Header Logo



College of Medicine

Takisha Morancy and Christopher George Awarded 2021 Full Year Research Scholarship!

College of Medicine Lead group photo
From Left to Right: Christopher D. George, MS3; Monica Sweeny, MD, MPH, Chair of the Board of Trustees of the Alumni Association; Takisha Morancy, MS3; and Richard Sadovsky, MD, MS ,Chair of the Alumni Association Research Scholarship Committee

Research is one of the essential underpinnings of medicine, and here at Downstate, it continues to be at the heart of our academic programming, and central to our institutional mission and core offerings.  Annually, for nearly 20-years, the College of Medicine (COM) Alumni Association has awarded the “Full Year Research Scholarship” in support of student-led medical research— providing up to $36,000 for students to conduct and complete their investigations throughout the course of one full academic year. The scholarship funds are awarded to students with a distinguished academic record and whose work has demonstrated a vested interest in a particular area of medical research.

To be eligible, students need one full academic year under their belts, and must articulate their research experience and interests, professional goals, as well as a comprhensive overview of their research proposals. Considering the high volume of applications from highly-competetive applicants, the selection process is managed carefully by the Alumni Association, with each application reviewed and ranked by three specialized researchers from various specialties. Following the review and ranking, Richard Sadovsky, M.D., Professor and Chair of the Department of Family Medicine, presents the results before the the Board of Trustees of the Alumni Association, chaired by Monica Sweeny, M.D., MPH, FACS, Professor Emeritus in the School of Public Health's Department of Health Policy and Management. Together, the Board of Trustees determine the number of recommended recipients, and then vote on the winners.

I am excited to share that this year, two third-year underrepresented minority medical students, Takisha Morancy and Christopher D. George, were selected as the recipients of the COM Alumni Association’s 2021 Full Year Research Scholarship!

Ms. Morancy’s project, “Symmetric Facial Nerve Reanimation,” stood out to the Board of Trustees for its ability to greatly advance existing scientific literature and was awarded first place and the top prize of $30,000 by members of the Alumni Association Board of Trustees. Mr. George took home the second prize of $10,000 for his research project, “Revitalizing Early-Stage Melanoma Treatment: Using Patient and Tumor Characteristics to Predict Distant Metastasis”. Both students will focus on their approved research proposals throughout the 2021-2022 Academic Year.

CONGRATULATIONS on this well-deserved honor, Ms. Morancy and Mr. George. I look forward to following the progress of your work over the coming year.

Awardees from the last couple of year’s scholarship cycle and their topics include:

  • Ryan Bender2020Towards Personalized Breast Cancer Care: A Vascularized, Three-Dimensional Biomimetic Platform for Patient Specific, Ex Vivo Studies of Breast Cancer
  • Natasha Masub2019: Blue Light Photodynamic Therapy as a Modulator of Gene Expression in Squamous Cell Carcinoma
  • Eric Schoenfeld2019:  Early Life Stress and Serotonin Transporter Gene Polymorphism Interaction: Impact on Hippocampal Volume Asymmetry
  • Jin Jyun Oh2019:  Outcome Measurements of RHO Retinopathy to Monitor the Efficacy of ‘ablate and replace’ gene therapy
  • Nadlie Toussaint2019:  Overcoming Chemo Resistance in Pancreatic Cancers by Blockade of EXTL


Downstate Holds Sixth Annual Cancer Health Disparities Symposium


Last month, Downstate hosted the Sixth Annual Cancer Health Disparities Symposium to address the pooor cancer health care outcomes in communities of color. The symposium— sponsored by Downstate's Department of Medicine’s Division of Gastroenterology and the Brooklyn Health Disparities Center along with Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and Stony Brook University sponsored— was designed to tackle the roles healthcare providers, scientists, and community groups can play in mitigating the cancer health disparities in communities of color.

The Symposium was divided into three sessions:

  • Session 1 included talks on colon cancer and screening including a colon cancer survivor and advocate
  • Session 2 covered presentations on pancreatic cancer and the New York Genome Center’s Polyethnic-1000 Initiative
  • and Session 3 addressed machine learning/artificial intelligence’s potential role in cancer screening and research.

