Allison Reiss, MD ’83, Leads AHA-Funded Heart Study

Winthrop receives American Heart Association Grant-in-Aid for study linking low dose methotrexate to second heart attack prevention

By Courtney Allison

formal group

Caption: Pictured inside Winthrop’s new Research and Academic Center are (l.-r.) Deborah Whitfield, Director, Clinical Trials Center at Winthrop; Don Brand, PhD, Director, Health Outcomes Research; Joshua De Leon, MD, Director of the Cardiovascular Training Program, Director of Nuclear Cardiology and Director of Cardiovascular Research; Allison Reiss, MD, Head, Inflammation Section at Winthrop Research Institute; Steven Carsons, MD, Chief of Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology at Winthrop; Ellen Eylers, MPH, MSN, RN, Research Coordinator, Cardiology Department; Wendy Drewes, BSN, RN, CCRC, Cardiology Research Coordinator; and Alexander Schoen, MBA, Director, Office of Sponsored Programs at Winthrop-University Hospital.

“It takes a village,” said Allison Reiss, MD, Head, Inflammation Section at Winthrop Research Institute (Downstate ’83), as she and her team gathered recently to celebrate receiving a Grant-in-Aid from the American Heart Association (AHA). The grant, titled, “Methotrexate and Cholesterol Transport Regulation: Impact of Treatment Regimen in Diabetes and Metabolic Syndrome,” poses the question: “Will reducing inflammation prevent a second heart attack?” and is designed to assess the impact of low dose methotrexate (a widely used anti-inflammatory therapy for rheumatoid arthritis (RA)) on cholesterol transport in the body. Dr. Reiss is the Principal Investigator, with co-investigators Alan Jacobson, MD, Chief Research Officer at Winthrop; Joshua De Leon, MD, Director of the Cardiovascular Training Program, Director of Nuclear Cardiology and Director of Cardiovascular Research; and Steven Carsons, MD, Chief of the Division of Rheumatology, Allergy and Immunology.

“We have an amazing team effort and approach here at Winthrop and we couldn’t have achieved this honor without each individual,” said Dr. Reiss, crediting the research associates, technicians, coordinators and volunteers who also helped make the grant possible (see below). “I am also forever grateful to SUNY Downstate where I got my start in Medicine as a young woman from Brooklyn with a lot of determination and minimal financial resources.”

“This is a potential game-changer in the way we treat heart attacks, especially those in people with diabetes or at a high risk for diabetes because of metabolic syndrome,” said Dr. Jacobson. Dr. Jacobson describes Dr. Reiss’s work as “invaluable.” “It really plays into the potential underlying mechanisms of why this drug – methotrexate – might work and goes to the core of the underlying biological mechanism of the study,” he said.


Dr. Reiss (second from left) gathers with her team to celebrate the American Heart Association grant.

The grant builds on the work Dr. Reiss and her team at Winthrop began in 2014 as part of a major study funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) called the Cardiovascular Inflammation Reduction Trial (CIRT), which had a similar goal to that of the recent grant. Through this study, Dr. Reiss and her team have been investigating whether taking low dose methotrexate reduces cardiovascular events in individuals with type 2 diabetes or metabolic syndrome who have had a heart attack or multiple coronary blockages. The recent grant awarded to the team signals the start of a sub-study that will be even more in-depth, making Winthrop an “independent and innovating contributor to the science,” according to Dr. Reiss.

“It gives us the opportunity to answer the ‘why,’ ‘how,’ and ‘what’ is happening in the blood in regards to methotrexate that is protecting patients,” said Dr. Reiss. “Through this research, we can determine how patients can be best treated and how people handle the drug.”

Dr. De Leon is the leader of the clinical aspect of the project, identifying cardiology patients for the trial, and Dr. Carsons lends an immunological perspective from his experience as a rheumatologist who works with methotrexate in his arthritis patients.

