At the Marshfield Clinic dental center in Chippewa Falls, Wis., hygienist Karen Aslinger is getting her room ready. It's all quite routine — covering the chair's headrest with plastic, opening instruments, wiping down trays.

But then she starts getting creative.

Richard Drew / AP


Restrictions on what Medicaid and Medicare will cover for nursing home patients can often lead to unnecessary hospitalizations – an estimated $8 billion in unnecessary hospitalizations each year, in fact.

Penn State Hershey Medical Center


The National Institutes of Health is awarding a $20 million grant to Penn State Health's Milton S. Hershey Medical Center and Penn State College of Medicine.

The funds essentially aim to use scientific discoveries to make healthier communities.

The money will go towards training programs for faculty, staff and students, groundbreaking research, as well as a data system that will be able to analyze information to predict and prevent disease.

It will connect research done at 10 different schools and institutes at Penn State.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 FM WESA

When then-Pittsburgh Mayor Richard Caliguiri died from amyloidosis in 1988 not much was known about the disease. Since then, research and awareness has increased and now an endowed chair is being created to further research and treatment at the University of Pittsburgh.

Amyloidosis is a systemic disease that usually attacks the heart but can impact other internal organs.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

A small start-up in East Liberty is working on an in-home test kit that could help predict the risk of having a heart attack.

Accel Diagnostics is placing a common blood test done in hospitals onto a device no bigger than a credit card.

Vice President of Engineering Greg Lewis said the test could measure B-type natriuretic peptide (BNP) or troponin, both of which are released when heart muscles are overly stressed.

Bizuayehu Tesfaye / AP for College of American Pathologists

The most common treatment for women with breast cancer is a lumpectomy, followed by radiation therapy. But a growing number of patients who have pacemakers or mini defibrillators are recommended by doctors to opt for a mastectomy, for fear of negatively impacting those devices.

US Army Corps of Engineers / flickr

The Allegheny County Health Department is attempting to cut the number of flu cases this season by offering four types of vaccines, all injection-based.

Allegheny County Health Department Director Karen Hacker said the vaccinations are all available at the department’s clinic in Oakland.

This year, it will not offer the FluMist nasal spray vaccine. Hacker said it was not as effective as other vaccines and is not recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Elvert Barnes / Flickr

Black health experts want to leverage growing awareness of racial inequality into a fight against cigarettes.

Lung cancer kills black men at higher rates than any other group nationwide, and last week a group of health experts and activists called for President Barack Obama to ban menthol cigarettes, making a direct link between health and social justice.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA


Navy veteran Ken Haynes stepped off a beefed-up RV, sporting military logos and said he was impressed with the vehicle.

The RV was a Vet Center’s mobile unit, touring the Pittsburgh area this week. Haynes stopped by on Wednesday when it was parked outside the Veterans Leadership Program offices in the Strip District. Later, it parked and opened its doors at the River Hounds Game on the South Side.

Matt Rourke / AP


Last June, nearly 200 members of the state House of Representatives and Gov. Tom Wolf pushed for a special legislative session to address the opioid crisis that has killed more than 5,000 Pennsylvanians in the past two years.

House Speaker Mike Turzai stood inside the Capitol rotunda just a few months ago.

"We will be asking the Governor to give this heightened attention by calling the General Assembly into special session," he said.

Sorry, kids. Your pediatrician will probably give you the flu vaccine in the form of a shot this year.

The American Academy of Pediatrics said Tuesday that it doesn't recommend using the flu vaccine that comes as a nasal spray. That's because the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention looked at its performance last year and concluded it wasn't up to snuff.

An experimental drug dramatically reduced the toxic plaques found in the brains of patients with Alzheimer's disease, a team reports in the journal Nature.

Results from a small number of patients who received a high dose of the drug, called aducanumab, hint that it may also be able to slow the loss of memory and thinking.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

In addition to bringing a baby into the world, many of The Midwife Center’s birth stories share a common anecdote – one of the mother-to-be going in and out of the building while their partner or family member searches for parking. 

Part One in an NPR Ed series on mental health in schools.

You might call it a silent epidemic.

Up to one in five kids living in the U.S. shows signs or symptoms of a mental health disorder in a given year.

So in a school classroom of 25 students, five of them may be struggling with the same issues many adults deal with: depression, anxiety, substance abuse.

St. Clair Hospital


The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. is known for employing doctors with highly refined subspecialties, and now St. Clair Hospital doctors can tap into that expertise.