The above sessions were led by a series of experts from the University of Puerto Rico, Henry Ford Pancreatic Cancer Center, University of Massachusetts Medical School, Moffitt Cancer Center, Weill Cornell Medicine, University of Kansas Medical Center, and the American Cancer Society.

The symposium kicked off with F. Charles Brunicardi, M.D., FACS, Dean of the College of Medicine, Moro Salifu, M.D., MPH, MBA, FACP, Professor & Chair for the Department of Medicine, Chief of the Division of Nephrology, and Director of the Kidney Transplant Program, and David Tuveson, M.D., Ph.D., Director of the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Cancer Center, giving opening remarks. The event later culminated with Otis Brawley, M.D., former Chief Medical and Scientific Officer of the American Cancer Society and currently the Bloomberg Distinguished Professor of Oncology and Epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, providing the keynote address entitled, “Cancer Control in the 21st Century and Disparities in Health”. 

During Closing Remarks, Alfred Lacks Carter, Jr., the grandson of Henrietta Lacks, gave updates on the passage of the Henrietta Lacks Enhancing Cancer Research Act of 2019 and upcoming events for HELA100, Henrietta Lacks Centennial Celebration.

At the conclusion of the symposium, participants walked away with the ability to:

  • “Interpret the current research infrastructure for engaging cancer health disparities research
  • Distinguish the recent advances made in cancer health disparities research
  • Realize the experience of cancer screening in minority populations
  • and List tactics to improve participation of minority populations in cancer research studies.”

Many thanks to Drs. Brunicardi, Salifu, and to all participating faculty and staff in the Department of Medicine for making this virtual symposium a success.

If you missed the event, CLICK HERE to watch on-demand recordings of every session. (To view, click on View Sessions on the right side menu, then on the meeting title and Click on Presentation.)

*PASSCODE for viewing: J61?cwK?


School of Graduate studies

Dr. William Fyke Becomes First Student to Complete Downstate-University of Bordeaux Program


Congratulations are in order to William Fyke, fourth year MD-PhD student in the Neural & Behavioral Science program in Downstate’s School of Graduate Studies (SGS), who is the first student to be trained via the SUNY Downstate-University of Bordeaux cotutelle program. He will receive doctoral degrees from both institutions this year. 

For his Ph.D. work, Dr. Fyke was dually supported and trained by SUNY Health Sciences University and the University of Bordeaux, France in the laboratory of Susanna Pietropaolo. His thesis co-advisors were Juan Marcos Alarcon, Ph.D., Associate Professor in Downstate’s Department of Pathology-Division of Neuroscience, and Milen Velinov and Kathy Chadman at the Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities in Staten Island, New York.

Prior to entering this MD-PhD program, Dr. Fyke worked with children on the autism spectrum as an Occupational Therapy Assistant. His research led to him recently defending his doctoral thesis, “Identifying Therapeutic Targets for The Treatment of Fragile X Syndrome: Implications for Autism Spectrum Disorders”, which was passed unanimously by a thesis advisory panel including faculty from both institutions, the Complutense University of Madrid, Spain, and the Institute for Basic Research in Developmental Disabilities in Staten Island.

Dr. Fyke was also recently published in the February 2021 edition of the Journal Human Immunology, as a co-first author, with lead first author, Dr. Rachelle Mendoza, M.D., PGY4-Pathology Resident Physician. This paper—from the laboratory of Allen J.Norin, Ph.D., D (ABHI), Professor of Medicine and Cell Biology and a member of the Program in Molecular & Cellular Biology in the School of Graduate Studies—speaks to our campus’ work on the use of convalescent plasma to treat severe COVID cases.

The paper was additionally authored by Dr. Robert Colbourn, MD-PhD candidate, as well as other members of the faculty of Downstate, and highlights collaborations with Mirimus, Inc., a tenant at Downstate’s Biotechnology Incubator, the New York Blood Center, and the Memorial Sloane Kettering Cancer Center.

CONGRATULATIONS William on this great accomplishment and thank you for your contributions to medical literature.



