Science, Health & Tech

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

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Residents asked questions about the effects of lead poisoning, the cost of lead line replacement and the responsibilities of local landlords at a panel discussion about water issues Tuesday night.

Marc Levy / AP

A federal task force is walking back a 2012 recommendation that men between ages 55 and 69 not be screened for prostate cancer.

That brings federal guidelines in step with recommendations from a state task force, released last week.

Both the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force and the Pennsylvania Prostate Cancer Task Force now advise men to talk with their doctors about whether they should be screened.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Jennie Dorris’s four music students each stood, mallets in hand, behind a marimba, which looks a little like a xylophone. They were getting one last look at the original melody they wrote before Dorris erased it from the dry erase board and they had to play it from memory.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have discovered that a seemingly harmless virus might be a trigger for celiac disease.

Reovirus infects most humans within the first five years of life, according to Dr. Terry Dermody, Chair of Pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA

Jeremiah’s Place is celebrating three years of service as western Pennsylvania’s only crisis nursery this month.

Located inside the Kingsley Association in Larimer, the facility provides 24-hour care for infants and children, who can stay for a few hours or even days when their parents are unable to provide help themselves.

Cliff Owen / AP

Fentanyl deaths outranked those attributed to heroin last year for the first time in Allegheny County, according to data released Thursday by the medical examiner's office.

Coroners and medical examiners in all but one of the 10-county region reported spikes in drug overdose deaths from 2015 to 2016 -- up 44 percent in Allegheny County and 38 percent in Westmoreland County.

The DeMoe family

"The Inheritance" is a new book by Pittsburgh-based writer Niki Kapsambelis. It tells the story of the DeMoe family from North Dakota, who carry a rare genetic mutation that guarantees they will get Alzheimer’s disease at a young age.

County Health Rankings & Roadmaps / University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute

Rates of obesity, sexually transmitted diseases, breast cancer screenings and childhood poverty are all on the rise as Allegheny County fell in state rankings released by the University of Wisconsin Population Health Institute.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Every day, multiple times a day, Jesse Perkins runs the water in his kitchen sink for about a minute-and-a-half, until it runs cold, indicating that it’s fresh water from the main in the middle of his street. He does it before he fills up a glass of water or a pot for cooking.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Figuring out where to find something in a large warehouse or navigating a sprawling campus, like a hospital, isn’t always easy.

“You know, how do you get from the main door (of a hospital) to a certain department? You’re asking 20 people along the way and then you get frustrated,” said ARIN Technologies CEO Vivek Kulkarni. “But if there were a way to navigate, like you use Google Maps, that would make life so much easier.”

PicoCTF / CMU

What’s being billed as the largest hacking contest ever is launching Friday.

PicoCTF from Carnegie Mellon University aims to educate middle and high school students on the importance of computer security and tackle a common misconception – that hacking is bad.

“What hacking is about is understanding computers deeply and understanding how they function and how they may have bugs in them, how something may go wrong and being able to anticipate that,” said David Brumley, director of CyLab, CMU’s security and privacy institute.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Chris and Amanda Comeau said when their daughter Eleanor turned 10 months old, she hit lots of exciting milestones. She started moving around on her own a lot more, waving and gesturing and recognizing her grandparents on FaceTime.

Chris Stalnaker

A handheld device that can detect bedsores is one of the designs aiming for a $50,000 grand prize at AlphaLab Gear’s Hardware Cup next month.

 

The device was designed by a team named Rubitection, which beat out six other groups and took home a $3,000 prize at the Mid-Atlantic regional qualifier last month.

 

The start-up incubator, located in East Liberty, is hosting the innovation contest for its third year.

 

Other designs included a robotic material-sorting waste bin and an assistive video-game controller for people in wheelchairs.

 

What's The Best Way To Protect People From Lead-Tainted Drinking Water?

Mar 24, 2017
Darron Cummings / AP

The problem of lead in drinking water has been well-known for years. But the tragedy in Flint, Michigan, where lead-tainted water poisoned hundreds of children and contributed to several deaths, has catapulted the issue into the spotlight.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

About an hour east of Pittsburgh, in Indiana, Pa., inside a windowless building set far back from the road, the scientists at Environmental Service Laboratories test all kinds of things for safety and compliance with regulations, from drinking water to toys to hazardous waste.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Nearly every piece of exposed metal in a consumer product has been electroplated in some way. It's the process of coating a metal with another metal to prevent corrosion. The most common coatings include chrome and cadmium, both of which are heavy metals that can be harmful to the environment.

Matt Rourke / AP

Linda Deafenbaugh’s husband was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at age 48. The couple lives in Ohioville, Beaver County and Deafenbaugh has been her husband’s primary care giver for the last seven years.

