Science, Health & Tech

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

Ryan Clark’s Cure League Tackles Sickle Cell

Sep 4, 2012

The Steelers play in Denver Sunday night, and Ryan Clark, who usually starts at safety, will once again be inactive. If he has his way however, Clark and others eventually won’t have to shy away from activities that could affect their genetic disorder—sickle cell trait.

Beyond The (Planetarium) Stars

Sep 4, 2012

Beginning on September 22, visitors to the Buhl Planetarium at the Carnegie Science Center will be able to do more than look at stars, but it will take some work to get there.

Between September 4 and 21, the planetarium will be closed for renovation. Among the renovations being made to the Planetarium is new lighting, which Planetarium program development coordinator Robert Marshall says will be outfitted with green LED bulbs that are the brightest on the market.

With more than one third of the American population considered to be obese, weight loss is a popular and important issue, especially among women. A study has shown that postmenopausal women who increased their consumption of fruits and vegetables while decreasing their intake of desserts, sugar-sweetened drinks, meat, and cheese are more likely to control and maintain their weight over time.

Although there have been no human cases detected in western Pennsylvania, there has been a record-high number of mosquitoes carrying the deadly West Nile Virus (WNV). Allegheny County health officials reported 138 samples tested positive, which is nearly twice as many as last year and the highest number ever.

The samples were gathered during the period in the summer when humans are most vulnerable to the virus. Dr. Ron Voorhees, Acting Director of the Allegheny County Health Department, said the root of the problem actually comes from birds.

In an effort to raise awareness about and prevent concussions, Pittsburgh Steelers Head Coach Mike Tomlin is sharing one of the team’s mantras – “don’t hit the head, don’t use the head,” to young football players in the region.

Surplus Suture Wanted

Aug 28, 2012

A Pittsburgh-based international medical relief agency is calling on hospitals to donate surgical suture kits to prevent surgical delays and deaths in countries including Malawi, Jamaica, and Bolivia. For the past 23 years, Global Links has provided medical materials for resource-poor countries, and while large amounts of suture have already been donated, there is still a need for more.

Highmark has sent the Pennsylvania Insurance Department an updated version of its request to take over local healthcare providers.  The new plan increases the cost estimate to $1 billion due to the addition of another hospital takeover option and new physician agreements.

It's the time of year when many home gardeners are enjoying harvesting and eating plenty of varieties of tomatoes.  This Sunday Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens will host the 8th annual "Red, Ripe, and Roasted Tomato and Garlic Festival"  to celebrate two of this year’s most bountiful crops. The event will focus on fresh, local produce and its culinary possibilities.

Jordyn Melino, Exhibit Director at Phipps, described the festival as perfect for the city of Pittsburgh, given its rich local farms and history of food.

With influenza season not far away, the Allegheny County Health Department wants to increase the number of workers at the 18 Pittsburgh area hospitals who receive flu shots.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 63.5% of health care workers nationwide were vaccinated against the flu last season.  "That is surprising," said Dr. Ron Vorhees, the acting director of the County Health Department.  "We think this is a good opportunity to really encourage people to step up, be protected, and protect their patients."

Robot Hall of Fame Voting Open to the Public

Aug 21, 2012

Twelve robots in four groups are competing for a place in the Robot Hall of Fame, and for the first time the public is allowed to vote on nominees in Education and Consumer, Entertainment, Industrial and Service, and Research categories. A pool of more than 100 international scientists and experts nominated the contenders which include every thing from a kit for designing and building robots in schools, to Rosie - the maid robot in the Jetsons.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center and University of Pittsburgh found a link between Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and concussions.

Dr.  Anthony Kontos, of Assistant Research Director for the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program said the study involved more than 27,000 U.S. Army Special Operations Command (USASOC) personnel.  

Health Department Tries To Vaccinate Raccoons

Aug 20, 2012

So far this year, four rabid raccoons have been spotted in Allegheny County down from 23 that were found in 2002. To reduce those numbers even further, the Allegheny County Health Department will conduct its 11th annual raccoon rabies vaccine baiting program. From August 20-24, Health Department workers, part of the “Rabies Control Team”, will place nearly 230,000 baits in all municipalities.

A $30 million Defense Department grant has been awarded to a new public-private partnership that includes manufacturers from Pennsylvania, northeast Ohio and West Virginia.  The funds will promote advanced manufacturing technology in the region.

to develop an Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (AMII). The institute will create a plan to promote additive manufacturing technology, advance innovation, and create a workforce capable on meeting industry needs.

Pittsburgh continues to grow as a racing town as the city hosts the inaugural Liberty Mile run this Friday, August 17. Top competitors from across the country as well as recreational runners will participate in the event that is a partner of the Bring Back the Mile campaign. The closest race distance to the mile is the 1500 meter, about 0.93 of a mile. The 1500 has been an Olympic event since the 1896 summer games.

An unusually hot and dry summer in the Pittsburgh area may have had some hoping that it would lead to some relief from ragweed allergies, unfortunately the hot temperatures and lack of rain had little to no impact on the plant, according to Dr. Barry Asman, an allergist with the Allergy and Asthma Care Center in Monroeville.  “Ragweed has been growing all summer long. For some reason, the ragweed seems to be drought resistant, whereas my yard has not been drought resistant.