School of Public Health

Public Health and STD Awareness Week: An Opportunity to Address Best Practices for Sexual Health

STD Awareness

April, which is National Minority Health Month, also includes the CDC’s STD Awareness Week, observed this year from April 7-11th.  Both observances find voice in a new multi-center study that examines HIV/STI prevention among young Black women, who are disproportionately at greater risk for HIV and sexually transmitted infections than young women of other ethnic/racial backgrounds. In Black and minority communities, culturally sensitive interventions, tailored to the community and led by individuals who reflect their community, are most effective.

Dr. Janet Rosenbaum

The primary author on this paper, Downstate’s very own Janet Rosenbaum, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Epidemiology and Biostatistics, also analyzed data and is the study’s correspondence editor.  Dr. Rosenbaum’s research focuses on educational and economic factors in adolescent health. Dr. Rosenbaum’s research has been published in numerous journals and covered by the New York Times and National Public Radio.

Her latest groundbreaking study, published in the March 11 edition of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, assessed the effectiveness of applying a culturally tailored, CDC-designated best practice intervention for HIV called Horizons to sexually transmitted infections among young Black women who had used alcohol at least three times in the past three months.

After finding that few Black women recruited into the study at family planning clinics used alcohol, researchers switched strategy and recruited from community venues such as public transit entrances near colleges and shopping areas. The women who recruited the participants were pairs of Black women: an experienced health educator and an MPH student. The intervention had a community advisory board that was an integral part of study planning and helped identify recruitment sites.

The study’s 560 participants were randomly assigned to one of three comparison groups—Horizons therapy when used alone; Horizons when used with an add-on intervention aimed at alcohol use (a known contributory factor in unsafe sex behavior); and a third control group using only best standards of care and nutritional intervention, but without behavioral therapy.

The reasons for the greater risks of HIV/STI among Black women are complex, says Dr. Rosenbaum. “They include mass incarceration of Black men, racism limiting opportunities, and risky sexual networks. In addition, Black women have different patterns of substance use.” In this study, any alcohol use was relatively rare, she says, but those who used alcohol even once a month were less likely to be helped by existing HIV prevention interventions.

Dr. Rosenbaum and colleagues found that the Horizons intervention approach greatly improved the odds of young women practicing safe sex, using condoms, and lowering problematic alcohol use. The group that used Horizons coupled with motivational therapy for alcohol use had even greater success rates.

Among the lessons learned:

  • Targeted behavioral interventions can be effective in improving safe sex behavior such as consistent condom use;
  • Interventions that address both unsafe sex and alcohol-use together can empower women to make healthier decisions and better communicate with partners;
  • Roughly 25 percent of the young women in this study tested positive for a previously undiagnosed STI. This suggests that recruiting study participants from community venues can reach populations that may not attend reproductive health clinics on their own, because many sexually transmitted infections are asymptomatic and go undiagnosed;
  • Clinicians should counsel their young women patients of all races that even moderate alcohol use can be problematic for women’s ability to negotiate condom use for HIV/STI prevention.

This study is particularly pertinent to New York State, which is among the top 10 states for STI rates, and to Brooklyn, where several communities, including East Flatbush where Downstate is located, have among the highest rates of STIs in the city.

The full impact of the pandemic on sexual health transmission is not yet known, says Dr. Rosenbaum, but as the economy reopens, and as bars and restaurants can operate more freely, there is increased urgency to also reopen and even expand treatment and testing services for sexual health.

The research was supported by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Besides Downstate, the study team included researchers from NYU, Emory University, Columbia and six additional academic medical centers.

Thank you, Dr. Rosenbaum, for your work on behalf of Downstate and the School of Public Health, and for being a passionate voice for health equity.

CLICK HERE to read the full-study, Horizons and Group Motivational Enhancement Therapy: HIV Prevention for Alcohol-Using Young Black Women, a Randomized Experiment.


School of Health Professions

OT Program Awarded $100k grant from the NYC Department of Health and Mental Hygiene

I'm excited to announce, that Downstate’s Occupational Therapy Program in the School of Health Professions, was awarded a $100,000 grant from the New York State Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, that will span from 2021 through 2023.

