Discover Local Artists: at Lars Bolander

Lars Bolander on Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach is featuring the work of Alice and Allan Ryan through May.

“Hippo in Water” by Allan Ryan. 52-by-25.75 inches, framed

Allan Ryan is an animal portraitist who is partial to animals in the wild. Tamed by his pencil techniques, they approach us, engendering smiles. He sees images that attract him, he explained.  Take the hippo, for example, it’s definitely got a sparkle in its eye and an appealing personality, don’t you think? Allan nurtures a human affection for our beastly brethren.

large white peony
“Peony” by Alice Ryan. 35-by-27 inches, framed.

Alice Connick Ryan works in oil, pastel and watercolor. “When I look at something, I always see it in many different ways and end up painting  from my mind rather than from direct observation,” she said. Broad vistas, the flatness of land, the odd seeded cedars and the ever-changing sky are all subjects that captivate her. She is interested in capturing beauty, serenity, odd shapes, vegetables, rocks shells and the whole gamut of nature.

Lars Bolander is located at 3731 South Dixie Highway, West Palm Beach. Hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday. For information, call (561) 832-2121.

Maurice Fatio chose red-brick banding for Casa Eleda

creating one of island’s most identifiable mansions.

It is among the most recognizable houses in Palm Beach, the Maurice Fatio-designed Italian-Romanesque-style house that faces the sea at 920 S. Ocean Blvd.

That’s because when Fatio designed it for its owners — investment banker Mortimer Schiff and his wife, Adele Neustadt Schiff — the society architect gave the 1928 house its distinctive façade that mimicked the red-and-gray horizontal-banding decoration found on some Italian buildings. Instead of marble and terracotta, however, Fatio substituted red brick and coral key stone, and the arrangement resulted in the mansion’s sandwich-inspired nickname: the “ham-and-cheese house.”

It goes by another name, too, the one with which it was christened: Casa Eleda, a moniker that just happens to be “Adele” spelled backward.

Mortimer Schiff died in 1931, and Adele a year later, so the couple didn’t get to enjoy their home for very long.

More than 80 years after it was built, the house today is owned by Charles “Chuck” Becker, who says it has served as a perfect vacation home for his family, which includes his wife, Michelle, and two children still at home — Charles 14, and Elizabeth, 8.

But the family wants to travel more, so the house is listed the house for sale with the Corcoran Group. It’s priced at $22.5 million.

Pristine condition

With 13,171 square feet of living space inside and out, the mansion has nine bedrooms, 11 bathrooms and three powder rooms. Distinctive features are much in evidence — hand-painted cypress-beamed ceilings, ornately carved stonework, five fireplaces and a 165-foot tunnel under South Ocean Boulevard that leads to the beach, to name only a few.

The Beckers are true longtime snowbirds, planning regular trips to Palm Beach from their home in Grosse Pointe, Mich.

“Before buying this house, I’d bring my boat to Admiral’s Cove in Jupiter. After I sold my business, I started looking for a house in Florida. But when we were in Jupiter, we ended up spending our time in Palm Beach, so we decided to look there,” he says.

He’d placed a couple of offers on other homes, but this one came through — and he says he is glad it did. He bought it in from owner and luxury home builder Robert Fessler, who, in turn, had purchased it from John Kent in 1991.

Before that, the mansion was owned for 10 years by James V. Sullivan, who is today serving a 2006 sentence of life without parole for his role in the murder of his wife, Lita McClinton Sullivan, killed at her suburban Atlanta home in 1987 by a hit man hired by Sullivan.

By the time that Becker bought the house, it was in pristine condition, thanks largely to Fessler’s tenure there.

“I love the house and its layout. Mr. Fessler brought the house back to its original beauty, as well as updating the plumbing and electricity.

“People always comment on the elaborate hand-painted ceilings. The rooms are large and have high ceilings, which give them a grand feeling.”

The beamed ceilings

One enters a foyer on the south side of the house by way of a distinctive front door embellished with carved stone. The foyer features a decorative painted coffered ceiling and a tile-and-coral-keystone floor. A connecting hallway, three steps up, has windows in three coral-keystone arches that offer views of the inner courtyard, pool, fountain and loggias.

To the west of the entry, the dining room features a large fireplace and a highly decorative, hand-painted pitched-and-beamed ceiling. A “breakfast porch” and a butler’s pantry connect the dining room to the kitchen, which has an area for staff dining, a staff bathroom, a pantry and laundry. In the basement below the kitchen are a game room and a temperature-controlled wine room.

To the east of the main entry is one of the home’s two main stair halls. This one has a beamed ceiling painted with geometric designs, French doors that open to the courtyard and a floor of Cuban tiles. Just beyond are two powder rooms with dressing areas as well as the doorway to the tunnel that leads to the beachfront cabana.

In the southeast corner of the house, a library is appointed with knotty-pine paneling, a fireplace and built-in bookcases. Just adjacent is the bar, which has a painted ceiling and decorative wainscoting and hand-painted tiles.

The living room can be accessed through the bar as well as through the north and south stair halls. As in the other rooms, Fatio’s love of painted beamed ceilings is in evidence, this one decorated with geometric designs. The floor is covered in wood planks, and the fireplace features a key stone mantel. On the ocean side, arched windows offer water views; and to the west, French doors — with clerestory windows above them — open to the covered dining loggia and central courtyard.

The guest suites

In the northeast corner of the house on the first floor are two guest bedroom suites and a sitting room off of the north stair hall.

Outside, running the length of the courtyard to the north, is a loggia that invites relaxation, with its bar and large fireplace.

On the second floor’s northeast corner, the master suite includes a bedroom with windows capturing water views and pairs of bathrooms and closets. There’s also a sitting room with a pitched ceiling, herringbone-patterned wood floors and a fireplace with ornate mantel.

In the opposite corner are two second-floor guest suites with fireplaces and a sitting room with a breakfast bar. A balcony connects the master-suite wing with the guest wing and is nicely positioned for sunbathing.

