Science, Health & Tech

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

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

First year medical student Aneta Kowalski knocked on the door of the classroom. Upon entering, she used sanitizer to clean her hands and introduced herself to the patient, Brandi Welle. 

Kowalski and Welle sat down and began to talk. Welle said that she was in a car accident four years ago. She was suffering from hip pain and was dependent on pain killers. But she also no longer has a prescription and had been dropped by several doctors for her dependency.

“I think I have a problem,” Welle told Kowalski. “I think I need some help." 

HealthCare.gov

Pennsylvanians looking for health insurance have a new option to help them find the right coverage. HealthPlanRatings.org is a plan comparison tool created for the state by nonprofit Consumer’s Checkbook.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Even Pittsburghers who don’t know exactly what The Midwife Center is have probably noticed the mural that adorns its northeastern wall while driving through the Strip District.

Jarus Health Technologies

Public health organizations are increasingly considering how they can use technology to battle the opioid epidemic that has claimed hundreds of lives in southwestern Pennsylvania in recent years.

Health care experts, students, investors and entrepreneurs will gather Thursday evening to discuss the opioid epidemic and develop collective solutions utilizing technology.

University of Pittsburgh/UPMC

Scientists at the University of Pittsburgh said they have discovered a promising possible antidote for one of the most common causes of poisoning death in the United States: carbon monoxide.

“If you have a snake bite, there’s an antidote for the venom. If you have cyanide poisoning, we have antidotes,” said Mark Gladwin, chair of medicine at the Pitt School of Medicine and director of the Pittsburgh Heart, Lung, Blood and Vascular Medicine Institute. “But carbon monoxide poisoning … there’s no antidote.”

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Could a virus offer a cure to cancer?

That’s the question researchers at Western Oncolytics, based in Harmar, are trying to answer. In fact, they’re hoping to start clinical trials in 2017.

Chief science officer Stephen Thorne said the idea that a virus could help kill cancer has been around for a century, but only since the 1990s have scientists been able to modify DNA to create a virus specifically designed to fight cancer.  

The first wave of research focused on creating a virus that could only grow inside a tumor.

Jon Olav Eikenes / Flickr

A recent study found the number of concussion diagnoses in Pennsylvania is spiking, but that’s not necessarily because they’re happening more often.

The report from Blue Cross Blue Shield found concussion diagnoses among 10 to 19-year-olds in the state jumped 85 percent between 2010 and 2015. The report doesn’t specify how the concussions were received, nor does it speculate as to why the numbers are increasing.

Looking At Addiction As A Health Crisis

Dec 3, 2016
Jessica Kourkounis / Keystone Crossroads

For the past 20 years, Rep. Gene DiGirolamo, R-Bucks, has been a vocal advocate for drug and alcohol rehabilitation in Pennsylvania. And he’s been pushing the public and lawmakers to stop looking at addiction as a crime.

“Addiction has to be looked at like a disease and it is, like other diseases, highly treatable, and treatment works,” he said.

Rodrigo Olivera / flickr

Posing with a new gun, from the top of a tall building or on a seaside cliff are just some of the ways more than 127 people died taking selfies between 2014 and 2016.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University and the Indraprastha Institute of Information Technology in Delhi, India found that number in a study of selfie-related deaths. The team is now using the data to help prevent future casualties-by-selfie.

Aaron Warnick / PublicSource

 

What was supposed to be a routine visit to the pediatrician with little Oren resulted in a finding that sent Katy Rank Lev and her husband, Corey, into a frenzy.

Their 1-year-old had lead in his blood.

Ted S. Warren / AP

As the opioid epidemic continues, an unlikely service is offering support to those battling addiction: the Pittsburgh Poison Center.

Medical Director Michael Lynch said center’s new effort to combat opioid overdoses and addiction aligns with its mission to reduce poisonings through treatment advice, advocacy and education.

Anyone in western Pennsylvania battling opioids, or their loved ones, can call the Mr. Yuk line, or 1-800-222-1222, for help.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

When talking to researchers in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh, “Star Wars” is likely to come up. Specifically, the scene in “The Empire Strikes Back” when Luke Skywalker is fitted with a prosthetic hand, after losing his in a lightsaber battle with Darth Vader.

Neovain / flickr

Older adults living alone are more likely to be emotionally well if they feel close to their neighbors and connected to their community, according to a new study from the University of Pittsburgh.

Simon Lucey / CMU

A decade ago, computer face recognition usually involved little more than detecting faces in a crowd and maybe being able to match them to faces in a database.

“The first stage was sort of thinking about faces as nouns, as it were,” said Simon Lucey, associate research professor at Carnegie Mellon University Computer Vision Group. “But now we’re launching into this very interesting space in terms of, what are faces doing, sort of verbs. So, rather than who is that person or where is that person, it’s, how is that face moving?”

Bridget Coila / flickr

Though multiple agencies provide help for new mothers battling opioid addiction, and their babies, having to travel between providers and locations can make it difficult for them to access care.