Pitt Study Shows 'Decoy' Can Fight Cancer

Aug 14, 2012

An injection of 'decoy' material into human tumors helped reduce certain cancer activity, according to a new study from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.

Pitt Professor of Otolaryngology Jennifer Grandis said the decoy targets a protein called "Signal Transducer and Activator of Transcription 3" (STAT3), which is difficult to treat because it's found mainly in the nuclei of cancer cells.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health has given a $983,783 grant to Carnegie Mellon University to fund two studies of a new digital scanner that could improve cancer diagnostics.

The two-year project will compare the scanner's capabilities with the current methods of diagnosing a tumor's status by placing a biopsy under a microscope. CMU principal investigator Dr. Robert Murphy said each study will focus on the diagnosis of a specific cancer.

"They call it either the gray tsunami or the silver tsunami," said Linda Raimondi, coordinator of Geriatric Education at the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC).  "This is a problem all over the world."  Raimondi was referring to the growing elderly population.

Most teachers are preparing for the upcoming school year by organizing markers, pencils, and notebooks, but others will spend the next few weeks fiddling with wires, sensors and motherboards. Dozens of teachers across the region will help their students build robots this fall with the new “Hummingbird” robotics craft kit created by a local startup company.

A Robert Morris University (RMU) professor has created a computer simulation that showed incredibly small particles, or nanoparticles, could be manipulated into carrying a chemotherapy drug directly to a cancerous tumor. Since current chemotherapy drugs have more of an indirect route, the drug kills healthy cells as well as the cancerous ones, causing severe side effects, and limiting the dosage that can be given to patients.

Local residents are generally happy to live in the Pittsburgh area, according to a survey released on Tuesday by the University of Pittsburgh and PittsburghTODAY. However, African-American are not so pleased.

Roughly 1,800 survey respondents in the 32-county Pittsburgh region ranked the local quality of life at 7.8 out of 10. The national average is 7.4 out of 10.

NASA's newest and most advanced rover, Curiosity, is due to land on the surface of Mars at about 1:00 AM Monday, August 6th. The Carnegie Science Center and Buhl Planetarium is marking the occasion with mid-day, hour-long programs on Saturday, Sunday, and Monday featuring NASA news briefings, animated videos and Q&A sessions with Planetarium staff.

More than 1,800 people from all 50 states and nearly 40 countries are in Pittsburgh discussing ways to enhance communication for individuals with severe speech problems.

Last Sep­tem­ber, Chesa­peake Energy CEO Aubrey McClen­don declared to a Philadel­phia energy con­fer­ence that the prob­lem of methane migrat­ing through the ground near nat­ural gas drilling sites had been fixed. "Prob­lem iden­ti­fied. Prob­lem solved," he told an industry-heavy crowd at the Philadel­phia Con­ven­tion Center.

Nearly a year later, Brad­ford County res­i­dent Michael Leighton is wor­ried about the flam­ma­ble gas seep­ing into his woods.

Dr. Peter Shaw, Director of the Adolescent and Young Adult Oncology (AYA) Program at Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh, said that cancer patients 15-40 years old have had inferior survival rates over the past three decades.

"One of the reasons [for that] is the young adult populations and adolescents are less likely to be in clinical trials than pediatric patients and also older adult patients," Shaw said.

Clean Indoor Air Act, 4 Years Later

Jul 26, 2012

The House Democratic Policy Committee heard testimony from community members, experts, and business owners advocating for the expansion of the Clean Indoor Air Act (CIAA) that went into effect in Pennsylvania beginning in September 2008.

The CIAA allows establishments to permit smoking if they apply and qualify for an exemption. Some taverns, cigar bars, and tobacco shops can all qualify. As of December, more than 2,800 establishments in the commonwealth were exempt from the smoking ban. 60% of bars in Allegheny County allow smoking.

The Congressional Natural Gas Caucus holds a hearing this morning to examine job growth in the natural gas industry — more specifically, what opportunities and potential challenges exist to growing American jobs.

"We're talking now about 1.6 million direct jobs from natural gas, 600,000 new jobs in 2010 alone. Overall we're looking at about 2.8 million jobs, a fairly stable job sector for the next 20-25 years from this natural gas development and use, and it's an exciting aspect of the United States," said Representative Tim Murphy (R-PA-18), co-chair of the caucus.

The days of "snail mail" may be in the past for Pennsylvania laboratories, with most now sending test results electronically. About 93% of the state's 516 independent laboratories and critical care hospital-associated labs participated in a survey conducted earlier this year by the Pennsylvania eHealth Collaborative. Nearly 80% of them confirmed they are electronically submitting data at the present time.

In 2009 the state was awarded $17.1 million under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act to help establish an electronic exchange of health information.

More than 25 million people in the U.S. are living with Type 2 Diabetes. That's about 8.3% of the population, but there is one group experiencing higher rates.

"If you look at blacks over the age of 20, non-Hispanic blacks, almost 19% have diabetes," said Mim Seidel, a registered dietician with the Food Studies Program at Chatham University.

State Representative Dan Frankel (D-Allegheny) has introduced legislation that would allow more Pennsylvanians to be insured through Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. If his measure is passed, medical coverage would be expanded to include residents who earn less than 133% of the federal poverty level.

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