Emeritus Faculty Association #115 April 2006
Friday, April 7, Javits Seminar Room, Melville Library E2340, 10.30 am.
After our customary informal half-hour over coffee, fruit, and pastries, courtesy of the Provost's Office, Prof. R Sekar will address us on "Cyber Security: Current Trends and Continuing Challenges."
Summary: Anyone using the Internet has heard (or, even worse, suffered) from viruses or other ``hacker attacks.'' Individuals as well as organizations are increasingly targeted in electronic crime incidents such as credit-card fraud, identity theft, and extortion. In addition, spam has become a worse problem than paper junk mail. This talk will begin with a short historical overview of cyber attacks, and then proceed to discuss current threats and emerging trends. It will then describe why cyber security poses such a serious challenge for software vendors, and why things have not improved in spite of massive public and private investments in the area. The talk will conclude with a discussion of the future of cyber security, and the precautions that can be be taken by end-users to protect themselves.
The following exhortation was omitted from the snail-mail version of this newsletter:
Bring a brown bag to continue the conversation after the talk!
Biography: R. Sekar is Associate (shortly to be Full) Professor of Computer Science and the Director of the Center for Cybersecurity at Stony Brook. Sekar received his Bachelor's degree in EE from IIT, Madras and Ph.D. in CS from Stony Brook in 1991. From 1991 to 1996, he was a Research Scientist in Networking Research at Bellcore. He then accepted a faculty position at Iowa State University, and subsequently moved back to Stony Brook in 1999. He is an expert in computer security and specializes in the areas of intrusion detection, prevention and response, and mobile and untrusted code security. His research is supported by grants from NSF, ONR, NYSTAR, and Computer Associates. Additional information about Sekar can be found on his home page at http://www.cs.stonybrook.edu/~sekar/
Dave Smith anounced that the North Country Peace Group (NCPG), with the support of other Suffolk-based peace and social justice organizations, will mark the third anniversary of the start of the war in Iraq with a procession and vigil on Saturday, March 18, 2006. All are welcome to join the march, which will commence from the King Kullen shopping center on 25A in Setauket at 11:00 a.m. and end at the site of the NCPG's weekly demonstration against the war at the corner of 25A and Bennett's Road (about .4 mile). After the procession, a vigil with guest speakers and music will take place at the corner location, 11:30 a.m. - noon.
Emeritus Prof Dick Porter introduced Prof Joanna Fowler of BNL as a person encompassing the skills of physical chemistry, bio and organic chemistry, physiology, medicine, and engineering (although this last appelation was declined by the speaker). Her subject was "Imaging Addiction in the Human Brain".
Positron emission tomography (PET) produces images of the body by detecting emissions from substances tagged with a radioactive atom such as oxygen15, nitrogen13, carbon11, or flourine18, that have a short half life (2, 10, 20 and 110 minutes respectively). These are formed by bombarding the normal chemicals with high energy protons or deuterons which come from a cyclotron. Rapid synthetic chemistry is used to convert these isotopes into labeled compounds. These isotopes decay by emitting a positron (a positive electron). The positron has a short range and annihilates with an electron, producing two gamma rays emitted 180 degrees apart. The gamma rays are detected by a circular array of scintillation crystals, each connected to a photomultiplier tube. The crystals convert the gamma rays to light photons and the photomultiplier tubes convert and amplify the photons into electrical signals. In a PET scanner, the subject is injected with the radioactive substance and the distribution and movement of the radioactive substance is recorded over a period of about an hour. The electrical signals are then processed by a computer to generate the images of the brain or other organ. Depending upon the type of molecule that is tagged the scan can image things like blood flow, glucose metabolism, or receptor or enzyme activity. In particular, the injection of flourinated sugars can illuminate the glucose metabolism caused by tumors or localized elevation of dopamine.