Back on the ground floor, the home has a gym and two offices and a three-car garage in the northwest corner. Above the garage is a staff apartment with a living room, two bedrooms and a bathroom.

User-friendly house

Although the rooms are beautiful — the Beckers worked with Smith Architectural Group on the interiors — it’s the home’s setting that they have especially enjoyed and will remember.

“This house has been a great family home and holiday house. It’s user-friendly,” Charles Becker says. “My older three daughters and five grandkids visit, and actually, one of my daughters was married here a few years ago. We had the ceremony on the ocean, and we ended up having the party in the house and courtyard. We covered the pool with a dance floor.

“We love the pool area and the loggias. We are not really sun-worshippers, but we use the pool a lot, and my wife and her friends and family walk the beach in the mornings.”


Area vacancies down Rents up

Some real estate statistics, where “falling” and “low” are good news – Jupiter, Tequesta, Palm Beach Gardens and North Palm Beach apartment vacancy rates are at five percent, with 182 vacancies out of 3,608 units, according to a November 2010 through February 2011 survey compiled by L. Keith White, president of Reinhold P. Wolff Economic Research, Inc. in Ft. Lauderdale. The survey covered multi-unit apartment complexes.

“South Florida vacancy rates are as low as they have been in three years,” White said. “There’s demand for rentals, with the overall average rents up 3.3 percent from February 2010.

That rental rate increase followed two-percent declines in 2008 ad 2009, he said. “So, we’ve reversed that trend and it’s back to fairly normal now.”

The reason for the low vacancy rates and the rise in rental price are due to a “tremendous lack of new apartment construction as well as the apartment-to-condo-conversions that took place between 2002 and 2006,” he explained. “We lost thousands of units to conversions.”

Contributing to the demand for rentals are families who’ve lost their homes through foreclosure and short sales and can’t buy, as well as prospective homebuyers who’ve had difficulty in getting a loan, he said.

Another factor, investors buying homes and renting them, impacts the rental market, too, he said. “In Palm Beach County, February 2010, the vacancy rate was 5.1 percent. This year it’s at 5.3 percent.

“It’s a little bit of an increase, and if we didn’t have those single-family homes offered for rent, we would be near zero percent vacancy rate for apartments.”

Concerning leases, White forecasts that over the next two years, increases will be back to normal, “three percent, or four percent if new apartments are not built,” he said.

The days of incentives have declined, but are not over, he added. “When a new rental project is finished, it’s typical to offer one month off for the apartment to try to fill the project up quickly. But, when you are looking at existing projects that have been on the market for a while –no question that the incentives they offer have declined over the last year. And even though there are still some here or there, like offering two months rent, incentives are offered only on vacant units.”

According to White’s survey, average monthly rental rates for apartments in Jupiter/Tequesta/Palm Beach Gardens/North Palm Beach are $1,035 for a one-bedroom units, $1,235 for a two-bedroom units, and $1,467 for three-bedroom units.

Turning the focus to home rentals, Thomas Copeland, of Rental Plus and Camlet Copeland Realty in Jupiter, said, in the last six months, the demand is getting stronger, low inventory has held steady, and price is creeping up a little.

copeland sm
This three bedroom, two-bath home, at 151 Wandering Trail in Jupiter, has tile throughout, an eat-in kitchen, family room, screened patio and a garage. The community, Indian Creek, features a pool, tennis and a park next door. Rent is $1,500 per month, unfurnished and it’s offered by Realtor Thomas Copeland of Rental Plus and Camlet Copeland Realty in Jupiter

“If the price is right, it’s gone within 30 days,” he said.

More than half of the people looking for rentals are looking in the low range, he noted. “Rentals in the $1,000-to-$1,200 range will get them a 900-to-1,000 square-foot apartment in Jupiter Village or Chasewood. About 20 percent of prospective renters are looking in the $1,500-to-$1,800 price range, which will get them about 1,200-square-foot apartment In Indian Creek. Abacoa has some units that start in that price range,” he said. Rule-of-thumb, you can expect to pay $1 per square foot for an unfurnished annual rental,” he added.

He hasn’t seen a flood of investor-owned rentals come on the market, but investors buying up good deals that can be used as rentals do help the market, he added.  “Investors can make money, with 10-to 20-percent down. Properties will carry themselves or give a short return of the capital investment. The cap rate is close to 10percent and you haven’t had that opportunity since the early 1990s.”

Concerning leases, he forecasts they will go up a little – up to five percent — in the next six months to a year. “It won’t be drastic,” he said. “But they’ve been stagnant for two years.”

Waterfront Properties agent Dan Uzzi Dan Uzzi said competition for rentals is “unbelievable.”

uzzi sm
Realtor Dan Uzzi with Waterfront Properties offers this three-story, three-bedroom townhome at 2411 San Pietro in gated Harbour Oaks, Palm Beach Gardens. It’s within walking distance to Downtown at the Gardens and local restaurants. The lease is $2,000 a month.

“I just rented a home. On Friday, there were nine properties that we had scheduled to see. By Monday, that number dropped to six.”

Most popular are unfurnished two- or three-bedroom homes in Abacoa or the Bluffs, or townhouses in Palm Beach Gardens running from $1,200 to $2,500 a month, he noted.

The typical renters are “families who’ve gone through foreclosure, young people not in the position to buy yet, or people who are scared of the market.”

Joe Quirk of Cobblestone Realty, LLC, said in areas he works with (Jupiter, North Palm Beach and Juno Beach), he continues to see a strong demand for rental properties, especially in Jupiter, north of Donald Ross Road, Abacoa and homes in the Jupiter High School district.

Quirk sm
This home at 182 Hampton Circle, Jupiter, has three bedrooms, two baths and a family room. It features tile and wood floors. The house is listed for $2,200 with Thomas Quirk, a realtor with Cobblestone Realty, LLC.