Intended to support the OT Program’s Specialization in Early Intervention, the grant will provide the opportunity for up to 10 students to receive a micro-credential in Early Intervention. Students will take four elective courses focusing on the unique practice area of Early Intervention and Family Centered Best Practices.  This award will also afford opportunities for our Occupational Therapy program to collaborate as an academic partner with the NYC Department of Mental Health and Hygiene, specifically within the Bureau of Early Intervention.  

Kelly Lavin

This award was secured under the leadership of Kelly Lavin, Ph.D., Chair of Occupational Therapy Program in the School of Health Professions. Dr. Lavin has more than 18-years of experience as an Occupational Therapist, specializing in the area of pediatrics. Dr. Lavin earned her doctorate from Boston University, and later served as Program Director for New York Institute of Technology’s (NYIT) Occupational Therapy program. PBefore this role, Dr. Lavin was the Academic Fieldwork Coordinator for NYIT. A respected OT professional and researcher, Dr. Lavin has presented locally, nationally, and globally on the topic of fieldwork education. In addition to fieldwork education, Dr. Lavin’s research interests include sensory processing disorder and executive dysfunction.

CONGRATULATIONS to the OT Department on this wonderful accomplishment, and thank you to Dr. Lavin for your leadership and for working to advance the Occupational Therapy profession, as well as the continued success and mission of SOHP. 


SOHP Leads the Way with Interprofessional Collaboration in Scholarship

Sohp Mental Hygene

Congratulations to the Downstate interprofessional team, led by Dean Allen Lewis, Ph.D., CRC, for their work authoring the recent chapter, “Cultural Competency in Rehabilitation Counseling and Other Health Professions,” in the 2021 textbook, Disability Studies for Human Services: An Interdisciplinary and Intersectionality Approach!

While these types of publications may be commonplace in the academe, what distinguishes this publication is that it is an example of Downstate’s capacity for interprofessional collaboration in scholarship.  The book includes eleven authors from a spectrum of Downstate schools, colleges, departments, and programs including:

  • Allen Lewis, Ph.D., CRC- SOHP
  • Adie Jumbo, Ph.D., ITIL- SOHP, Medical Informatics 
  • Andrea Trimmingham, MA, PA-C- SOHP, Physician Assistant 
  • Lori Hoepner, DrPH, MPH- School of Public Health 
  • Joanne Katz, PT, DPT, Ph.D. - SOHP, Phsical Therapy 
  • Susan Fraser-McCleary, RN, LMSW-UHB Staff
  • Felicia Thompson - UHB Staff
  • Daurn Tribble, MS, OTR/L- SOHP, Occupational Therapy
  • Brigitte Desport, DPS, OTR/L, BCP, ATP- SOHP, Dean's Office 
  • Carla Boutin-Foster, M.D. - College of Medicine
  • and Anika Daniels-Osaze, Ed.D. - College of Medicine.  

This scholarship also illustrates one of the cornerstone principles in SOHP 's ongoing research capacity building initiative—the "feeding the family first" principle, which aims to first apply the expertise within Downstate's workforce on scholarship efforts before engaging external collaborators.  It is a shining example of what can be accomplished when interprofessional collaboration is prioritized.

Congratulations to everyone who participated in and contributed to this publication! 


Research Roundup

Sugar Is Not Always Sweet: Hospitalized COVID-19 Patients Do Worse When They Have High Blood Sugar

Research Lead

Downstate researchers continue to assess the pathology of COVID-19 and share important treatment insights with colleagues across the country.

Dr. Sweirski

At ENDO 2021, this year’s annual meeting of the Endocrine Society, held virtually March 22-24, Samara Skwiersky, M.D., MPH, PGY2 Internal Medicine Resident, released information on the dangerous effects of high blood sugar on patients hospitalized for COVID. These can include higher ICU admissions, as well as higher mortality, intubation rates, and severe kidney injury. The findings held true for patients with and without diagnosed diabetes.

Dr. Skwiersky and her team retrospectively reviewed data from the charts of patients admitted to UHB for COVID-19 treatment between March 1 and May 15, 2020, at the height of the pandemic last spring.  Their study is the first known investigation of the impact of hyperglycemia on a largely Black population. Equally important, their work adds to the body of evidence on how pre-existing health conditions and inequities can affect minority communities and why these communities have significantly worse COVID outcomes. The virus has disproportionately affected people of color, including higher rates of hospitalization and death. Eighty-nine percent of the community served by Downstate is non-Hispanic Black.

