Science, Health & Tech

We cover these essential linchpins of the Pittsburgh regional economy, and how they impact residents' personal health and employment. 

Keith Srakocic / AP

A Commonwealth Court judge has ordered a preliminary injunction on Pennsylvania's plan for medical marijuana research, siding with dispensaries and growers who challenged the state Health Department’s approach.

Walter Astrada / AP

Black babies in Allegheny County are nearly three times more likely than white babies to die before their first birthdays.

Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

A recent report from Allegheny County’s medical examiner on the number of overdose fatalities in 2017 contains both good and bad news.

For the fourth year in a row, the number of overdose deaths was the highest on record -- more than 735 people in 2017 -- but the rate of fatalities decreased in each subsequent quarter of last year.

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

A new facility on Pittsburgh's North Side is seeking to help local startups keep their first rounds of manufacturing in the Steel City.

In the past, many startups have gone overseas to have those small batches manufactured, said Bernie Lynch, founder of Factory Unlocked. Lynch said, historically, larger manufacturers in the U.S. haven’t had much interest in early stage companies. Smaller facilities like maker-spaces aren’t really equipped to pump out batches of 100 or 200 at a time.

Why Pennsylvania Counties Are Suing OxyContin Drug Maker

May 22, 2018
Brett Sholtis / Transforming Health

York County Solicitor Glenn Smith knows the county coroner's phone number by heart. He calls often to get the most recent number of drug overdose deaths, a number that increases almost every day. 

"As of today?" said York County Coroner Pam Gay. "Twenty-two confirmed, another 25 suspected... We just had two this morning."

York County has been hit hard by the opioid crisis, with 176 overdose deaths last year. It is one of 17 Pennsylvania counties to sue Purdue Pharmaceuticals and other companies that make prescription opioids.

Sarah Boden / 90.5 WESA

Many anti-smoking efforts are focused on cigarettes, but new research from the University of Pittsburgh suggests that more energy should be spent discouraging the use of water pipes, or hookahs.

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

People want their electronics to be increasingly small and powerful, but keeping those devices running at high speeds can be a challenge.

Seth Weing / AP

Eight medical schools, including the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, have been approved by the state to do clinical research on medical marijuana, Gov. Tom Wolf announced this week.

The move is an important one, advocates say, because of how federal drug laws have hindered research into the medical benefits of cannabis over the years.

The state’s Department of Health chose the schools as Certified Research Centers in a competitive process, said J.J. Abbott, a spokesperson for the governor.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Asthma rates among elementary school students in the Northgate School District have dropped significantly since one of the region’s top polluters ended operations in 2016, according to preliminary data.

Keith Srakocic / AP

Eight of Pennsylvania’s universities have received the go-ahead to start studying medical marijuana.

Governor Tom Wolf’s administration is billing the move as the commonwealth’s “first step towards clinical research” on the drug.

The eight medical universities and colleges in question are:

Amy Sisk / 90.5 WESA

A group of parents from the Fox Chapel School District is concerned about how their children’s health will be affected by hydraulic fracturing in the area. 

missjanetb / Flickr

The rate of maternal deaths has risen in the U.S. since 2000. Between 2014 and 2016, 51 Pennsylvania women died from complications due to pregnancy, and according to Gov. Tom Wolf, the current rate in Pennsylvania has doubled since 1994. 

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

On a mild spring day, 47-year-old Tom Lefevre stood on his apartment’s back porch, which overlooks a quiet, wooded area in the borough of Bellevue, just outside Pittsburgh along the Ohio River. 

Sarah Boden / 90.5 WESA

In Spring Hill, early 20th Century houses look out over cinematic views of downtown Pittsburgh. The front of 36-year-old resident Randal Miller’s home appears fine, but the back is a mess. Part of it was slammed by a landslide this February.

“The door broke in the first day,” he said. “It didn’t break in in a way that like you could move it, cause there’s like trees sticking through.”

Miller’s laundry room sustained the worst of the damage. Reddish mud and glass cake the floor and everything smell likes mildew.