When Ken Rosenberg thinks about self-driving cars, a particular incident comes to mind.

"One of the autonomous vehicles stopped in the middle of the road. There was a chicken running around the street, and the car didn't know what to do. But it wasn't just the chicken, a woman in a wheelchair was chasing the chicken. The car just basically shut down."

Rosenberg is vice mayor of Mountain View, California, where Google is headquartered. He was in the audience at the annual City Summit of the National League of Cities, held this year in Pittsburgh.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

Beverly Thornton cuddles babies on Wednesdays.

When she walks into the neonatal intensive care unit at Magee Women’s Hospital in Pittsburgh, she said she can often already hear a baby crying.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Nursing home residents who need extra care or specialized help after business hours are often sent to the emergency room. But as those visits can be expensive, disruptive and sometimes avoidable, a South Side company is offering another solution.

Curavi Health, which spun out of UPMC, created a mobile unit called CuraviCart that uses a video conference system, on-call doctors and other instruments a nursing home might need to help residents.

Niven Sabherwal / 90.5 WESA

Nearly one-quarter of Pittsburghers live without internet access in their home. Without the web, many families are cut off from job opportunities or educational advancement. 

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh are using light to see inside the brains of subjects in ways traditional static imaging scanners cannot.

Functional near infrared spectroscopy, or NIRS, is portable and can measure brain activity while subjects are moving around. It can also be used in remote situations when people can’t get to an MRI scanner, which requires patients lie down and remain very still to get a usable image.

Simeon Berg / Flickr

When Iowa-based IT and data company Involta broke ground last month on a new facility outside of Pittsburgh, it wasn’t just creating the average office building.

Located in Freeport, Armstrong County, the company’s new 40,000-square-foot building is planned to be a high security, high performance data center.

Data centers have one primary goal — making sure customers can access their data, be it healthcare, finance, or technology-related. And in order to accomplish that, center operators have to ensure their systems never fail.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

An Aspinwall entrepreneur pitched his plan for a medical cannabis dispensary to residents of Lawrenceville and surrounding neighborhoods at a community meeting Monday night.

Jake Voelker, 32, originally from Erie, presented his plan as a way to help fellow veterans who are seeking an alternative or supplement to traditional medicine.

Chris Cassidy / Courtesy Bill Blumenreich Presents

Neil deGrasse Tyson is perhaps the most famous living astrophysicist. He’s got a popular podcast called “StarTalk Radio,” which regularly ranks among the top science podcasts on iTunes. In 2014, he hosted the sequel to Carl Sagan’s groundbreaking TV series “Cosmos: A Personal Voyage,” called “Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey.”

Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

This week, Gov. Tom Wolf signed a series of bills aimed at fighting the opioid epidemic in the state but the legislature let several bills expire without a vote.

Allegheny County Department of Health Director Karen Hacker said she supports the actions of the state in general, but she would like to see more done to combat the opioid epidemic.

Among the laws passed, Hacker said she is most interested in a bill calling for more education for medical professionals on safe opioid prescribing.

Richard Pedroncelli / ap

The Allegheny County Board of Health has placed e-cigarettes under nearly all of the same regulations as traditional cigarettes when it comes to use indoors. The vote Wednesday came after a series of speakers asked for the policy to be rejected.

Former smoker Dale Ray spoke in opposition to the regulations. He said he had diminished lung function due to his smoking habit. He said tried to quit smoking several times but it never stuck until he tried e-cigarettes.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

In the small, grassy field at Schenley plaza, a group of middle school students were greeted among a cluster of makeshift tents and handed IDs. One was for a 12-year-old from the Syrian Arab Republic, it was stamped with the word “refugee.”

It was part of "Forced From Home," an outdoor exhibition taking place through Monday. It’s a free guided experience into the lives of refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people.

Healthcare.gov

 

Prices for health care coverage on Affordable Care Act exchanges nationwide are going up 25 percent, but in Pennsylvania that number is more than 32 percent and for some in southwestern Pennsylvania the increase will be nearly 50 percent.

After Highmark and UPMC requested rate hikes for 2017, the Pennsylvania Insurance Department approved even bigger hikes in an effort to bring stability to the market.

Mark / Flickr

Pennsylvania officials are making progress on rules to govern the state's new medical marijuana program, including how dispensaries will operate and the fees paid by growers and processors.  

The Department of Health on Tuesday posted draft regulations for dispensaries .

No facilities in Pennsylvania have been approved to sell medical marijuana, but there are 103 families in the state who can already legally own the drug.

SkinJect / YouTube

According to the Journal of the American Medical Association, one in five Americans will develop skin cancer over the course of their life

But thanks to a new device from a Pittsburgh-based company called Skinject, some people with skin cancer may be able to skip invasive surgeries.

“Skinject is a totally new approach to handling this problem which is growing throughout the world as more and more people expose their skin to the sun,” said the company’s CEO James Nolan.  

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.

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