Now 55, he can’t be left alone and Deafenbaugh said she often feels overwhelmed. That’s why she attended one of the seven Alzheimer’s disease forums held by Pennsylvania Secretary of Aging Teresa Osborne.

“To find out what’s available, as far as resources, and also to put word out there that in the rural areas, there is nothing,” Deafenbaugh said.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Carol McCullough, 76, lives in the West End neighborhood of Westwood in the home she and her husband have shared for nearly 50 years. She had her water tested for lead years ago, but when the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority announced last summer that it had found elevated lead levels in some homes, she decided to get another test, just to be safe.

Nathanial Burton-Bradford / Flickr

The Allegheny Health Network is creating a new Cerebrovascular Center with the goal of making it easier for stroke victims to get access to treatment quickly.

Studies show that reducing the time between a stroke and treatment is one of the most important factors to a successful recovery.

Timothy K Hamilton / Flickr

Scientists have long known that there is a link between schizophrenia and rheumatoid arthritis. People who suffer from schizophrenia tend not to develop rheumatoid arthritis, and people with rheumatoid arthritis are at low risk for schizophrenia.

Though this relationship has been clear for more than 50 years, nobody really knew why the link existed, according to University of Pittsburgh professor of psychiatry and human genetics Vishwajit Nimgaonkar.

“We thought that there might be genetic factors that might explain this phenomenon,” he said.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Each summer, managers of public beaches like those at Presque Isle State Park in Erie test their water to make sure it’s safe for swimming. 

Last year, the park issued more than two dozen advisories and closed beaches three times due to elevated levels of E. coli bacteria.

E.coli is a marker for dangerous water because it’s an indicator of what else could be there, such as viruses.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

The Allegheny County Medical Examiners Office is one of only a few in the country that also has an in-house forensic laboratory.

90.5 WESA’s Deanna Garcia spoke with Medical Examiner Karl Williams about the facility and ongoing trends.

Their conversation has been edited for length and clarity. 

Charles Krupa / AP

The Wolf administration this week released new rules around prescribing buprenorphine to Medicaid recipients. The drug is often prescribed to people who are addicted to opioids as a part of medication assisted treatment.

Buprenorphine activates the same opioid receptors in the brain as drugs like heroin and oxycodone, but to a much lesser degree, in order to alleviate withdrawal symptoms. It also serves as an opioid blocker much like the life-saving drug naloxone, so users won’t feel euphoric effects from taking other opioids while on buprenorphine.

Keith Srakocic / AP Photo

With no exceptions, the $1 million Safe Water Plan will distribute water filters to city residents to reduce exposure to lead. People living within the city’s boundaries are eligible to receive one, regardless of income level, whether they rent or own, or who their water provider is.

While it’s a start, Mayor Bill Peduto said this is not a long-term solution.

Frank Franklin II / AP

This story was updated at 2:51pm on Wednesday, March 8, 2017.

Allegheny County Council voted to ban the use of e-cigarettes and vaping devices in all public places where smoking is also prohibited after a lengthy debate Tuesday evening.

Residents on both sides of the issue spoke passionately about whether people should be allowed to vape in restaurants, theaters, retail stores, athletic arenas and other public spaces.

Timothy Vollmer / Flickr

With the recent indictment of former National Security Agency employee Harold Martin for allegedly stealing 50 terabytes of top-secret NSA reports, the world of cyber security is once again turning its attention to inside threats. 

However, experts at Carnegie Mellon University have been trying to fight insider threats for more than a decade.

Liver Transplant Surgical Pioneer Dr. Thomas Starzl Dies

Mar 6, 2017
Gene J. Puskar / AP

Dr. Thomas Starzl, who pioneered liver transplant surgery in the 1960s and was a leading researcher into anti-rejection drugs, has died. He was 90.

The University of Pittsburgh, speaking on behalf of Starzl's family, said the renowned doctor died Saturday at his home in Pittsburgh.

Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

Anxiety treatment that integrates regular telephone follow-ups may be more effective than traditional treatment through a primary care physician alone.

The finding is the result of a University of Pittsburgh-led study that focused mainly on anxiety and panic disorders. Of a total 329 patients referred from their UPMC-affiliated practices, researchers selected 250 who were considered “highly anxious.” Researchers randomly chose some “highly anxious” participants to receive phone call follow-ups from care managers, in addition to their regular care.

Charanjit Chana / Flickr

Pennsylvania lawmakers have re-introduced a bill that would help the 10 to 15 percent of women who suffer from postpartum depression after giving birth.

 

Katie Meyer / WITF

Pennsylvania gets a failing grade for its efforts to protect children from high levels of lead in the water at their schools, according to a report released two weeks ago from Public Interest Research Groups, a national federation of left-leaning, independent nonprofits.

It advises—among other things—that schools install water filters as soon as possible while working on longer-term solutions.

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