Science, Health & Tech

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

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

If there’s an explosion in Allegheny County, Nancy Love is ready to investigate.

Love has worked nearly two decades with the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office Trace Division evaluating evidence from explosions and trying to determine what chemicals were involved.

Allegheny County Health Department

Allegheny County may not have seen a huge jump in obesity rates, but it certainly hasn't seen a downward trend, according to a survey released Wednesday by the Allegheny County Health Department.

CMU via Youtube

Touch screens have become part of our everyday lives, but the technology has its limits. They are always relatively flat and are fixed to another product, like a cell phone or a computer.

But researchers at Carnegie Mellon University have figured out a way to make just about any object into a touch sensitive device.

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

Results from a University of Pittsburgh survey published last week found that the presidential election impacted women's decisions about their contraception.

Megan Harris / 90.5 WESA

One in five people who undergo a popular weight loss surgery is likely to develop an alcohol use disorder within five years, according to a new study from the University of Pittsburgh.

Bob Casey Says Medicaid Cuts Would Hurt Special Education

May 20, 2017
Ben Allen / WITF

The Republican-backed health care bill that passed the U.S. House would cut $880 billion from the Medicaid program over the next decade.

Pennsylvania's senior U.S. Senator says that move will not only rob people of heath care, but hurt the commonwealth's schools.

Democratic Senator Bob Casey says most people don't realize Medicaid funds help provide special education services, health screenings, and early intervention pre-k programs that benefit children with disabilities.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 fm WESA

In 2007, Mike Formica had just sold his tech start up and was looking for something to do when he was approached by a group of scientists from The University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. 

They wanted a device that would detect joint swelling in the hands of people who suffer arthritis. Formica jumped on board and started to look for a solution, but wasn’t happy with what he found.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner wants the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority to stop all partial lead line replacements in the city.

Ewa Krawczyk / National Cancer Institute via AP

University of Pittsburgh researchers have found a gene editing technique that could be used to treat aggressive forms of cancer.

Flickr user University of Exeter

For the first time, scientists have created a three-dimensional map of a vertebrate brain on a nanometer scale.

A nanometer is one-billionth of a meter, and at this level, one can see individual neurons and how they connect to each other.

Dr. David Hildebrand said the project represents a step forward in brain imaging, particularly at a small scale.

“We are now able to leverage modern technologies, both imaging technology and computer technology, to image at nano-meter scale resolutions,” Hildebrand said. “Small brains, but entire vertebrate brains.”

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Life expectancies in southwestern Pennsylvania are on par with the national average, according to a new study published this week in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Life expectancies in the region ranged from 77 years in Fayette County to 79 years in Butler County.

Both the state and national averages are close to 79 years.

The study, authored by researchers at the University of Washington, also looked at historical data.

Behind The Headlines: Pennsylvania's Opioid Crisis Up-Close

May 10, 2017
Jessica Kourkounis / Keystone Crossroads

To be addicted

With an increasing number of opioid overdoses in Pennsylvania, attention from state and local officials is growing as well as public attention around the issue. In 2015, there were more than 3,500 drug related overdose deaths in the state, which marked a sharp increase from the previous year. In Philadelphia, 900 people died as a result of overdoses, which is three times the number of homicide victims.

You don’t wake up and say, ‘I want to be a heroin addict.’ 

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Nesra Yannier said, growing up in Turkey, school was kind of boring.

“The education system was based on memorization, so I always thought it should be different and should be helping kids understand the reasons rather than memorizing facts,” she said.

When Yannier was working on her Ph.D. at Carnegie Mellon University, she sought ways to make learning more engaging and struck upon the idea of pairing digital applications with real-word educational toys.

Flickr user nicdalic

Thirty separate water systems in Southwestern Pennsylvania violated the federal Safe Drinking Water Act in 2015, according to a new report from the National Resources Defense Council.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

New research from the Rand Corporation shows that who you are – including your race, education and income – is a big predictor of how healthy you eat. But where you live matters, too.

Since 2011, Rand has compared the health of residents in Homewood, a food desert, with the Hill District, which went 30 years without a grocery store before finally getting one in 2013.

Marcus Charleston / 90.5 WESA

Allegheny County could become the first in the state to require all children to be tested for high lead levels in their blood.

The county Board of Health on Wednesday unanimously recommended the proposal, which would require two tests, around ages 1 and 2. The regulation must be approved by the county council and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald. It would take effect next January.