“One of Winthrop’s strengths rests in its ability to bridge the laboratory and the bedside,” said Dr. De Leon. “This group has been so innovative in generating new knowledge and discovering the role of inflammation in altering how the cell handles cholesterol at the basic level, and how inflammation worsens atherothrombosis (the hardening and narrowing of the body’s arteries). This grant is the next step in translating all these years of basic research to patient care.”

“Our team’s unique ability to study the molecular interface between inflammation in the body and the development of heart disease has led to this important approach to cardiovascular disease prevention,” said Dr. Carsons.

The results of this study have the potential to open up new ways to treat cardiovascular disease and come up with a mechanism to identify patients who will respond best to the treatment.

“It means so much to be funded by the American Heart Association, a prestigious and renowned organization that has made so many contributions to allocating funds for heart disease and preventing heart attacks,” said Dr. Reiss. “We are looking forward to honoring this incredible award and doing this work to make a substantial contribution to medical knowledge of patient care.”

Winthrop University



In addition to Dr. Reiss, Dr. De Leon, Dr. Carsons and Dr. Jacobson, the following people were instrumental in achieving the grant:

Darnice Fulton, Secretary, Winthrop Cardiology Associates, PC.

Debbie Famigletti, Administrative Coordinator, Division of Rheumatology, Allergy & Immunology

Lora Kasselman, PhD, Research Associate, Winthrop Research Institute

Nicolle Siegart, Research Technician, Winthrop Research Institute

Carla Lyons, Executive Assistant to Dr. Jacobson

Ellen Eylers, MPH, MSN, RN, Research Coordinator, Cardiology Department

Wendy Drewes, BSN, RN, CCRC, Cardiology Research Coordinator

Donald Brand, PhD, Director, Health Outcomes Research

Melissa Fazzari, PhD, Director, Department of Biostatistics
Heather Renna, Research Technician, Winthrop Research Institute

Alexander Schoen, MBA, Director, Office of Sponsored Programs

Hirra Arain, Student Volunteer, Winthrop Research Institute

Samiraly Moosa, MD, Research Volunteer, Winthrop Research Institute

Deborah Whitfield, Director, Winthrop-University Hospital Clinical Research Center



Student Profile – Ben Johnston ’17

Ben Johnson

The Alumni Association has been asking students to complete a questionnaire so that we can introduce them to you as they would like to be introduced.  These are current students at the College of Medicine for SUNY Downstate.  Most of them have benefited from one or more of the Alumni Association programs and have volunteered to assist us in connecting with Alumni.

  • What is your name? Benjamin Johnston
  • What is your class year or anticipated class year from SUNY Downstate College of Medicine? 2017
  • Where did you do your undergraduate education and what did you study? Middlebury College – Biochemistry, Mathematics, German language
  • Who is/was your favorite professor at SUNY Downstate College of Medicine and why? Mert Erogul – His joint focus on medical knowledge education and healthy living (physical and mental) really emphasized to me how interconnected and essential both are to being a successful physician. As an ER physician, he has a chaotic job every day including incomplete patient histories, urgent medical matters sprinkled in between routine cases, and split second decisions, all of which can cause stress during and after the day. He has done very well to share his methods of dealing with his stress and finding time to live a comfortable life with his family outside of the hospital. Work-life imbalance has direct negative implications on patient care as well as physician unhappiness, and I am extremely glad we have someone to address this issue, both in the context of the stress of learning infinite information in finite time in medical school and our future lives as physicians.
  • What is your favorite memory so far of your time studying at SUNY Downstate College of Medicine? Quite honestly, the Winter Ball/Spring Fling formal that Downstate puts on every year. It is an elegant, catered event taking place in the gorgeous event room at the Brooklyn Museum, that, in the context of endless studying and seemingly insurmountable challenges, that we are really taking part in something special at Downstate.
  • What is/will be your specialty? Pediatrics
  • How has the Alumni Association for the College of Medicine at SUNY Downstate helped you (scholarships, clubs, events, white-coat ceremony, senior week, research, summer research, technology, healthcare in developing countries elective or other)? As class president and a member of medical council, students are constantly coming to me for help with all issues, including funding for their individual medical exploits. The Alumni Association has emerged as a way to make these individual exploits, such as presentations at conferences, medical conferences, clinical work abroad, and research projects more accessible through providing funding that Med council might otherwise not be able to provide.
  • Is there anything else that you think Alumni would like to know about you? In my spare time I enjoy playing tennis, home brewing beer, and biking around NYC with the goal of participating in the NYC Century Bike Tour this year.

