Science, Health & Tech

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

How One Thousand Pounds Of Butter Becomes Three Days’ Worth Of Energy

Jan 13, 2012

A dizzying fall from grace is in store for the Pennsylvania Farm Show's famed butter sculpture.

Thousands of people have snapped pictures of the refrigerated sculpture, which depicts a boy leading his prize-winning calf through a county fair.

Next week, however, a Juniata County farmer will unceremoniously dump it into a manure pit.

That's because he's turning the sculpture into methane gas. One thousand pounds of butter, it turns out, creates enough energy to power a farm for three days.

The 21 and Able initiative seeks to create a system for youth with disabilities who are transitioning out of the education and supportive services system. Currently, once a person with disabilities turns 21, they have officially "aged out" of the education system and no longer qualify for many benefits they may have had as children. That's the case with William, who will turn 21 in late January.

Child Protection Task Force Members Appointed

Jan 11, 2012

In Pennsylvania, most professionals who come in contact with children are required to report suspected child abuse. As a direct response to the sex abuse scandal at Penn State University, the state legislature has created the Task Force on Child Protection.

The ten members will review current state policies governing child protection, the reporting of child abuse, and propose suggestions to improve the system. Four members were appointed by Governor Tom Corbett, and three each by the House and Senate.

The Pennsylvania Game Commission is in the process of testing around 4,000 deer and 53 elk for chronic wasting disease (CWD).

First found in Colorado in the 1960s, CWD is a degenerative brain disease that causes cervids, including all species of deer, elk, and moose, to act in an uncoordinated manner, drool, and eventually waste away and die. The commission hopes that the results determine that there are no present cases in Pennsylvania. However, the disease has been confirmed south of the Mason-Dixon Line below Pennsylvania's Bedford and Fulton counties.

If the Well Blows, it's Time for a Specialist

Jan 9, 2012

When a natural gas well has a blow out or catches fire there is really only one option to call after dialing 911. More likely than not, it's the job of a Texas-based well plugging team to stop a spill or put out a blaze.

Wild Well Control uses sophisticated and sometimes remotely controlled equipment to do the work, equipment that is not found in your local fire hall. But there is competition coming into the market, a firm called Boots and Coots is making a name for itself.

Highmark Inc. and the West Penn Allegheny Health System announced on Wednesday morning that $20 million dollars will be spent on updating Forbes Regional Hospital in Monroeville.

UPMC is scheduled to open a new medical facility less than a mile away this summer.

The renovations to Forbes Hospital will be aimed in part at getting the hospital accredited as a Level 2 Trauma Center. That would allow the hospital to offer advanced treatment of trauma injuries.

Each year at least a handful of people die from carbon monoxide poisoning in their own homes. While a small number of people are affected, such deaths are preventable. Columbia Gas of Pennsylvania is reminding residents to install and maintain CO detectors in the home.

"The best place to install a carbon monoxide detector is near the sleeping area, that way if it goes off during the night it wakes you up while you're sleeping," said Ellen Partridge, spokeswoman for Columbia Gas PA. "For extra protection we also suggest you install additional detectors on every level of the home."

Center Will Focus On Health Disparities

Jan 2, 2012

The University of Pittsburgh's Graduate School of Public Health has formed a new center that will replace The Center for Minority Health. That center was formed in 1994 out of concern about the health disparities among minority populations in Southwestern Pennsylvania.

This new center, which has grown out of The Center for Minority Health, opened in mid-December. It will focus less on outreach and more on quantative research, getting funding, and publishing.

Study Could Lead to New Vaccination Method

Dec 29, 2011

A new study from researchers at UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh may be a first step in creating vaccines that protect people against a wider range of bacteria.

According to the research of Pitt professor Dr. Jay Kolls and his colleagues, vaccines to prepare "T" cells for infection rather than "B" cells might give people more bang for their buck.

Plan to Quit Smoking in the New Year

Dec 27, 2011

As 2012 approaches, it brings with it New Year's resolutions and promises by many to live a healthier lifestyle, including quitting smoking.

The Mid-Atlantic American Lung Association's CEO, Deb Brown, said that it's not uncommon for people to attempt quitting around the New Year.

"There are about six out of ten smokers who actually require multiple attempts to quit smoking," Brown said. "But we know that 80 percent of individuals who smoke out there, at some point in time, are trying to quit smoking."

Holidays Can Be Hard

Dec 23, 2011

For those that have lost a loved one, the holidays can bring back painful memories.