An agreement between the two hospitals, finalized this week, will allow St. Clair doctors to access eTumor Boards – a virtual version of tumor board reviews, in which multiple doctors brainstorm ways to treat an individual patient.

National Human Genome Research Institute /

At the most basic level cancer can be defined as the DNA of a normal cell going haywire. 

Artisanal Food Waste: Can You Turn Scraps Into Premium Products?

Aug 19, 2016

Many efforts to address the food waste crisis hinge on getting consumers to buy fruits and vegetables that are adorably ugly — the bumpy tomato, the bulbous carrot, the dinged apple. Taste and nutritional value aren't compromised by their irregular appearance.

Buried in the fine print of many marketplace health plan documents is language that allows them to refuse to cover a range of services that are used more often by women, a study finds.

It's unclear if these exclusions have prevented patients from getting needed treatments. An insurance industry representative says patients are generally able to get care if it's appropriate for them. Yet some women with a family history of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, for instance, may have gaps in care because of the exclusions.

Dozens of journal articles cross our desks at NPR each week and, like nurses in the emergency room, we need to do rapid triage.

First we scan for those in critical need of attention (they aren't all that frequent). Next we look for studies that are interesting but not essential. Finally, we ask ourselves whether articles that are iffy need some attention anyway, since other news organizations are going to run with them. We figure Shots readers would like to see our take.

How The Placebo Effect Could Boost An Olympic Performance

Aug 14, 2016

Olympic medals are won by margins of tenths or even hundredths of a second. So, it's no surprise that athletes want any edge they can get — even methods not backed by a lot of scientific evidence.

Nati Harnik / AP


Noelle, who is in labor at Conemaugh Memorial Medical Center in Johnstown, tells a nurse that she isn't feeling right. Then her water breaks. The nurse checks the monitors and realizes that the umbilical cord has prolapsed. This is an obstetrical emergency.

Noelle has had this emergency — and others — thousands of times in the past three years that she has been in the simulation lab at Conemaugh. Noelle Birthing Simulator, made by Gaumard Scientific Co., Florida, is a full-size mannequin used to help nurses, residents and physicians practice real-life emergencies.

Courtesy of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory

The healthy human gut is home to hundreds of millions of bacteria species.

But people who are missing a few hundred or so particular species are at greater risk for certain health issues, including Crohn’s disease, which is characterized  by chronic inflammation of the bowels. 

Richard Duerr, a professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, is co-senior author of a study linking that lack of gut diversity with a specific genetic variation.

Three college-age scientists think they know how to solve a huge problem facing medicine. They think they've found a way to overcome antibiotic resistance.

Many of the most powerful antibiotics have lost their efficacy against dangerous bacteria, so finding new antibiotics is a priority.

It's too soon to say for sure if the young researchers are right, but if gumption and enthusiasm count for anything, they stand a fighting chance.

How Many Calories Do Olympic Athletes Need?

Aug 5, 2016

Editor's Note: This article was originally published on July 25, 2012.

Food, as we so often note on this blog, means a lot of different things to different people. To Olympic athletes, food is fuel for exceptional athletic performance. But there's a surprising amount of variety in just how much fuel elite athletes need.

We're living at a time when more than 80 percent of Americans fail to eat the recommended amounts of fruits and vegetables. At the same time, many Americans overeat refined grains and sugar.

This may help explain why the obesity rate seems stuck. The most recent estimate is that 36 percent of adults in the U.S. are obese.

New Study Links Asthma With Fracking

Jul 21, 2016
National Institutes of Health / Flickr


Researchers at Johns Hopkins University have published a study linking unconventional gas development with asthma attacks.

“We found that patients living closer to more—or bigger—unconventional natural gas wells had higher risk for an asthma attack,” says Sara Rasmussen, the study’s lead author.

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

The state is making strides on developing its new medical marijuana program.

Secretary of Health Karen Murphy said, since the commonwealth’s legalization of medical marijuana in April, her department has been working constantly to build the program.

It's been thought that the Zika virus spreads only through mosquito bites or sexual contact. But someone in Utah appears to have caught Zika another way — while caring for an elderly family member infected with the virus.

"The new case in Utah is a surprise, showing that we still have more to learn about Zika," Erin Staples, a medical epidemiologist at the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reported Monday.

The year is half over. So I took a moment over the long holiday weekend to triumphantly write, "Mission accomplished!" in ink next to each of my New Year's resolutions.

VCU CNS / Flickr

The Allegheny County Health Department will hold a public hearing Wednesday evening regarding a potential HPV vaccine mandate for pre-teens.