Gloria Glantz shares Holocaust experience at Downstate

Noon, Thursday, May 5, 2016, in Alumni Auditorium

gloria glantz

Gloria Glantz was born in Wegrow Poland in 1939, and fled the Holocaust to live in four countries on two continents before settling in the US. In her professional life as a teacher, it has been her mission to see that the Shoah is not forgotton.

Gloria Glantz has won fellowships from the American Gathering of Jewish Holocaust Survivors, American Federation of Teachers and Jewish Labor Committee to study the Holocaust and Resistance. She is also the 2002 recipient of The Spirit of Anne Frank Outstanding Educator Award.


Miriam Vincent, MD ’85, appointed Executive SUNY Downstate Director for Healthcare Innovation, DSRIP


Dr. Miriam T. Vincent has been appointed SUNY Downstate Executive Director for Healthcare Innovation and DSRIP.

“In collaboration with executive leadership, external partners, and key stakeholders, Dr. Vincent has been working to identify and facilitate high-value innovations across Downstate’s clinical care delivery system since she took this position on last fall,” according to Dr. John F. Williams, President of Downstate Medical Center. “Her role is key to helping us meet the challenges we face in the new healthcare landscape and I commend Miriam for her significant work on our behalf.”

Dr. Vincent is charged with developing innovations to transform the quality, value and delivery of health care at Downstate, and within northern and Central Brooklyn. The ultimate goal is to keep patients healthy, and prevent disease by providing comprehensive, supportive and coordinated care experiences. Also, to contribute to a highly patient-centered, effective, and value-based approach to population health.

Dr. Vincent is also co-chair of the DSRIP Implementation Team. In this very visible role, she is helping Downstate achieve DSRIP goals and objectives, working with designated staff leaders to build primary-care capacity and using technology to reduce unnecessary admissions and ED visits. This will include monitoring performance using relevant metrics developed by Downstate and OneCity Health, the New York Health and Hospitals-sponsored performing provider system (PPS) that Downstate has partnered with.

Dr. Vincent is an esteemed faculty member with a long history of dedication to Downstate. She is a 1985 graduate of Downstate’s College of Medicine and has been an integral member of the Downstate community ever since, holding important leadership roles in our educational and clinical programs. Immediately prior to this appointment, Miriam served as Chair of Family Medicine, first on an interim basis, and then, from 2001 to 2015, as the permanent chair. Under her leadership, the department built considerable strength, and became an early model for patient-centered care. Since 2008 she has held and continues to hold the title of Medical Director of Ambulatory Care.  The fact that while serving in these high energy, highly demanding positions, she also attained a PhD from Downstate in Molecular and Cell Biology and, most recently, a JD from Hofstra University’s School of Law, is testament to her ability to take on and succeed in multiple challenges.

“Please join me in thanking Dr. Vincent for her efforts on our behalf and for the valuable work she has done,” Dr. Williams writes. “She is a passionate and eloquent advocate for Downstate. Her appointment to this senior leadership position is another step in our financial and clinical care transformation.”

—SUNY Downstate

Help support medical student education!

circle logo white on blue

Robert B. Nussenblatt, ’72 MD, MPH, NEI Chief, dies at 67


World Ophthalmology leader was a SUNY Downstate MD

Rememberance courtesy of the NEI (click for original post)

Robert Nussenblatt, MD, chief of the Laboratory of Immunology at the National Eye Institute (NEI), died on April 17 at age 67. Dr Nussenblatt began working at NEI, part of the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, in 1977, and proved himself to be a tireless scientist, research leader, mentor, clinician and patient advocate.