The study included 708 adults with COVID-19. About half were men, and 54% (383 patients) already had a history of either type 1 or type 2 diabetes on admission. Patient outcomes were reviewed by the presence or absence of diabetes and by blood sugar values on admission. The majority of patients reviewed in the study did not have an available HbA1c reading within the 6 months prior to admission, meaning that patients identified as “non-diabetic” could actually include many latent or undiagnosed cases.

Among the diabetic patients, those with glucose levels higher than 140 milligrams per deciliter (mg/dl) had a 2-4 times higher likelihood of requiring ICU care and intubation, while those with a glucose level of 180 milligrams mg/dl or more fared even worse, with a two-fold increased risk of death.

An unexpected finding? Individuals without diabetes with these same glucose levels had an even higher risk of ICU admission, acute kidney injury, and death. It is unclear, said, Dr. Skwiersky, if hyperglycemia is the result of, or a cause of more severe COVID-19 illness.

“COVID-19 patients presenting to the hospital with hyperglycemia require closer observation, as they are likely to require more aggressive therapies,“ said Dr. Skwiersky. “More frequent glucose monitoring and intensive treatment with insulin therapy could improve outcomes in these patients.” The treatment target, said Dr. Skwiersky, should be a glucose value of less than 140 mg/dl.

ENDO 2021 drew more than 7,300 participants and served up more than 200 live and on-demand presentations on the latest news in the field. Dr. Skwiersky’s presentation was spotlighted by conference organizers as important news, and the study was highlighted in the medical news outlet Medpage Today, as well as numerous other media outlets.  

Thank you Dr. Skwiersky and all the members of your team – third-year medical student Sabrina Rosengarten, MPH; fourth-year students Megan Chang, Brandon DaSilva, Francisco Macaluso, Talia Meisel, and Alvin Oommen; and PGY3 Internal Medicine Resident Alistair Thomson, M.D. – as well as Mary Ann Banerji, M.D., FACP, Professor of Medicine and Chief of Endocrinology, for this significant work and for advancing Downstate’s reputation.


Downstate Shout Outs!

Shout out to…

Pediatric Endocrinology Fellows Ahmed Badran, MBBCH, and Assia Miller, M.D., for being awarded Helmsley Charitable Trust Abstract Awards in Type 1 Diabetes in recognition of their outstanding work. The award supported their attendance at the annual meeting of the Endocrine Society.

Carla Boutin-Foster, M.D., Associate Dean of Diversity Education and Research, for her appointment to the COVID-19 STEM Community Education and Empowerment Internship Steering Committee, a partnership with six New York City-area academic health centers and the Weill Cornell Medical Diversity Center.  The virtual Internship launched on March 27 and drew a first cohort of 775 diverse students from around the country and abroad.

Mark Stewart, M.D., Ph.D., Dean of the School of Graduate Studies, for receiving an “Editor’s Choice” designation in the latest issue of the Journal of Physiology for his Translational Perspective, “And When I Die, What Time Should I Expect It” – offering his viewpoint on a paper from the University of Iowa on sudden death in epilepsy. Dr. Stewart’s own research has focused on this phenomenon and developing tools and strategies to prevent it, including biomarkers that can be used to signal that the “death sequence” has started.

The five School of Public Health DrPH and MPH students who received Spring 2021 Leonard and Christine Szarek Fellow Awards: Ayanna Besson, Kunika Chahal, Nitya Devireddy, Alecia James, and Kristelle Pierre. The fellowship program was created by Michael Szarek, Ph.D., Associate Dean for Research Administration and Executive Director for the SPH Center for Clinical and Outcomes Research, in honor of his parents.

John A. Zubrovich, Director of New Media Services in the Department of Communications and Marketing, for having his photo of Downstate’s 1998 Nobel Prize winner Dr. Robert F. Furchgott prominently featured in a new community mural at the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. (Dr. Furchgott is a 1937 graduate of UNC.) The project was funded by the Wells Fargo Company as part of its nationwide art campaign.

Have a Shout Out to recommend?

Send to Ellen.watson@downstate.edu