Dopamine (C6H3(OH)2-CH2-CH2-NH2) is an important neurotransmitter, similar to adrenaline as a chemical messenger. Dopamine affects brain processes that control movement, emotional response, the experience of pleasure and pain, and the ability to focus attention. Dopamine is synthesized in the midbrain by cells clustered in the substantia nigra and the ventral tegmental area. It is transmitted to and released at synapses (nerve terminals) in the nucleus accumbens and striatum and the frontal and prefrontal cortex, where it binds to a receptor and generates a nerve signal. Normally after dopamine has been released and had its effect on neighboring neurons, excess amounts are pumped back into the transmitter cell axons by an active re-uptake mechanism. Cocaine is particularly destructive in binding to the re-uptake site and preventing termination of dopamine signaling. As a result, more dopamine remains to stimulate neurons, which prolongs feelings of pleasure and excitement. Many other drugs have a similar effect. For example, experiments on animals have shown that amphetamine produces a 1100% increase in dopamine levels compared with a 150% rise in a normal pleasure stimulus like food. Animals will self administer these drugs to the exclusion of all else and most eventually die.
Once returned to the sending neuron by the re-uptake system, dopamine is subject to an enzyme called monoamine oxidase (MAO), which breaks it down. Because of the vital role that MAOs play in the inactivation of neurotransmitters, MAO dysfunction is thought to be responsible for a number of neurological disorders such as depression, substance abuse, criminality, attention deficit disorder, and social phobias. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors are one of the major classes of drug prescribed for the treatment of depression. Substance abusers using cocaine, amphetamine, heroin, alcohol, and even obese individuals have lower numbers of D2 receptors (one of the 5 kinds of dopamine receptors), which may mean that they have an understimulated reward system. Susceptibility to addiction is affected by genetic make up and environment as well as chemistry. Low receptor levels may make people more susceptible. Experiments in animals have shown an increase of social interaction is protective in increasing D2 detector levels.
Some in the audience seemed particularly (inordinately?) interested in the effects of aging. Usually this causes an eventual loss of half of the dopamine cells and receptors. MAO also increases with age, increasing the breakdown of dopamine. This is thought to be localized in the glia (cells which space the neurons apart). Contrary to conventional wisdom, the aging brain does not suffer a large loss of cortical neurons, only some shrinkage. Shortage of dopamine, particularly the death of dopamine neurons in the nigrostriatal pathway, causes Parkinson's disease, (the loss of the ability to execute smooth, controlled movements). Brains of Parkinson's sufferers contain almost no dopamine. Recent PET research has shown that smoking inhibits the action of MAO which may account for the decreased risk of Parkinson's disease in smokers relative to non-smokers. This is NOT a good reason to suffer the toxicity and continue smoking! Better to maintain an exercise regime and do problem solving activities, which are alternatives with a similar positive effect.
In terms of effect on mortality rates, the various drug addictions are probably second only to world hunger. It is hoped that this research will lead to the development of therapies and drugs to treat and amellorate these addictions. Apart from the selected publications to be found on her website (see March issue in the news archive), the speaker recommends the following article for not-too-technical further reading: click here
For advice on sticking to our own drug plan instead of the new medicare part D, see the November newsletter (#111) .
The NY Times of March 3rd reports that the FDA has been approving new drugs for sale on the promise from manufacturers to perform trials of their effectiveness and side effects, two thirds of which go undone. Some of our members have suffered from drugs that were approved and belatedly discovered to have serious risks. For the latest drug information, the government sites are:
NIH - National Library of Medicine: http://www.medlineplus.gov --> drugs and supplements
FDA: http://www.fda.gov --> drugs
I have found the government sites not very useful. Better are groups that are not beholden to commercial interests, such as:
Consumers Union Medical Guide (inaugurated in 2006): http://www.consumerreports.org/mg/home.htm
Public Citizen: http://www.worstpills.org (also gives best pills!).
These cost $19 and $15 respectively for an annual subscription. Besides the ability to search drug information they also do general discussions and advice for illness categories. If you want just the drug information listing (for free), there are several other sites such as:
Physicians Desk Reference: http://www.pdr.health.com .
But the bottom line is, -
You get what you pay for; Don't trust the government; And do arm yourself with enough information to question your doctor carefully.