Jessica Kourkounis / AP

The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania is raising some alarm over a fee hike Governor Tom Wolf wants to include in next year’s budget.

Right now, hospitals pay $220 million annually to the state’s general fund under the Quality Care Assessment law, which started as a partnership to ease budget shortfalls after the Great Recession.  

The law is up for renewal this summer. And in his proposal released earlier this year, Wolf called to raise the contribution about 60 percent, to $350 million.

Keith Srakocic / AP

For college students, finding the right tutor at the right time isn't always easy.

Using an approach similar to that of companies like Lyft and Uber, two faculty members at the University of Pittsburgh's electrical and computer engineering department are hoping their app can help bridge that gap.

Keith Srakocic / AP

The insurance mandates of the Affordable Care Act and expansion of Medicaid helped prevent hospitals in Pennsylvania from losing more than $80 million in 2017. 

The findings come via a report on the state's health care finances from the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4), an independent state agency established in the 1980s by the state legislature to analyze and report information to improve the costs and quality of health care in Pennsylvania. 

Administración Nacional de la Seguridad Social / Flickr

Seven out of 10 babies born to mothers with Hepatitis C at Magee-Women’s Hospital of UPMC are not screened for the virus, which can cause serious liver damage.

The information comes from a new study from the University of Pittsburgh, published last week in the journal Pediatrics, which looked at children who continued to receive pediatric care from UPMC through their second birthday.

Lyme disease was once unheard of in western Pennsylvania, where Barbara Thorne, now an entomologist at the University of Maryland, spent time as a kid.

Thorne knew that if black-legged ticks are infected with bacteria called Borrelia burgdorferi, they can transmit Lyme to people and, that if untreated, symptoms can range from fever, fatigue and a rash, to serious damage to the joints, heart and nervous system.

Flickr user jrgcastro

There are 14,000 people in the United States waiting for a liver transplant. And if the country's medical centers continue to draw the vast majority of viable livers from deceased donors, only half of those waiting will receive a transplant. Fifteen to twenty-five percent of those waiting never will.

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center hopes to change that through Living Donor Liver Transplants (LDLTs), which the hospital says are underpromoted and underutilized across the world. 

Richard Drew / AP

Nearly one-quarter of Pennsylvanians had their personal data compromised on Facebook by Cambridge Analytica and other third parties. The determination of 2,960,311 residents was shared by the social media site to Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. 

"Social media users don't expect to have their information given to third party developers without their knowledge," Shapiro said in a press release. "Businesses like Facebook must take significant steps to better protect their users' privacy and personal data."

Matt Rourke / AP

Several state lawmakers are trying to boost a proposal that would qualify women with postpartum depression for support through Pennsylvania’s Early Intervention program.

Allegheny County Health Department

The Allegheny County Health Department reports the highest concentration of overdose deaths in the Pittsburgh region from 2008 to 2016 is an area covering parts of Mt. Oliver and neighborhoods on the southern side of Pittsburgh, like Allentown and Knoxville.

90.5 WESA

Medical research has historically excluded minority participants, creating a one-size-fits-all approach to treatment. UPMC primary care physician Dr. Mylynda Massart said the problem is pervasive, as her patients come from a variety of backgrounds.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh can be notoriously difficult to navigate. The city's hills and valleys, bridges and tunnels, lack of  street grid, one-way streets and constant construction make getting around a feat, even in a car. 

Feggy Art / Flickr

Legislation in the Pennsylvania House would prohibit health insurance companies from changing benefits or adding restrictions to coverage plans mid-year.

Damian Dovarganes / AP

Black Americans are living longer lives than they were a quarter century ago.

Maya Alleruzzo / AP

The sleep lab at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC looks like an extended stay hotel suite. There’s a small kitchen, sitting room and a nice TV. It’s clean and sparse, dark and quiet.

Markus Schreiber / AP

Pittsburgh-based pharmaceutical company Bayer is being sued for allegedly fraudulently marketing a birth control device that some women say has caused them significant harm.

Rodney Grubbs / NASA

Since 1997, the United States has sent four rovers to Mars, but we haven't sent one to the moon in more than four decades.

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