“There’s a good increase of families relocating because of Florida Atlantic University and companies like Scripps and G4S, which used to be Wackenhut. Its new headquarters in Abacoa opened in February and the company has 250 employees. That’s bringing into the area an increase of renters as well as new homebuyer prospects.”

Continued activities relating to foreclosures and short sales also impact rentals, as people with families leave their homes but rent in the same area because they want their children to stay in the same school districts, he added.

And “although rent prices have not changed much since last fall, they’ve maintained,” he noted.

“Spring Training brought in an exceptionally high demand for short-term, furnished, one- and two-bedroom units in Abacoa,” he said. “We were getting inundated with calls by Marlin players and administrative staff as well as fans. There weren’t enough rentals and people were going all the way north to Tequesta and south to West Palm Beach for rentals for February and March. Rates were $4,000 to $6,000 per unit, according to proximity to the stadium, and people have already locked up units for next year.”

Investors, meanwhile, are not flooding the market with rental units, he said. “I don’t anticipate that. Foreign investors, many of them Canadians, are buying foreclosures and fixing them up as second homes. They are not renting them out.”

written for palm2jupiter

Researcher explains how neurons see

Don’t feel too bad if you don’t have a clue how your brain works. After all, scientists, whose business it is to know about such things, admit that they are in the beginning stages of this study. They start by taking “simple” processes, in the hopes that these will throw light on the more complicated workings of our minds.


Scientist David Fitzpatrick, who was named CEO of Max Planck’s Jupiter campus in December, heads up the institute’s Functional Architecture and Development of Visual Cortex department. Recently, Fitzpatrick shared with us an inside look at his work and of one of the research projects he oversees.

In the process, he used an analogy, comparing the circuity in the human brain to computer circuitry, and also, by waving his arms around, explained that thanks to specific neurons in our brain, we are able to see that motion.

Wow. That gives a whole new definition to the term, “being wired.”

So, to start: Max Planck Florida Institute is a basic research society.

“The Florida institute is focused on the brain,” Fitzpatrick said. “Specifically, we are exploring neural circuits, the complex synaptic networks of the brain. We want to understand how they are organized, how they function, and how they develop. This requires bringing together scientists with expertise in different levels of analysis — genetic, molecular, cellular, circuit and behavioral — and developing new technologies that make cutting-edge scientific discoveries possible.”

Brain circuits are the synaptic networks of neurons that interact to create movement, perception, thought, memory and emotions. You can think of them this way, he said.

Network of neurons

“The brain is an incredibly complex biological computer, and neural circuits are like what’s running inside your computer,” he said. “The circuits that make the computer able to register the keys that are being pushed, that’s the sensory side. And the output, that’s what pops up on the screen. We want to understand how the circuits work, how they transform sensory input into a motor output and how these circuits are constructed during development. This information is critical for understanding a wide range of brain disorders.”

One area that is of particular interest to the scientists in Fitzpatrick’s lab is the role that experience plays in the development of neural circuits. Most of the synapses (the connections between neurons) in the cerebral cortex (the outer portion of the brain that’s responsible for movement, perception, thought and memory) are formed at a time when experience can influence their formation.

“After birth, there’s a huge increase in the density of synapses in the cortex, and we now know that patterns of neural activity driven by experience with the outside world influences how these circuits form,” Fitzpatrick said. “We are interested in understanding how that comes about. How is it that experience can influence the formation of these circuits?”

This is an important issue to address considering that there are many neuro-developmental disorders, the most well-known being autism. These disorders are likely to reflect alterations in the way that experience influences the development of neural circuits.

The visual cortex is used as a model system to explore these questions in his lab, he said, because it’s an easy system to manipulate. Scientists can control the visual information coming in, and they can ask how visual information influences the formation of circuits.

“We have been studying a property in the visual cortex that emerges with experience, and this property is known as selectivity for direction of motion,” he said. “If I wave my arm, you see my hand move in a certain direction. The reason that you are able to recognize its direction of motion is because you have neurons in your cerebral cortex that are sensitive to movement in a certain direction. Some neurons are sensitive to movement upwards, others to movement downwards, left and right. Our research has shown that the selective responses of cortical neurons to motion direction is acquired through experience with visual motion at an early stage in development.”

How are we able to “see” movement?
Specific neurons in the brain are sensitive to different  directions of motion.
Have to wonder how excited those neurons must get when “faced” with all these opposing directions.

What the scientists don’t understand is the mechanism responsible for that, he said.

“We don’t understand which parts of the neural circuits that make up the cerebral cortex are being altered by visual experience, and how these alterations generate direction selectivity,” he said. “But we think that if we can understand the mechanisms that are responsible for building up this response property, we will have a better understanding of the fundamental mechanisms by which experience influences the formation of neural circuits. We are interested in how it is that neural circuits get built and how our interaction with the world around us influences the construction of these circuits.”

Progress all comes down to the tools that the scientists have to address these questions.

“And in the last five years, there’s been an explosion of new techniques that are allowing us to visualize circuits in the brain and control their activity with light in ways that we couldn’t have dreamed of,” Fitzpatrick said. “So quite literally, we can visualize neurons in living brains, we can visualize their structure, and we can visualize their activity.”

To explain, “activity,” he said that neurons communicate with each other through synapses and the synapse involves a chemical transmission from one neuron to another, but the basic mode of communication is electrical. So a neuron generates an electrical signal that travels down its axon where it reaches a synapse, releases a neurotransmitter, and that neurotransmitter causes an electrical event in the dendrite, the receiving part, of the next neuron.

He gives an idea of some of the complexity: “One neuron in the cerebral cortex receives between 5,000 to 12,000 synapses onto its dendrite, and it is the specificity in the patterns of connections between neurons that is responsible for selectivity in neuronal responses, such as selectivity for direction of motion. We are still far from understanding the ‘wiring diagram’ that defines cortical circuits and how experience influences the patterns of connections that form between different neurons. This is what we are after.”

