Science, Health & Tech

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

Kara Holsopple / Allegheny Front

On Rosetta Street,  in Pittsburgh’s Garfield neighborhood, someone has posted signs that read, “Nobody wants to look at your garbage” and “Have some respect.” They’ve used all capital letters for emphasis. This block is a haven for illegal dumping.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

In many developing countries, families routinely cook on open fires, often in poorly ventilated homes. According to the World Health Organization, the smoke from those fires lead to the premature death of more than 4 million people each year.

In rural Uganda, families often burn dried banana leaves.

"Which doesn’t combust very well, so it’s very inefficient so it makes a lot of smoke,” said Josh Shapiro, an engineer with Carnegie Mellon University’s CREATE Lab

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

The Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority announced Tuesday that it is now in compliance with Environmental Protection Agency standards for lead levels in drinking water.

Carlos Guisti / AP

More than a dozen experts have developed an ethical framework for clinical trials for a Zika vaccine, including UPMC Magee-Women’s Hospital’s chief medical officer Richard Beigi.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

A giant white balloon floated across Pittsburgh’s Riverview Park Friday morning as part of a test launch of a University of Pittsburgh and NASA research project. A few dozen people watched as the balloon and a few colorful containers attached by a rope were released into the cloudy skies just before noon.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

The state government isn't doing enough to measure the effectiveness of its addiction treatment programs that can be helpful in the fight against the epidemic of heroin and prescription drug overdoses, auditors said Thursday.

The audit launched last year by Auditor General Eugene DePasquale produced recommendations that three state agencies — the departments of Human Services, Corrections, and Drug and Alcohol Programs — do more to assess whether their addiction treatment programs are successful in curing people. It also warns that more money is needed to fund the effort.

Seth Weing / AP

Some patients in Pennsylvania could be able to get prescriptions for medical marijuana early next year. In the meantime, many doctors, pharmacists and other health care providers have questions.

Toby Talbot / AP

Attorney General Josh Shapiro announced plans to supply nearly 300,000 drug deactivation and disposal pouches to a dozen counties hardest hit by the opioid epidemic.

Everyone receiving a schedule II narcotic such as Percocet, oxycodone and fentanyl at a participating pharmacy will be offered a free Deterra disposal pouch, beginning August 1, Shapiro said.

“To be honest with you, at first I couldn’t believe it worked," Shapiro said of the drug disposal technology.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Artificial lungs have been around for decades, but they’re usually large devices that force the patient to remain in a hospital bed until their lungs improve or they’re able to undergo a lung transplant. 

But University of Pittsburgh Medical Devices Laboratory Director Bill Federspiel has developed a more mobile, wearable device.

Workers Compensation Institute

The use of prescribed opioid painkillers among workers' compensation claimants is falling in Pennsylvania at a rate slower than most other states.

The Workers Compensation Research Institute, or WCRI, looked at the number of prescriptions and the strength of the drugs given to injured workers who were off work for at least seven days but did not have to have surgery. Using data from 2009 to 2015, the institute found the use of opioids decreased by 10 percent in Pennsylvania.

Chris Squier / 90.5 WESA

The general manager of TechShop Pittsburgh is hopeful the community workshop space can stay open beyond the anticipated closing date of Sept. 1.

“I don’t want to set any expectations that we can’t deliver on, but that’s what we’re working on,” said Gadsden Merrill, who was part of the original staff at TechShop Pittsburgh when it opened in Bakery Square in 2013.

San Jose-based TechShop announced June 1 it planned to close its Pittsburgh location.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

A task force formed in May to make recommendations on policies and programs to protect Allegheny County residents from lead is hoping to provide its suggestions by November.

The nine-member task force will hold its third meeting Friday.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Andrea Rosso thinks, in the future, doctors who work with older adults will regularly time them walking down hallways. But it won’t be to find out if they’re slowing down for physical reasons; it will be to determine if they are in the early stages of cognitive disorders such as Alzheimer’s and dementia.

Scientists have known for about five years that slower walking speeds are linked to cognitive decline. Now researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are starting to figure out why, and they believe that the connection lies in a region of the brain called the right hippocampus.

Walter Stein / AP

In 1948, twenty people died when thick smog settled over the small town of Donora, just south of Pittsburgh. But is the city prepared if it happens again?

Jelly Dude / Flickr

Veterinarians in the Pittsburgh area said they've seen an increase in dogs testing positive for Lyme disease this year.

Pennsylvania already has the highest rate of human infection in the nation, and experts warned in February that the summer’s tick season could be a bad one, thanks to warmer winter weather. 