Director Karen Hacker said she believes testing is necessary, because most homes in the county were built before lead was banned in paint.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Water parks are becoming more and more popular across the country.  But not everyone can play.

“Water has really never been a part of the special needs community,” said Morgan’s Wonderland General Manager Ron Morander.

Flickr user A.

Hospital policies that restrict how pharmaceutical companies may market their drugs to doctors change physician prescribing behavior, according to a new study published Tuesday in the Journal of the American Medical Association.

The study, a joint effort of Carnegie Mellon University and six other higher education institutions, showed that when such policies were in place, marketed drugs were prescribed 8.7 percent less often while non-marketed drugs were prescribed about 6 percent more often.

Marcus Charleston / 90.5 WESA

Allegheny County kicked off its Lead Safe Homes Program last week, which helps residents identify and remove lead-based paint hazards in their homes.

The program consists of $4 million, partially funded by a grant through the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Office, which will be used to provide lead remediation in 175 homes.

Spencer Neuharth via USFWS Mountain-Prairie / Flickr

Lead isn’t the only harmful substance that can make its way into drinking water.

Chemicals from pharmaceuticals, pesticides and personal care products can all end up in the water supply.

Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

Pennsylvania has been awarded a $26.5 million federal grant to combat the heroin crisis. 

The first requirement of the grant is to perform a needs assessment within four months of receiving the funds.

Margaret Sun / 90.5 WESA

 

State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-Delaware, Montgomery) said he expects that medical marijuana will be available in plant form in dispensaries next year. Leach made the comments Friday afternoon during a panel discussion at the World Medical Cannabis Expo at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center in Pittsburgh.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Allegheny County Controller Chelsa Wagner said she will investigate the county health department’s methodology for determining the cause of elevated lead levels in children.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburghers rallied in Oakland Saturday, in a satellite to the larger March for Science taking place in Washington, D.C. The city hasn’t released official crowd estimates, but organizers said thousands attended the march.

 

The local march itself was short, just seven-tenths of a mile around the block that houses the Cathedral of Learning on the University of Pittsburgh campus. Speeches, however, lasted more than an hour, as around a dozen scientists, academics and activists explained their work and its importance for people and the earth.

Susan Walsh / AP

Thousands of people are expected to take to the streets in Pittsburgh and cities around the world Saturday, as part of the March for Science.

The main march takes place in Washington, D.C. on the National Mall and coincides with Earth Day celebrations.

The organizers behind the national march say they are trying to bring attention to government “policies that ignore scientific evidence and endanger both human life and the future of our world.”

They’re also speaking out against proposed budget cuts for research.

University of Pittsburgh

Researchers and laboratory scientists are increasingly trying to move cells and nano-particles through smaller and smaller channels.

“You want to get fluid pumped through something that’s the width of your hair,” said Anna Balazs, University of Pittsburgh chemical and petroleum engineering professor. “So one of the challenges is first just how to pump fluid through and then how to direct particles … to a specific location.”

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources

Rangers and personnel at Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks and forests will soon be equipped with the overdose-reversal drug naloxone.

 

Gov. Tom Wolf announced Wednesday that the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources would provide its officers with the medication, used to help minimize opioid-related fatalities.

 

“We’re losing over 10 people every day to this disaster,” Wolf said. “This is an epidemic that affects everybody in Pennsylvania – all across the state. Rural areas, rich and poor, men and women. It affects everybody.”

 

Marketplace/Carnegie Mellon's Biorobotics Lab

Marketplace Morning Report is wrapping up a three-week series, “Robot-Proof Jobs.” Host David Brancaccio hit the road for the stories talking to workers and experts from Pittsburgh and New Castle, Pa. to Milwaukee, Wis. The reporting also drew on the findings of The McKinsey Global Institute, which analyzed the work activities of more than 800 occupations in the U.S. to determine what percentage of a job could be automated using current technology.

Brancaccio spoke with 90.5 WESA’s Larkin Page-Jacobs about what he learned on the road.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

After months of building and $3.8 million in construction costs, the Midwife Center in the Strip District has more than doubled its space to 11,700 square feet. Unveiled by officials on Thursday, it's now the largest freestanding birthing center in the country. 

Margaret Sun / 90.5 WESA

More than 100 people gathered Tuesday evening at a town hall called “Not Another Flint” to discuss the water challenges confronting Pittsburgh.

“It isn’t Pittsburgh and Flint as some people are trying to make it out to be,” Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto said. “There are over 5,330 other water systems in the United States that have the same elevated lead.”

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