Back to the tools, with the newest technologies, scientists are now in the position to use light to see the neuron and its connections in a living brain, to visualize the activity in the neuron, and even to control its activity.

“We are developing a powerful set of tools for ‘interrogating’ neural circuit function,” he said. Their goal, he explained, “is to be able to really understand the structure of the neurons, the way the synapses are arranged, and the way in which experience shapes those connections.”

So, the scientists can go into the brain and control the activity of neurons and see how controlling their activity impacts the response of the neuron to motion selectivity, he said.

“Using these new techniques, we can begin to understand how all the inputs that come into a neuron contribute to its function,” he said.

Based on the idea that neuro-development disorders reflect alterations in how experience builds circuits, if the scientists can understand the basic mechanism through which experience builds circuits, than they can begin to understand these disorders.

“I mentioned autism, because it emerges as the child develops, it’s very profound, and increasing in terms of the number of people impacted,” he said. “Children appear to be normal and then begin to exhibit the symptoms of autism. It’s very likely that what’s going on here is some alteration in the way experience shapes the development of brain circuits.”

To be clear, Fitzpatrick addressed a problem faced by basic scientists: “People need to appreciate that we still know very little about neural circuits and the mechanisms that are responsible for their development. Even with the discoveries that these new techniques are making possible, the complexities of the brain make translating this knowledge into effective treatments a difficult process.

“But, it’s fundamental, basic science research that holds the key to understanding the normal mechanisms of brain development, and it’s that information that ultimately is crucial for in understanding disorders that reflect alterations in normal circuit development,” he said.

The scientists literally are going to the basics and asking: What are these circuits? They are saying: Let’s define them. Let’s map out what the circuits are and understand how these circuits produce this remarkable degree of selectivity.

The work in Fitzpatrick’s lab addresses a relatively simple question:  How is it that neurons in the brain respond selectively to the direction of a moving stimulus?

“We are not talking about how the brain represents thoughts or emotions,” he said. “These are much more complicated issues. But if we can take something simple — how do neuron circuits represent the direction of a moving stimulus, if we can understand how that happens, and how experience with moving stimuli builds that representation, then we can take what we learn and apply it to these other, far more complicated processes.”

written for palm2jupiter

Here is a link to a video presentation on the NIH VideoCasting site where Fitzpatrick speaks about his work.

Discover Local Artists: west best and art walk

Fine Art at West Best hosts Collaboration Art Show April 23 through May 5. Featured artists are: Aidana Baldassarre-wearable art,  Anthony Burks Sr.-mixed media, Barbara Cheives- fiber artists, Christina Major-painting, Ilene Adams- photography, Kristy Garloff-painting, Norman Gitzen-sculpture, Rainer Lagemann-sculpture, SAMM-vocalist; photography, Trina Slade-Burks-author; mixed media, Ursula Fernandez-painting, Verónica Volani Inza-painting.


Ursula Fernandez, an artist from Lake Worth who has a studio at West Best, explains that the piece pictured here is one in a series of three that portrays faces of  farmers.

“This man, from my previous hometown in Cuba, is a typical hard-working farmer smoking a cigar that he made from the leaves of tobacco he has cultivated all his life. An old straw hat protects him from the hot sun. His features show that he is old and  tired, but not ready to give up.”

“The Old Farmer,” ink on paper. 25 by  30 1/2 inches, $700

Ilene Adams of Wellington believes that art and beauty bring joy and well-being to individuals and are essential for a well-balanced life.

Working in many mediums, Adams aims for evoke feelings of nostalgia or of imaginary places.

“My photographs deal mostly with nature, but nature through an intense filter,” she said. “Images are put under a microscope and colors are heightened. There is beauty all around us, but how often do we take the time to really see it? These ordinary wildlife images are enhanced to create painterly new images that leave the viewer wondering if they are paintings or photographs? Abstract or realistic?”

“Lillies & Squiggles,” acrylic, 24 by 36 inches, $1,500

Anthony Burks Sr. of  West Palm Beach said that he initially created the piece pictured below  for another art event in the name of the black rhinos that are being slaughtered for their horns on the continent of Africa.

“The people involved with the Rare Species Conservatory educated me on why these animals are becoming extinct,” he said.

“Rhino III,” mixed media, 15 by 40 inches, $3,000

An open house on April 23 runs from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and will feature a book signing of 2Faced: The Devil’s Advocate by  Trina Slade-Burks at 1 p.m. For information on the exhibit, open house and book signing call Slade-Burks at (561) 714-6674.

Fine Art at West Best is at 2602 S. Dixie Highway, Suite #2 , West Palm Beach. The gallery hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Thursday through Saturday and by appointment on Monday through Wednesday. For information on the gallery, call Ursula Fernandez  at (561)301-6848.

Also on April 22 and 23 is a collaboration art walk showcasing works by artists in three nearby galleries.

Participating West Palm Beach galleries are: Dixie Art Loft at Craft Gallery, 5911 South Dixie Highway; JF Gallery & Framing, 3901 S. Dixie Highway, suite B; Mary Woener Fine Arts, 3700 South Dixie Highway #7.

“We are going to be open during Trina’s Collabortion opening day, April 23, to support her and to encourage art enthusiast to gallery hop on Dixie,” explains Jamnea Jacas-Finlayson, owner of JF Gallery & Framing. Hours of the art walk will be  5-8 p.m on Friday and 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Saturday. For information on the art walk, call Jamnea Jacas-Finlayson at (561) 478-8281.

Let’s not forget the fruit fly

Might want to think twice before you swat that fruit fly buzzing around your kitchen, suggests Ronald Davis, Ph.D., chairman of the neuroscience department at Scripps Florida in the Jupiter campus, who is researching the genes required in learning and memory.

ron davis small
Scripps scientist Ron Davis

Consider this, Davis said: “The fly has 15,000 genes. Humans have 25,000 genes, so we are not that different.”

