to become an organ donor, that would convert to consent when he or she turns 18.

THE GENETICIST WHO discovered the BRCA1 gene and its link to breast cancer risk spoke at Upstate’s first Presidential Symposium in October. Mary-Claire King, PhD, addressed a standing-room-only crowd at Upstate’s CNY Biotech Accelerator.

UPSTATE UNIVERSITY HOSPITAL now makes available interpreters who are fluent in 275 languages 24 hours a day, through a company called Language Line Solutions. Secure audio and video connections are available in 35 spoken languages, and audio connections are available for 240 other languages.

THE CENTRAL NEW YORK Library Resources Council recognized the Health Sciences Library at Upstate as top academic library of the year, and clinical outreach librarian Olivia Tsistinas as academic library staff all-star of the year. Judges who represent library systems across the state said the Upstate library goes “above and beyond” what libraries typically offer. “There is extensive outreach and collaboration with the community,” the judges noted. Visit online at upstate.edu/library

UPSTATE’S PSYCHIATRY DEPARTMENT is collaborating with the state’s Hutchings Psychiatric Center on a Mental Health First Aid class called Project Aware. It’s  designed to help identify youth with mental health problems and get them help, lessen the stigma and improve awareness of mental illness. The free eight-hour course is for adults who work in schools, youth programs and other areas that deal with people ages 16 to 25. Learn more by calling Hutchings at 315-426-6812.

CONSTRUCTION IS SET to begin this spring on a $140-million addition to Upstate’s health system. The Upstate Health and Wellness Center will rise on the parking lot across from the hospital’s main entrance on East Adams Street. A variety of health and wellness services will be available in the building, aimed at providing medical access, better care and lower costs.

health-winter-2017cvrThis article appears in the winter 2017 issue of Upstate Health magazine.

Posted in health care

Upstate professor wrote the book on hematology


The late William Williams, MD

The late William Williams, MD

The world’s most highly regarded reference text on the mechanisms and clinical management of blood diseases has Upstate roots.

“Williams Hematology,” now in its ninth edition, was first published in 1972 as just “Hematology.” The Williams name was subsequently added to honor the book’s first editor-in-chief, William Williams, MD.

Williams was professor and chair of the department of medicine at Upstate when the book came out. Later he served as dean of the College of Medicine. Throughout his career he was active in patient care, research and education. “Dr. Williams was known as the man with the bow tie and gentle smile who added a humanistic touch to a competitive field,” an internal medicine resident wrote about him in 2008 for the journal The Hematologist.

Williams’ book “guided generations of clinicians, biomedical researchers and trainees in many disciplines through the origins, pathophysiological mechanisms and management of benign and malignant disorders of blood cells and coagulation proteins,” publisher McGraw-Hill says. His presence at Upstate attracted medical residents who wanted to specialize in hematology.

Each new edition of “Williams Hematology” is updated as the field advances, by authors and editors who are known internationally for their research and clinical achievements.

Williams died Nov. 4 at his Jamesville home. He was 89.

health-winter-2017cvrThis article appears in the winter 2017 issue of Upstate Health magazine.


Posted in history, medical education | Tagged , , , ,

Hospital’s new PET scanner another tool to detect cancer, other diseases

Hospital building - Cancer centerA new positron emission tomography machine at Upstate University Hospital can reveal the onset of a disease process before anatomical changes would show up on other types of imaging scans.

PET scans rely on a radiotracer — a radioactive atom attached to a chemical substance — to be able to show metabolic changes in an organ or tissue at the cellular level. The chemical substance used depends on the area being studied. Glucose is used for PET scans of the brain, for instance, because the brain uses glucose for its metabolism.

Patients receive the radiotracer through an intravenous line. It circulates through the body for about an hour, attracting the cells of interest, which then show up in the series of images taken by radiology technicians.

Cancer doctors often use PET scans for help determining the stage of a cancer, to detect its spread or to follow the progress of treatment. PET scans are also used in the diagnosis of neurological conditions, to assess cardiac function and for other reasons – and they may be done in conjunction with other tests and imaging scans.

health-winter-2017cvrThis article appears in the winter 2017 issue of Upstate Health magazine.

Posted in brain/neurology, cancer, health care, medical imaging/radiology | Tagged