Dr. Nussenblatt was a world-renowned expert on inflammatory diseases affecting the eye, including uveitis. He literally wrote the book on this subject—“Uveitis: Fundamentals and Clinical Practice”—now in its fourth edition. He authored several other books and more than 600 articles in scientific journals.

Many patients with ocular inflammatory disease endure long-term treatment with medications that have unwanted and sometimes intolerable side effects. Dr. Nussenblatt dedicated his entire career to understanding the mechanisms of uveitis and developing better treatment approaches. He was a pioneer in utilizing immunomodulatory treatment in uveitis. One of his major accomplishments was demonstrating that cyclosporine was effective as a steroid-sparing agent, which has since become the standard of care for non-infectious uveitis. He also led research to test the biologic agent daclizumab as a treatment for uveitis and helped pave the way for its use in treating some types of multiple sclerosis.

His leadership roles at NIH included serving as clinical director and scientific director of NEI. He was also a senior advisor to the deputy director of the NIH Intramural Research Program, associate director (clinical director) of the NIH Center for Human Immunology, and acting scientific director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM) from 2004-2012.

Dr. Nussenblatt recognized the importance of team science, and pursued it at an international scale. He led the UNITE consortium, which partners NEI with sites in the United Kingdom, South China, and Hong Kong in the study of ocular inflammatory diseases. He had honorary degrees from around the world.

Dr. Nussenblatt’s commitment to his patients was remarkable. He always put patients first—never hesitating to drop everything to tend to their needs. He routinely exceeded the expectations of patients and families. He always made time to talk, and had an uncanny ability to remember almost anyone he met, even acquaintances he had not seen for decades.

By training other clinicians, Dr. Nussenblatt influenced patient care worldwide. Over the span of his 39 years at the NIH, Dr. Nussenblatt mentored more than 67 fellows who are now practicing around the globe. These include Dr. Daniel Martin, ophthalmology chair at the Cleveland Clinic, and ophthalmology chairs at the Walter Reed Medical Center and institutions in Paris, Nepal, and Japan. He received the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s Life Achievement Honor Award in 2011. Additionally, he had spoken at more than 66 invited lectureships around the world. He was recently nominated to become a Distinguished NIH Investigator.

The Life & Achievements of Gerald W. Deas, MD ’62, MPH


An assembly at noon, Tuesday, April 26 at the SUNY Downstate Faculty Lounge, HSEB, 8th Fl. Room E867, Dr. Deas will receive the Office of Diversity’s inaugural Urban Health Lifetime Achievement Award for his lifetime of distinguished medical care to underserved patients. Downstate will also screen the Arthur Ashe Institute for Urban Health documentary, “Ideas: Dr. Gerald Deas” (watch a clip of the film, here).

Dr. Gerald Deas is a “physician, poet, patient advocate, playwright, media personality, political activist, public health crusader and more.” He battled major companies and rallied communities to protect public health.

The award event is sponsored by the SUNY Downstate Office of Diversity and Inclusion.

Get all the SUNY Downstate Medical
Alumni news @SUNYCOMAlumni


Downstate Student Publishes, Experimental Neurology

SUNY Downstate medical student John Odackal published research initially funded by alumni giving

John won an Alumni Fund Summer Research Grant in 2013, which launched the research published in Experimental Neurology 273 (2015), pp 105-113. The project extended for years beyond with data collection, writing and revision.

Read the full article, here: T-type calcium channels contribute to calcium disturbances in brain during hyponatremia, Odackal


John is an MS4 entering Internal Medicine at UVa in June, 2016, with the goal of pulmonology/critical care

Receiving the Summer Research Grant was “incredibly important,” he said. “It connected me to a fantastic mentor (Dr. Sabina Hrabetova) and led to several additional research experiences, including a year-long project at Columbia, also funded by the Alumni Association.”

The research has been invaluable educationally, and is a significant contribution to medicine.

“The work argues that hyponatremia, an incredibly common electrolyte abnormality, might influence calcium regulation in brain,” John said. “If substantiated in humans, which requires in-vivo studies and human studies, the work might influence how we screen/treat hyponatremia, especially in the elderly.”