But, thank goodness (for the researchers), the fruit fly’s brain is smaller.

“The human brain has 100 billion neurons – that’s about as many stars in the Milky Way,” he said. “On top of that, each neuron makes 10,000 connections. That’s an amazing social network of cells.”

Meanwhile, the brain of the fruit fly has 100,000 neurons.

“Its brain is a million times less complex than the human brain,” Davis said. “Even 100,000 neurons is hard to grasp, but we can start working with that.”

Figuring out how memories are formed and learning takes place are monumental tasks, when you think about it – even if all those 100 billion neurons fired at once.

“The human brain, a three-pound mass of tissue, captures memories across our lives  – many, if not all, of our episodes and stories in a biological form — and recalls them, and we don’t know how that happens,” Davis said.

“We can’t understand how the brain forms and encodes memories,” he continued. “Our brain is too complex a network to wrap our brains around. So, to simplify, we use the fruit fly. It is an incredible model to understand the subset of genes in memory formation because its genes are conserved (there are similar genes in the fruit fly, mouse, rat and humans), so hopefully, the principles we learn from the fruit fly can be applied to other organisms, including humans.”

To meet that challenge, the scientists introduced a strategy to identify the genes involved in memory.

Step one: “We can teach flies simple tasks,” Davis said. “We present them with an odor and give them a mild electric shock. They learn quickly and run away. Or, we give them a positive stimulus, and they run toward it.”

The second major step in the strategy is to isolate the mutant flies that can’t learn or remember.

“We can identify sets of genes or mutant strains in those mutant animals, and pull those genes out of the flies and study them on the DNA level,” he said. In addition, “genes encode proteins, so we can then deduce what brain proteins that gene makes and how it is involved in memory formation.”

The scientists’ final overall strategy is to identify each gene in a fly that has to do with memory formation.

“Out of 15,000 genes in a fly’s DNA, there are 400 or 500 genes that are important to learning and memory,” Davis said. “We have about 100 genes that we know about right now.”

Once the scientists have a handle on that, they hope to reconstruct how the molecular machinery within neurons for memory works.

That may sound complicated, but machinery is machinery, he explained.

“It’s a little like a ’63 Stingray,” he said. “Without knowing anything about the car, you can disassemble it and deduce what different parts do.”

Same with isolating genes. If you are missing the gene equivalent of the car starter, you can’t learn. If you are missing the equivalent of the spark plug, you’ll start, but you won’t hit on all eight cylinders.

If you take something like the radiator out, the car (or you) will run great, but only for five minutes.

“The radiator would be the equivalent to a maintenance function,” he said.

The headlights, however, don’t affect the running of the car, one way or another, and you still can function with your eyes closed.

“In the same way, we can identify mutants in fruit flies that can’t learn like “normal” flies, or we can identify flies that can learn, but can’t maintain or remember,” he said.

“An amazing aspect — something that surprises a lot of people — fruit fly genes are conserved – if we isolate a fruit fly gene, there’s 99 percent certainty that we can identify that same gene in humans, and it is involved in human behavior, at least.

Take the gene, dunce, for example. When it is mutated in fruit flies, they have a learning deficiency. The human counterpart of dunce is involved in regulating mood. In the last five years, scientists have found that humans who carry a certain variation of the human dunce gene have an increased susceptibility to schizophrenia.

Another example: When the gene NF1 is mutated in fruit flies, they can’t learn. Humans with the condition, neurofibromatosis type 1, have a mutation of NF1, and about half of them have difficulty in learning or attention deficiency.

And here’s an example of an ongoing study with humans: The scientists obtained DNA from 2,000 subjects with bipolar disorder, and they took 80 fruit fly and mice genes that are involved in memory. Then, they studied those 80 genes in the individuals with bipolar disorder, as well as comparing those genes relative to a control group with no history of psychiatric disease to see whether there were unique changes, variations or mutations.

“So far, we’ve hit a few novel genes,” Davis said. “If we find a change in a fair fraction in the bipolar group in some gene, and we don’t find it in the normal population, that leads to the conclusion that changes in that gene in the DNA might confer an increased probability that an individual will be subject to bipolar disorder.”

The goal of memory and learning research is to better understand the disorders that impact memory and learning, he said.

“Memory issues form a common thread in major neurological and psychiatric illnesses and so has profound medical importance,” he said.

Alzheimer’s disease, which affects 5 million people and is hereditary, is the obvious disease that comes to mind, but people with schizophrenia, which affects one percent of the population, have a deficiency in forming memories. People with autism spectrum disorder have problems learning complex tasks. Drug addicts have memory problems – going back to the place where they shoot up, for example, leads to relapse — as well as people suffering from mood disorders, like bipolar and depression.

People with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and those who have suffered brain trauma have memory problems. And, then, there are the memory problems that come along with normal aging – where are those car keys?

“The end game has to be to solve these diseases,” he said. “Just imagine if we took all the genes involved in memory behavior, and through Scripps’ drug-discovery program, if can we find drugs that can tweak the activity of those proteins involved (in memory and learning) and make them work better, these drugs would be cognitive enhancers. Right now, we need as many cognitive enhancers as we can get.”

written for palm2jupiter

Discover Local Artists: Clay for Earth Day

Tracy Rosof-Petersen, prices range from $400 to $1,200.

Clay Glass Metal Stone Cooperative Gallery presents “Earth, Bowl- Sky, Basket,” celebrating Earth Day’s myths and legends on Friday April 15, from 6 p.m to 9 p.m. as Earth and its gifts inspire  artists to produce the wide variety of work.


Tracy Rosof-Petersen, curator of the event, exhibits pottery with native clays, pigments and firing techniques that echoes Native American art.


Maria Hayden and Jesse Showalter use ancient  pit


firing and saggar techniques to create works that are contemporary, yet echo the past.

They take their works from 1,200-degree fire and plunge them into smoking debris that imparts color for controlled surprises with each piece.

