Thursday, May 29, 2014

Substance Abuse, Internet Abuse and Family Intervention

Errol Rodriguez, Ph.D., Gordon F. Derner Institute of Advanced Psychological Studies assistant dean and director of the master’s program in general psychology and mental health counseling, has spent much of the last decade studying families who have been affected by addiction. “Somewhere between four and five significant others are affected by one person’s addiction,” explains Dr. Rodriguez. “We know that somewhere around 23 million people are substance abusers annually, so that’s about one-third of the country each year that’s affected.”

One way Dr. Rodriguez hopes to reach more of the people affected by substance abuse is through Community Reinforcement and Family Training (CRAFT) interventions. Rather than the traditional model of intervention, which involves a surprise confrontation with the addict, the CRAFT model is a strategically planned intervention where family members first discuss their role in enabling abuse and then determine what they can do so the using person begins to feel the consequences of his or her substance abuse.

“It’s a powerful behavioral therapy approach,” Dr. Rodriguez says. “With over 80 percent of the people who begin the CRAFT model, their significant other enters treatment.”

“That doesn’t mean they stop using,” Dr. Rodriguez clarifies, “but family members often feel a great sense of relief knowing that their loved one has started to get help.”

Dr. Rodriguez’s most recent research focuses on a new type of abuse: Internet addiction, particularly among adolescents.

“Some young adults are really glued to their phones, to the Internet, in a way that becomes problematic for their lives and their families,” Dr. Rodriguez says. “It’s different from other teenagers who enjoy their phones but don’t seem obsessed with them.”

Dr. Rodriguez is examining vulnerabilities to this type of compulsivity. “Is it similar to other addictions, like alcohol or marijuana?” Dr. Rodriguez wonders. “Are some of the same markers that put teens at risk for other behaviors, things like low self-esteem and eagerness to fit in, involved in compulsive Internet use?” In the coming year, he’ll begin to find out.

This piece appeared in the Erudition 2013 edition.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Pioneering Conservation Physiology

by Ela Schwartz

From tiny arthropods, we travel up the food chain to the large, marine mammals known as pinnipeds, which include the seals and sea lions studied by Heather Liwanag, Ph.D., assistant professor of biology.

Unlike smaller animals, such as the geckos Dr. Liwanag also studies, these long-lived mammals “are not going to adapt or evolve as rapidly, and a lot of them are in trouble. So we need to figure out how to keep them with us, and not just in zoos,” she says.

Dr. Liwanag is active in what she calls the “upand- coming” field of conservation physiology, which looks at how animals physiologically respond to environmental changes. “The common thread in my research is critical temperature,” she says, meaning the maximum and minimum temperatures organisms can tolerate before having to adjust their physiology.

Another question she seeks to answer is: “How fast does a seal’s fur grow back?” Why? Because researchers glue data tags to the seal’s fur, then cut the seal’s fur to remove the tag. “No one has looked at how the loss of fur may compromise the seal’s ability to insulate itself, including when it dives for food into higher pressures,” she says. Dr. Liwanag raised the funds to purchase a small hyperbaric chamber that re-creates the higher pressures that occur underwater so that she and her students can insert pelts and measure the amount of water that can penetrate the fur under pressure.

Dr. Liwanag is also collaborating with Linnea Pearson, a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Alaska Anchorage, to study insulation in harp seals from birth to adult and how this relates to environmental temperature changes. She explains that baby seals are born on the Arctic sea ice and nurse for only 12 days before they are abandoned by their mothers. They fast on the ice for another four to six weeks. “When they are first born, they have very little blubber and instead rely on thick, fluffy fur to keep warm,” Dr. Liwanag explains. “As the blubber develops, their fur changes from the thick pelage they had at birth to a thin, more streamlined…pelt like the adults have.” If there isn’t enough ice for these seals to sit on while they develop, they’ll be forced to venture into the water before they’re physiologically ready to withstand the icy temperatures.

In addition, if the waters seals inhabit become warmer and the sea ice continues to recede, these creatures may need to maintain their body temperatures by raising their metabolism, which requires them to increase food intake. If food sources are no longer plentiful, they must expend energy to forage. “So it’s a downward spiral,” she says.

In the future, Dr. Liwanag hopes to apply her research on critical temperatures to polar bears. “The ice is receding at rates not predicted in even the most liberal of climate models,” she says. “Polar bears are spending more time swimming, and we have no idea what their thermal capabilities are in water. I’m hoping to work with captive polar bears in zoos to look at lower critical temperatures in water and acquire data that will help us understand how [climate] changes are going to affect them.”