Support Downstate med students—
Make a gift today!


18 Downstate Alumni News Briefs

Alumni news submitted to the Alumni Association from March 15 to April 15, 2016. If you have news to share, please email it to, or call 718-270-2075.

Horace Herbsman, MD, ‘53
Dr. Herbsman is “enjoying retirement with his wife, four children and ten grandchildren.”

Robert L. Willenkin, MD, ‘55
Dr. Willenkin and his wife, Roberta, recently celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary.

Herbert Leonard Wachtel, MD ’59, deceased
Dr. Wachtel died March 30, 2015, at 81 at his home in Florida. He was a military cardiologist who left the service in 1969 and joined Bethesda Memorial Hospital in Boynton Beach, Florida.

Michael J. Goldberg, MD, ‘64
Dr. Goldberg had been named the first scholar-in-residence at the Schwartz Center for Compassionate Healthcare in Boston. The small not-for-profit is leading the way to ensure every caregiver-patient interaction is compassionate.

Andrew R. Schwartz, MD, ‘65
Dr. Schwartz and his wife, Lenore, are “doing well still working as senior care providers.”

John M. Aversa, MD, ‘67
Dr. Aversa continues to practice with Connecticut Orthopaedic Specialists. He is also an associate professor at Yale School of Medicine, and at the Frank H. Netter School of Medicine at Quinnipiac University. He and his wife, Ellen, have a son, John Jr., who is a colorectal surgeon at Yale and Griffin Hospital. Their daughter, Kristen Aversa, is an OBGYN in New Haven, and their son, David, is a triple-boarded psychiatrist at Yale and Netter School of Medicine. Their youngest daughter, Monica, works for her brother, David. “We have seven beautiful grandchildren,” Ellen writes, “and one on the way.”

Lawrence J. Brandt, MD, ‘68
Dr. Brandt is “still working full time and loving it” as Emeritus Chief of Gastroenterology at Montefiore Medical Center. He recently received his first NIH-sponsored grant (on fecal transplants for recurrent C-diff infection), is still happily married, and hopes “never to retire, but to play as much golf as possible.”

Barry Green, MD, ‘68
Dr. Green has practiced diagnostic radiology for a total 45 years.

Marilyn Joseph, MD, ‘72
Warren Regelmann, MD, ‘72
Drs. Joseph and Regelmann are both retired, with two grandsons, ages 1 and 4. Their oldest son, an MD/PhD, is CEO of, a web-based system of keeping lab inventories for clients. Their other son is an assistant professor of internal medicine at Frank Netter School of Medicine, practicing at St. Vincent’s in Bridgeport, CT.

Howard Grill, MD, ‘74
Dr. Grill practices full time with David Grill, MD, ’80. Dr. Howard Grill also has two grandchildren, Harper and Rowan, and his three daughters all work in health-related fields.

Elizabeth Legatt, MD, ‘76
Dr. Legatt has “practiced gynecology in the same community for 31 years and loves it.”

Alan Schecter, MD, ‘76
Dr. Schecter is director of the Division of Pulmonary Medicine at St. Frances Hospital in Roslyn, NY.

Thomas Quaresima, MD, ‘77
John and Mark Quaresima will both begin family practices in July.

Lawrence Halperin, MD, ’84
Dr. Halperin has been named Chair of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons (AAOS) Board of Councilors, and serves on the AAOS Board of Directors.

John Ratmeyer, MD, ‘88
Dr. Ratmeyer is in his 25th year of serving Native American children and their families through his work as a pediatrician at the Gallup Indian Medical Center in Northwest New Mexico. He is the Deputy Chief of Pediatrics, scheduling coordinator and medical consultant to the Child Protection Team.

Benjamin D. Freilich, MD ‘89
Dr. Freilich has been appointed Senior Medical Affairs Advisor for Intellect Neurosciences, a research-based biotechnology company focused on the discovery, development and licensing of novel, disease-modifying therapeutics for the treatment and prevention of rare neurodegenerative orphan diseases with no approved therapies.

