Science, Health & Tech

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

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.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

In a lab at Carnegie Mellon University, Adam Feinberg is using 3-D printing to create human tissue.

The associate professor of materials science & engineering and biomedical engineering said he often downloads 3-D images to print dollhouse furniture and Pokémon characters out of plastic for his children. He said that led him to ask: why not do that with the images made by an MRI or CT scan?

He said making a computer model from a scan is actually pretty easy.

Jacquelyn Martin / AP

On Feb. 17, 2016, Kelsey Williams got some devastating news.

“I went in for my routine anatomy 20-week ultrasound with my second child – my husband and I have a 4-and-a-half year old – and nothing had been indicated as anything but typical up to that point in the pregnancy," she said.

Nathan Forget / Flickr

The nonprofit that runs the needle exchange program in Allegheny County is leaving it's current location in Oakland. 

Each Sunday, as many as 75 intravenous drug users or their surrogates visit the Prevention Point Pittsburgh needle exchange program at the Oakland office. But the exchange will move to East Liberty in April.

The health department is moving its clinic and wasn't able to guarantee Prevention Point would be able to use those facilities on Sundays. 

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

When a company grows and adds satellite offices, it can often be difficult for the main office to stay connected to its remote locations.

Pittsburgh-based company NetBeez connects each site.

“I was imagining, you know, a lot of devices that are buzzing in the network and having all these devices they work like a swarm,” NetBeez co-founder Panickos Neophytou said. “It was a network of bees, so NetBeez came to mind and that is when we adopted the name.”

Larkin Page-Jacobs / 90.5 WESA

 


 

Robots are great at doing a lot of things, but they have trouble interacting with the physical world. That challenge is being tackled by roboticists in Pittsburgh — and they’re looking to infants for inspiration.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

On Dec. 15, 2016, Morgan Yoney’s life changed. She received a phone call in her hospital room – a pair of lungs had become available. Morgan had spent 21 days in the ICU at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital waiting for a lung transplant.

“They said I was on death’s doorstep,” Morgan said.

The 22-year-old’s quest for lungs had spread through the region, thanks to the “Morgan’s Army” Facebook page and a campaign by several North Hills businesses.  

Beginning of the Journey

Mark Lennihan / AP

Terminally ill people with higher body mass indices, or BMIs, are less likely to die at home than people with lower BMIs, according to a new study authored by University of Pittsburgh professor John Harris.

Liz Reid / 90.5 WESA

Nurses at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center's hospital in Altoona have ratified a contract they say will increase staffing at the central Pennsylvania facility.

SEIU Healthcare PA says 96 percent of its members voted Tuesday to accept the 3-year deal. UPMC confirmed the ratification.

Margaret Sun / 90.5 WESA

Pure Sky Farms CEO Austin Webb wore a black apron over his dress shirt as he served samples to costumers at the grand opening of the new Whole Foods Market in Upper St. Clair in January.

“This is micro and petite arugula that we have right here, covered in olive oil and lava salt,” he told a customer. “Then we have cilantro with a tortilla chip.”

The customer opted for the arugula, which Webb explained was harvested that very morning.

Allegheny County

Health agencies in Allegheny County want more families to take advantage of free home visit programs.

The “Open Doors to Home Visiting” campaign was launched this week by the Allegheny County Health Department and Department of Human Services.

There are currently 36 home visit programs in the county for expectant and new mothers. Health Department Director Karen Hacker said home visit programs have been proven to work.

Margaret Sun / 90.5 WESA

*UPDATED: Feb. 3, 2017 at 10:30 a.m. 

Protesters plan to demonstrate outside of Uber’s Pittsburgh offices in the Strip District Saturday. This will mark the third weekend in a row that local residents have gathered for a protest related to the Trump administration.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

*UPDATED: Feb. 2, 2017 at 3:37 p.m. 

Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority officials lifted the flush and boil water advisory for the city’s central and eastern neighborhoods Thursday.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

The precautionary boil order in effect for about half of the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority customers will most likely remain in place through the end of the week.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

*UPDATED: Feb. 1, 2017 at 12:20 p.m. 

Approximately 100,000 Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority customers are under a flush and boil order.

The authority said the order for the central and eastern neighborhoods is “precautionary.”  

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

In 24 hours, an all-female team of hackers called “Codebusters” created an app allowing people to manage their family finances and health needs all in one place.

They were the winning team at PNC’s second annual employee hack-a-thon.

“Really, when we walked into the door it was kind of a sprint and everything came together a couple of hours towards the end of yesterday and here we are today,” said Codebuster team member Becca Smith. “And now I know some women who want to sleep.”

University of Pittsburgh

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have helped develop a diagnostic blood test for Alzheimer ’s, which could make it easier and cheaper to detect the disease.

Pitt collaborated with researchers at the Center for Biomedicine in Italy and the University of Chile.

Neurology professor Oscar Lopez said the test will help doctors differentiate between Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

Leonidas Tsementzis / Flickr

Pennsylvania is one of two states without a cigar tax. A new report from the American Lung Association says that can have an effect on youth.

Last year, Pennsylvania lawmakers increased the cigarette tax by $1 per pack, chewing tobacco by 55 cents and electronic cigarettes by 40 cents. The legislature decided, again, to not add a cigar tax.

courtesy: David Hickton

During David Hickton’s tenure as U.S. Attorney for Western Pennsylvania, from 2010-16, his office took the lead in pursuing cyber crimes and terrorism.

Now, Hickton is starting a new career path as founding director of the University of Pittsburgh Institute for Cyber Law, Policy and Security.

“With the appointment of David Hickton, the University of Pittsburgh is poised to offer significant contributions to the national discussion on cyber-related issues affecting personal, national, and global security and privacy,” said Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher.

Michael Henninger / CMU

Supercomputers help people crunch big data in a number of fields, from research to weather forecasting, but not everyone has access to one or the technical savvy to make it work. Though, a new supercomputer could offer more access.

Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center just launched the second phase of its supercomputing system, called “Bridges,” last week. It’s among the largest supercomputers in the U.S., but according to Pittsburgh Supercomputing Senior Director of Research Nick Nystrom, it is probably the most democratic one available.

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