This piece appeared in the Erudition 2013 edition.

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Biodiversity and Heavy Metals in the Salt Marshes

by Ela Schwartz

What do you envision when you hear the word “shore”? Most likely a sandy beach with splashing waves, not a salt marsh. But look through the eyes of Matthias Foellmer, Ph.D., associate professor of biology, and you’ll see that these areas are the homes of a myriad of life forms: marsh grasses stirred by breezes, mussels exposed in the low tide and migratory birds stopping by to grab a meal before continuing on their way inland. Look closer and you’ll see the many species of what Dr. Foellmer refers to as “small animal biomasses you can hardly see, like crabs, insects and spiders.”

Known as arthropods, these creatures are a specialty of Dr. Foellmer, who is leading students in research that examines the influences of humans on invertebrate populations in wetlands along the South Shore of Long Island.

He explains that what makes Long Island’s salt marshes unique is that they are “isolated and disturbed.” Suburban sprawl has decimated the swaths of salt marshes once prevalent on our coasts. The result is secluded patches where these tiny creatures cannot travel from one habitat to another. Concurrently, these patches are being damaged by pollution due to their proximity to densely populated urban/ suburban developments.

One of Dr. Foellmer’s undergraduate students, Carolyn Trietsch ’12, extensively surveyed three isolated salt marsh patches still attached to the mainland. She and Dr. Foellmer used pitfall traps, beat sheets and sweep nets to whisk insects from vegetation. In Summer 2011, Ms. Trietsch even received a stipend from Adelphi’s McDonell Fellowship to pursue this research with Dr. Foellmer. “We are still in the process of identifying these creatures in the lab,” he says. After this phase is completed, Ms. Trietsch, now a master’s candidate at Adelphi, will analyze the data. Hypotheses to explore include the possibility of differences in genetic structure in populations or identifying ones that are extinct in one patch but not in others.

Another of Dr. Foellmer’s students, Andrew Vacca, M.S. ’12, analyzed the effects of heavy metal bioaccumulation in invertebrate food webs consisting of plants, small insects and wolf spiders. “What he found is that wolf spiders heavily accumulate methylmercury, which is highly toxic,” Dr. Foellmer explains. Toxicity can lead to neurological, behavioral and reproductive impairments. Despite his own fascination with spiders, he is well aware that they don’t make the best poster children to inspire most of us to be more environmentally conscious. But what about the birds who prey upon the spiders? “The accumulation of mercury in spiders is a threat to them as well as the animals that eat them,” he says, “and other studies have shown that semi-aquatic wolf spiders are the means by which aquatic methylmercury can move up to terrestrial food webs.”

This piece appeared in the Erudition 2013 edition.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Adelphi’s M.S. in Nutrition Program

by Charity Shumway

College of Nursing and Public Health Clinical Associate Professor Diane Dembicki’s interest in nutrition began when she was an anthropology graduate student, examining skeletal material from prehistoric Native Americans. “You could see evidence of diet and disease in the bones,” she says, marvel still in her voice. She followed up her anthropology degree with a Ph.D. in Nutrition and found her niche in teaching nutrition to students in the health professions. Dr. Dembicki has since gone on to study subjects from companion-animal influences on health and behavior to healing in the arts; but her latest research has taken her all the way from prehistory to the cutting edge of training and technology.

Over the last two years, Dr. Dembicki has been studying best practices in knowledge and technology as part of the College of Nursing and Public Health and the Center for Health Innovation’s efforts to develop a new M.S. in Nutrition program. Starting fall 2013, drawing on Dr. Dembicki’s research, Adelphi will begin educating its first class of M.S. in Nutrition students in a new fully online program, with Dr. Dembicki serving as director.

“Over two billion people in the world are malnourished,” Dr. Dembicki says. “Right away, we think undernourished, but that number also includes the overnourished. The world, but also locally and nationally in our own communities, needs more nutrition experts. That means properly educated and credentialed people with a specialization in nutrition.”

Adelphi’s new program is aimed at college graduates who are interested in health and nutrition. While course materials will be available 24/7, with integrated social media, sections will be kept small so that students will still receive individualized faculty attention. “Many students may be locals initially,” says Dr. Dembicki, “but because it’s online, the program has a potential global reach.”

Soon, a whole new cadre of Adelphi educated nutrition experts will be working to ensure that the bones of the future have healthy stories to tell.

This piece appeared in the Erudition 2013 edition.