Using polishing stones similar to Native American burnishing technique,s they compress the clay surface until it shines and then apply grasses, seaweed, oats, horsehair and naturally found chemicals to the surfaces.

Maria Hayden, price is $100.

Since the survival of the coral reef along the Palm Beach County coastline is cause for concern, Reef Rescue is the gallery’s guest on this evening.

Jesse Showalter, price of vessel, $45

Reef Relief work to increase public awareness, strengthen grassroots support and promote eco-tourism that protects and preserves coral reef ecosystems.

Pianist Nino DiSilva will entertain visitors to the gallery and wine and food will be offered.

Clay Glass Metal Stone Cooperative Gallery is located at 605 Lake Avenue, Lake Worth. Gallery openings are the first and third Friday of each month from 6-9 p.m.

For information, call (215) 205-9441.

Off screen with TV interior designer Krista Watterworth

You turn on the TV to that reality show on home decorating, and immerse yourself in a whirlwind of (someone else’s) hammering, speed shopping, plastering and putting on the finishing touches.

And just one hour later, the room is completely finished!

How do they do it? Wouldn’t it be lovely if your own decorating and renovating projects went so smoothly and quickly?

Well, welcome to the home-decorating version of instant gratification, says interior designer Krista Watterworth, 40, who freelance-designs for TV production companies (right now, her shows include DIY Network’s Vanilla Ice Project, a redo of the rapper’s Wellington investment property, and a new Food Network show, Restaurant Impossible, on restaurant-renovation projects).

Krista Watterworth

In her regular (off TV) business, it takes a year or two to design a home from start to finish, she said. “But for TV, you see it as a mess one day, and the next day, it’s completely redone. There’s something really fun about that.”

For a bathroom, for instance, tearing it out and putting it all back together again takes about 10 days, and the only way to make that happen is in pre-production and ordering — ready-to-go, ready-to-install.

She brings her computer with her when she’s doing a show and all her AutoCAD designs. And she has a big crew. That helps.

“For my next show, I’m laying out flooring, 1,700 square feet of it in two days. You can just imagine.”

All of that super-speed designing and renovating, and she has to look good with that power drill while keeping her own home in order. Watterworth lives in a townhome in Admiral’s Cove, with her husband, Eric Alterman, a start-up social-media networking pro who commutes to work in Manhattan, and their children, Griffon, 2, and Skylar, their brand-new baby.

How does she do it? Her background certainly provided a good basis, she said.

Growing up in an Italian family, she applied to home decor what she learned from her mother’s expert cooking. When she talked about what she does to a room, it’s all about recipes. And she honed her skills by studying at the Parsons School of Design, followed by earning a master’s degree at The Actors Studio. Then, while she pursued a modeling career, she kept at her decorating, by staging and styling rooms for parties and entertaining.

Those were the perfect ingredients for a career as a TV interior designer. “I really combine the things I love. The vitality of camera work – the real time of it, even though we are taping, I love that, and I love homes. Each room has character, and that ties into acting.

Since the whole premise of home and garden shows is based on the idea that everyone loves to look inside someone else’s home, here’s a peak into Watterworth’s family home in Admiral’s Cove. It had been her husband’s bachelor pad, and before that, it was her in-laws’ good-weather getaway.

“A lot of people want to work with what they’ve got – I had an entire show about that, Splurge and Save,” she said. “It was all about maybe buying one good piece, refurbishing old furniture and designing around what you already have rather than fighting it.”

So, she took that tack in this home, which, she believes her family will soon outgrow.

“The leather couch was my husband’s, and I think it looks like it came out of a gentlemen’s club or a law firm, but I worked with it and chose the wood colors in the kitchen based on that — cabinets with rosewood finishes and rubbed bronze hardware. They have a Mediterranean feel, but they go with what we have.

“My husband also had the rustic farm table and the Oriental rugs. They are really beautiful and have a traditional feeling, so I used them, but softened it, adding the wrought-iron console and art of the Manhattan Bridge. We decided to keep the house neutral, and not go to contemporary.”

Which is exactly opposite to advice she gives to people wanting to stage an investment home, where going contemporary is the key.

That’s what she did with the million-dollar Wellington home she staged for Vanilla Ice, with a $7,000 budget for furniture and accessories from Pier 1 Imports.

“We carefully chose items that were modern, and didn’t go global tribal. We wanted a clean and simple look, so that anyone with any style taste could envision living there. But it had to be warm and comfortable, too.”

And here’s another tip. For those, like Watterworth, who have growing families and will need a bigger house fairly soon, open up your floor plan, she advised.

“We had a traditional sunroom with sliding doors. I enclosed it, putting the sliders on the outer wall and carried the Saturnia marble floor out, and I closed off a portion of the living room to make another bedroom. I took the wall down between the living room and the kitchen, too.

“People want open-concept living. That’s how we live today. We don’t wear suits and hats anymore. The 1950s and ‘60s were more formal with closed-off rooms. Now, it’s open and you create spaces in the larger room defined by purpose – ‘Here’s where we sit. Read. Eat.’”

And although Watterworth’s husband and in-laws have enjoyed Palm Beach County for years, Watterworth is just now getting into it.

“If I had my druthers, I’d live in Boca next to my sister-in-law, so she could babysit,” she said. “But I love it here. It’s close to the beach. I love Jupiter. It’s quiet and family-oriented and my husband and I have made great friends here.”

New Construction in North Palm Beach County

New homes are being planned and projects are moving forward in the Palm Beach Gardens and Jupiter areas. How come?

At Frenchman’s Harbor in Juno Beach, heavy equipment is clearing land to make way for new home sites. On the Intracoastal Waterway and geared to boating enthusiasts, the community’s lots are being staked out, in preparation for single-family homes and carriage homes that will have a dock. Some of the larger homes will have docks up to a hundred feet to accommodate larger yachts.