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Allegheny County Council is expected to vote Wednesday evening on a proposed mandate for blood lead testing for all children between nine and twelve months of age, and again at age 2.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Oxygen is something that many of us take for granted. But many people with breathing disorders can't take it in on their own -- and it's especially difficult for people living in poor and remote parts of the world. 

Scientist Wendy Zhang recalled the difficult decisions a physician in Gabon, Africa had to make as the result of limited resources. 

"On some, she had to make the heart-wrenching decision of which baby to live and which baby to die just because they don’t have oxygen to supply both,” Zhang said.

Heritage Valley Health System / Facebook

A health network that fell victim to a worldwide cyberattack last week says that all acute, ambulatory and ancillary care services have been restored at its medical neighborhoods and satellite community locations.

Heritage Valley Health System made the announcement Monday. The cyberattack affected the entire health system on June 27.

Branden Camp / AP

E-cigarette users report feeling less dependent and addicted than traditional smokers do, according to a recent study. Even so, researchers don't believe e-cigarettes are safer than smoking tobacco.

NASA

Next month, 12 new astronaut trainees will arrive in Houston, Texas for two years of intense training to prepare them for future missions into outer space.

One of those people, Warren “Woody” Hoburg, grew up in Pittsburgh and graduated from North Allegheny High School.

90.5 WESA’s Liz Reid spoke with Hoburg, from his office at MIT, where he teaches aeronautics and astronautics.

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

LIZ REID: What does it mean to be a part of the astronaut candidate class? What does that involve?

Keith Srakocic / AP, file

Carnegie Mellon University researchers have taught a computer to “read minds,” so to speak.

Study: Some Highly Fluorinated Chemicals Are Harder To Filter From Water

Jun 29, 2017
Rajikiran Ghanta / Flickr

Researchers have found some kinds of chemicals are harder to filter from water.

These compounds belong to a family called highly fluorinated chemicals. They’re used to make carpets, clothes and cookware stain and water repellant.

They’ve also been used in firefighting foam at military bases and airports. Those chemicals from firefighting foam have contaminated drinking water around the country, including drinking water wells near the former Wurtsmith Air Force Base near Oscoda.

Rate Of Hospitalizations For Opioid Overdoses Rising Rapidly In PA

Jun 29, 2017
Toby Talbot / AP

Many who overdose on an opioid in Pennsylvania never need to go to a hospital. Some are treated by first responders, or bystanders who carry naloxone, a drug that can halt an overdose before it becomes fatal.

Some succumb without help.

But a growing number of Pennsylvanians are winding up as hospital patients as the result of opioids — 66 percent more in 2016 than in 2014. The numbers do not include emergency room visits.

Koji Sasahara / AP, File

Faculty and staff from several schools at Carnegie Mellon University are joining forces in an effort to accelerate the science of Artificial Intelligence.

University leaders said they hope that by pulling together more than 100 faculty through the creation of CMU AI, it will maintain the university’s role as a leader in the field.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Increasingly, when you find a trash can in a public place it has at least two openings—one for trash and one for recyclables. But according to Charles Yhap, humans don’t do a very good job of sorting what they throw in those cans.

“Americans typically achieve, when they have a 50-50 chance between two bins, it’s usually 30 percent,” said Yhap.

With that in mind, Yhap launched a company called CleanRobotics with a flagship product called Trashbot.

Molly Riley / AP

An organ transplant can be a life-saving procedure for people with serious medical conditions, but the drugs used to ensure the patient’s immune system doesn’t reject the organ can have severe side effects.

Jim Mone / AP

The state Department of Health granted a dozen licenses this week to companies that will grow and process medical marijuana in Pennsylvania. These 12 permittees have six months to become operational, which the state has yet to clearly define.

WESA's Liz Reid and The Incline's Sarah Anne Hughes discuss what Pennsylvanians can expect from medical marijuana in the state.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

CMU Robotics Institute assistant professor Stelian Coros was working to find ways to make animated characters navigate their simulated environments, such as in a video game or a movie, when he realized his work could be used to design and virtually test robots.

“And what I’m really excited about is moving towards a new paradigm where robots will be able to approach the complexity of biological structures in both form and in function,” Coros said. 

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Fifty military cybersecurity experts are defending the online infrastructure of their imaginary nations at the Cyber Endeavor X Games this week.

Now in its sixth year, the five-day competition is being held at Carnegie Mellon University’s Software Engineering Institute.

Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

Roughly 3,900 Pennsylvanians died of opioid-related overdoses last year.

State Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa wants Pennsylvania to sue pharmaceutical companies for what he characterizes as deceptive marketing of opioids.

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