Before entering private practice, Dr. Feilich was full-time academic faculty at SUNY Downstate, and then joined the academic faculty at The Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where he continues to hold the title of Assistant Clinical Professor of Ophthalmology.

Samantha Lowe, MD, ‘02
Dr. Lowe, a pediatrician, has joined the staff of White Plains Hospital in Armonk, NY. Prior to White Plains, she was an associate member of the Department of Pediatrics/Emergency Medicine at St. Barnabas Hospital, and an associate professor in pediatrics at Albert Einstein College of Medicine in the Bronx.

Support SUNY Downstate med students
by making a gift today!
circle logo white on blue


SUNY Downstate Competes for Global Health at Emory

Alumni giving made travel possible

“It was an amazing experience,” said student Patriot Yang. “It tests you on a personal level, on your ability to handle stress. It built camaraderie. We made great relationships. Even though it was exhausting— you know when you do something you really like, and the hours just go by, and you don’t even know they’re passing? That’s what it felt like.”
Emory main photo
Left to right: Jake Mathewson, Susan Yee, Bianca Rivera, Angela Yao, Patty Yang, and Kathleen Lozefski

Six Downstate students competed in the Emory University International Global Health Case Competition April 8-9, 2016 in Atlanta, Georgia.

The competition was a premiere opportunity to learn about, develop and present innovative solutions for a 21st century global health problem, said Justin Tien, a second-year student in the MD/MPH program, and recent past president of the Downstate Global Health Club.

“The problems that plague nations, others and our own, have grown so complex and involve so many international players that a simple solution is almost impossible,” Tien said. “And yet as future health care providers, we must start somewhere.”

Each multidisciplinary, six-student team competing in the EGHI worked through the same realistic case, and developed strategic recommendations to present to a panel of judges from Emory, the CDC and other organizations. SUNY Downstate competed against 23 national and international institutions.

“We learned how to tackle a tree in a forest and a forest of trees all at the same time,” Justin said. “Ultimately, this experience was beneficial not only for all the participants, but also all our fellow classmates, and even potentially all the future patients and individuals that we will work with some day. As our world becomes more and more connected each day, our actions are no longer inconsequential and we can no longer ignore the sufferings of our global community.”

The EGHI was an intramural event until Emory invited other US universities to compete in 2010, and international competitors in 2012.

Emory standing

studying on the steps

Support Downstate student programs!
Click here, to make a gift

Gainosuke Sugiyama, MD ’05, appointed as SUNY Downstate Chief, General Surgery


Gainosuke “Gai” Sugiyama, MD ’05, associate professor of clinical surgery at SUNY Downstate Medical Center, has been appointed Downstate division chief of General Surgery.

“Gai has been one of our most clinically and academically productive members of the surgical faculty since his recruitment in 2010, and is already well known to many in our UHB family,” said Antonio E. Alfonso, MD, Chairman & Distinguished Teaching Professor, SUNY Downstate, Department of Surgery.

A graduate of Downstate’s College of Medicine, Dr. Sugiyama completed his residency in general surgery at Downstate. He has authored and co-authored over 50 peer-reviewed publications and national presentations on outcomes-based research, varied approaches to hernia repairs, and novel minimally invasive and robotic approaches in surgery.  He remains actively involved in medical research, with a continuing focus on robotic surgery and national database studies.  

He plays a major role in medical education at Downstate, serving as an associate professor, third-year surgery clerkship director, and co-director of the fourth-year surgery elective.  Dr. Sugiyama has received numerous awards for excellence in teaching, including the Golden Apple Teaching Award for both 2013 and 2014, and the Arnold P. Gold Humanism and Excellence in Teaching Award. Recently he was honored by the graduating class of 2015 as the annual dedicatee of their Iatros yearbook.

Dr. Sugiyama sees patients in Suite I at University Hospital and can be reached by calling our call center at 718-270-7207 or his office at 718-270-6718.

Support medical education at SUNY Downstate,
make a gift today!