Toll Brothers, a company that develops high-end homes, purchased the 77-acre track from WCI in June 2010 for $20 million. When the community is built out in two-year’s time, its 30 carriage houses will be priced from mid $600,000s and its 48 single family homes, priced from more than $1.5 million to a little less that $3.3 million.

Nearby, Toll Brothers has already developed Frenchman’s Reserve in Palm Beach Gardens, Jupiter Country Club and Ocean’s Edge at Singer Island — all still have available offerings. So, why did the company chose to develop this site.

“This is a prime location and there’s limited availability of homes backing up onto the Intracoastal,” explained Jason Snyder, assistant vice president of Toll Brothers. “We started accepting offers mid September 2010, and we already have five sales and two deposits. We are very happy with our progress and interest level.”

Although, nationally, builder confidence is low (the National Association of Home Builders’ Housing Market Index is 16. In the South, it’s 17 and HMI can range up to 100) some “pockets of optimism” do seem to be emerging, said National Association of Home Builders chief economist, David Crowe.

But according to February’s Commerce Department start numbers, those pockets are not very deep. Last year, builders broke ground on a total of 586,600 homes, just a tad better than in 2009 (554,000), making these two years the worse on record dating back to 1959.

Nationally, in January 2011,  permits dipped to 562,000, down 10.4 percent below the December rate, and 10.7 percent below January 2010.

In the county, though, one can catch glimpses of those pockets. According to MetroStudy, a Palm Beach Gardens research firm, home starts rose to 1,110 in 2010 from 941 in 2009 (But, that’s way down from its peak in 2003 with more than 10,000 starts).

Jupiter’s building department reports that it issued 229 building permits for single-family homes and townhomes between October 1, 2009 and Sept 30, 2010. During that time the previous year, they issued 164 permits.

In Palm Beach Gardens, 86 builders applied for permits to build single-family homes in 2010, over 77 in 2009 (That’s down from its heyday in 2005, when 313 permits were applied for in an eight-month period). If 2011 shapes up based on permits through February, it looks like 2011 will be busier, said the city’s building manager, Steven Kennedy. Based on 16 permits issued through February, he’s estimating maybe 90 to 100 permits will be issued by year’s end.

Although Brad Hunter of MetroStudy doesn’t see a V-shaped recovery, he does acknowledge that there’s been “a little more activity” in the Palm Beach Gardens and Jupiter area, and he sees “a gradual shape up.”

“You’ll see projects like Frenchman’s Harbor because it has a unique selling proposition, with all the properties having Intracoastal access,” he said, confirming Snyder’s explanation.

“Marisol is winding down – it’s running out of lots and Old Palm has new life with its new owners and properties are selling pretty well there. It will have more starts, but prices are high, so it won’t boost absolute sales and unit volume that much.

“I expect Abacoa will be the strongest producer in that area because it’s a successful master-plan community,” he said.

Old Palm Golf Club is platted for 302 residences on quarter- to one-acre lots on its 650 acres. About 140 families live in the community with 144 home-sites still available. Four builders’ homes and about 20 homes for resale are also available. Prices range from $1.5 million to $15 million.

0327 old palm sm
New home at Old Palm

The community’s selling points, according to Connie McGinnis, Old Palm’s director of sales, include low density as well as a private golf club that offers a high level of concierge services to its members as well as no waits for tee time.

DiVosta Homes is currently developing Abacoa Mallory Creek. When it’s finished it will have 263 single-family homes. So far, 159 homes are occupied. Fourteen homes are under construction and three are finished and vacant. The price range for single-family homes is $360,000-$600,000. Of the 326 town homes it will have when the community is completed, already 161 are occupied, 20 are under construction, and five are finished and vacant. Prices range from 230,000-$300,000.  Windsor Park, the final Abacoa community, will start in 2012 with 380 units planned.

“The overall land plan is brilliant,” said DiVosta director of sales Christopher Leimbach. “Jupiter and northern Palm Beach County are unique locations and the whole idea of Abacoa is based on New Urbanism with its interconnectivity to a downtown. It’s close to sports fields, spring training, and a golf course. People appreciate the sense of community and that friends and schools are in their back yards.”

written for palm2jupiter

As Lucentis Avastin debate ends, will pocketbooks be affected?

Noticing that her sight had become fuzzy, Lois Otto of Stuart thought she might need new glasses. She went to the doctor’s for what she thought would be a routine visit, and found out she had wet macular degeneration in both eyes.

Otto is in her mid 70s, lives alone and still works; she needs her eyesight. Luckily, because of recent advancements in treatments for this disease, she still has her vision.

Presently, Otto is part of a clinical trial testing a new drug, VEGF Trap-Eye. (If it weren’t for the drug, I’d be blind,” she said. “I go every month to Retina Care Specialists and they check my eyes. Sometimes I need an injection in the eye that is part of the study, and sometimes I need it in the other eye.

“I can tell when I need an injection because my vision gets blurry. After I get an injection, I go home and sleep, and in a couple of days, I’m seeing pretty well again.

“I can drive, I see road signs, the lights, the traffic. I’m told I’m a pretty good driver.”

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD), the disease

A genetic disease affecting about 13 million people in the United States more than 40 years old, most patients diagnosed as having macular degeneration have the mild or intermediate form of the disease (dry macular degeneration). Only 6-8 percent of patients 75 years or older has the advanced form, wet macular degeneration (Otto is one of them).

Wet AMD, the leading cause of blindness of the elderly, occurs when certain proteins (vascular endothelial growth factor or VEGF) cause abnormal blood vessel growth in the back of the eye. As the blood vessels grow, they can leak blood and fluid, which damage the macula—the part of the retina that lets one see color and fine detail.

Medication timeline

For the most part, laser treatment, which eliminates the abnormal blood vessels, is no longer used to treat AMD because it causes scar tissue.  Another treatment, using light to activate the medication, Visudyne, is seldom used either. Newer medicines – first Eyetech’s Macugen, then Genentech’s Lucentis and Avastin, are far more effective, explained ophthalmologist Philip Rosenfeld with Bascom Palmer Eye Institute with offices in Miami and Palm Beach Gardens.

“In 2001, I was the lead investigator in phase 1 trials for Lucentis. The paradigm shifted. Lucentis changed everything. Rather than simply slowing down vision loss (with Macugen), we got dramatic vision improvement in a day or two. Patients were seeing better.”

Lucentis binds VEGF, stopping the growth of abnormal blood vessels (When a cut heals, it’s thanks to VEGF. In cancer, when a tumor grows, it’s also because of VEGF).

Around that same time, a new imaging modality, Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT), became available. With a light, doctors could see into the back of the eye. “This was great technology. After a patient was treated with these new drugs, with OCT, we could see where the blood vessels were and if leakage was occurring, and we could see that we were getting rid of the fluid in a day.”

Then, in 2003, something “truly miraculous” happened, he said. “And I can take credit for it.” Rosenfeld, who also has a Ph.D. in genetics, began studying Roche-owned Genentech’s literature and found that Avastin, a drug that Genentech was developing for cancer that also blocks abnormal blood vessel growth, uses the same molecule as Lucentis to bind VEGF.

Lucentis VS. Avastin

“I went to Genentech and said, patients don’t like having a needle stuck in their eye, so let’s use Avastin systemically and they said, no. They did not want to use Avastin for eye disease.

“So I raised money for a trial in Miami and Palm Beach Gardens on Avastin, systemically, and it worked great. I was convinced it would work just as well as Lucentis, without a patient needing to get a needle stuck in their eye.”

But, his colleagues didn’t want to take the 1-percent risk of heart attack or stroke with a systemic treatment (that a cancer patient would be willing to take because it would prolong life).

“Then we had the Eureka moment. We realized if we injected the same amount of Avastin as Lucentis, we would have the same amount of inhibitory activity, and it worked.

“The big difference? Once we prepared Avastin, it cost about $10 compared to Lucentis, which was $2,000.

“This was in 2005. We presented this to meetings and it spread all over the world, and Avastin was ready before Lucentis was available. Avastin got FDA approval (for colon cancer) in February 2004. We first used Avastin as an injectible into the eye in 2005, and Lucentis was approved in 2006.”

Avastin spread globally because it was affordable and it worked, he said. In the meantime, since Genentech would not do a trial for Avastin to be used for macular degeneration, the National Institutes of Health sponsored a trial to compare Lucentis and Avastin head-to-head. Results should be published either in late April or early May. “We are anxiously awaiting the results.”

Doctors are being incentivized to use Lucentis, he said. Medicare reimburses physicians 6 percent of the sales price for the drug they use, and Genentech started a rebate program for high-volume Lucentis users.

“Although that amounts to being paid double and a good sum of money, up until now 60 percent of U.S. doctors use Avastin over Lucentis,” he said. “That’s really a credit to our profession that so many doctors are concerned with saving money.”

Other countries – The United Kingdom, France, Germany, Germany, Austria, Norway and Brazil – are also conducting trials comparing the two drugs. “In early March this year, in the UK, NICE (National Institute for health and Clinical Excellence) decided that Lucentis would not be covered for diabetes (diabetic macular edema), and that’s the first example of a national health organization saying, ‘No, it’s too expensive and we are not going to cover it,” Rosenfeld said.

VEGF Trap-Eye

Meanwhile, other drugs are also in trials. One of them is VEGF Trap-Eye by Regeneron.

Dr. Adrian Lavina, an investigator in Regeneron’s VIEW 1 study, offers his patients the choice to use VEGF Trap-Eye at his practice, Retina Care Specialists in Palm Beach Gardens.

“This drug is similar to Lucentis in that it represses VEGFs, but it has a higher affinity, he said.  “It binds more tightly to VEGF molecules and another molecule, Placenta Growth Factor.”

While Lucentis is given every four weeks for two years, longer periods of time can go between doses of VEGF Trap-Eye, and even though Lavina’s patient, Otto, said that the injection is painless, people don’t like getting an injection in their eye.

For the VIEW 1 study, which started about a year and a half ago, after a loading dose of three monthly injections the patient gets a VEGF Trap-Eye injection every two months, rather than once a month. Initial results were released in November 2010, and VEGF Trap Eye was found to be just as good as giving Lucentis every single month after one year of the trial.

The results of a sister study, VIEW2, were released at the same time and mirrored the results of the VIEW1 study. Now is the right time to present the drug for FDA approval, Lavina said.

Lavina uses Lucentis and Avastin for patients who are not candidates or interested in taking part in a trial. He also uses Eyetech’s Macugen, a company headquartered in Jupiter, in select cases – for high risk patients who’ve had a recent stroke, or patients already stable on Lucentis. “It’s a niche market. It also binds VEGFs, but only one isoform of it. There are five active isoforms, and medicines like Lucentis, and VEGF Trap-Eye bind to all five. “

Now, Lavina is in the second year of the two-year study, where injections are given every three months, more if needed.

“It’s very exciting to give the very best and to be able to offer medicines that are up and coming and might be better than what is currently available and we have a duty to move our field forward and be on the forefront of developing treatment,” Lavina said.

Rosenfeld, too, finds the advancements in treating AMD exciting, and he agrees that less frequent dosing is a real benefit, but he asks, what will VEGF Trap Eye cost?

That’s a big question – Lavina said, because pricing would not be released until after FDA approval.

(for follow up on costs for VEGF Trap Eye and FDA approval, go here.)

(for follow-up story on Lucentis and Avastin, go here.)

In the meantime, Rosenfeld is turning his attention to dry macular degeneration. An FDA-approved drug to block another disease (PNH or paroxysmal nocturnal hemoglobinuria), Alexion’s Soliris is under trial in his Palm Beach Gardens and Miami offices. “It’s already shown to be a safe drug, and we know the appropriate dosage and the dosing interval.”

written for palm2jupiter