Cynthia Oliver, Director of the Good Grief Center in Squirrel Hill, which provides bereavement support, notes that the holiday season can be a difficult time, with all the celebrations and rituals that may bring back memories of the person who has passed away. Oliver said that grief affects everyone differently and is a unique experience that is different for every person. In some cases, cultural and gender roles play a part.

The Carnegie Science Center will soon be selling round-trip tickets to the sun.

As part of a new 3-D presentation called SolarQuest: Exploration of the Sun-Earth System, the Science Center will dive into the study of heliophysics, a branch of science that looks into the continuous interactions between the earth and sun.

Blood clots are a major cause of death among cancer patients, but currently, anticoagulants are only used on patients when they're hospitalized. A study led by Margaret Ragni, M.D., Ph.D., professor at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, tracked what would happen if anticoagulants were used in outpatient cancer treatments.

"There is increasing evidence that using blood thinners has a beneficial effect on cancer. The mechanism isn't well known but it probably inhibits extra vessel growth and it inhibits tumor growth," said Ragni.

A team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine conducted a randomized 12-week trial of a text messaging-based program aimed at reducing so-called hazardous drinking behavior. The study involved 45 people between the ages of 18 and 24 who were discharged from area emergency rooms and identified as having engaged in dangerous drinking, such as binge drinking.

UPMC to Partner with Singapore Transplant Center

Dec 15, 2011

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has announced an interim agreement with The Asian Centre for Liver Diseases & Transplantation (ACLDT) in Singapore. This is the first step in what's expected to be a broader collaboration in the future. Under the agreement, UPMC will help ACLDT with its business and technology planning and with clinical consultations.

Penn State Works on Egg Safety

Dec 12, 2011

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has awarded Pennsylvania State University a $542,607 grant to improve food safety.

The USDA handed out $10.4 million in grants to 17 universities for research and education.

Penn State researchers will be working with Iowa State University to develop an updated and optimized Egg Quality Assurance Program that will reduce Salmonella Enteritidis contamination of egg shells.

Department of Aging Urges Seniors to Get Flu Shots

Dec 12, 2011

The Pennsylvania Department of Aging is reminding people that there's still time to receive their annual flu shot to ward off illness. During last year's flu season, about 20,000 influenza cases were reported to the state Department of Health. Twenty-one percent of those who became ill were 65 or older.

Juanita Pless is the PrimeTime Health state coordinator for the Department of Aging. PrimeTime Health coordinates funding from the department to operate flu clinics. She said that even though the flu shot ad campaign has ended, the message has not.

Losing Face

Dec 12, 2011

We all see the world differently. But for people with face-blindness, they see it differently with an added major difference — they can't recognize who you are.

Survey Looks at Lack of STEM Diversity

Dec 7, 2011

Bayer Corporation's annual national survey polled department chairs at the top 200 research universities about the under-representation of women, African-Americans, Hispanics, and American Indians in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) majors.

The professors found women to be the most well-prepared group, and under-represented minorities the least. However, women graduate in lesser numbers than white or Asian males, as do even those minorities who are comparably prepared.

Pittsburgh Observes World AIDS Day

Dec 1, 2011

Pittsburgh residents and city employees are wearing red clothing and ribbons in commemoration of the city's third annual World AIDS Day effort, (PITTSBURGH) RED. More than 30 organizations are partnering to conduct awareness events and distribute 20,000 educational cards to the public and employees about AIDS/HIV.

Carnegie Science Center To Grow Career Programs

Nov 30, 2011

The Carnegie Science Center has teamed up with the Chevron Center to grow and promote a STEM Education and Career Development. STEM stands for science, technology, engineering and mathematics. Those are fields that provide high-paying employment opportunities, but there are not always large numbers of students seeking out those fields.

Study: Eating Fish Cuts Risk of Alzheimer's

Nov 30, 2011

In 1989, a group of elderly individuals agreed to have their diets assessed. Their consumption of baked or broiled fish was tracked on a weekly basis for a year, and ten years later they underwent brain MRIs. Those scans revealed that the amount of grey matter in the brain had increased. Years later, scientists looked at the development of Alzheimer's in the subjects' brains. University of Pittsburgh researcher Dr. Cyrus Raji says that results were extracted from 15 years' worth of data.

EPA Expected to OK Air Quality Plan

Nov 29, 2011

The Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD) says that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to conditionally approve the department's air quality improvement plan for the Liberty-Clairton area. The plan will decrease the area's fine particulate matter from 16 micrograms per cubic meter annually to the national standard of 15.

The majority of electric consumers in Pennsylvania know that they can change their supplier, but only half have looked into the option, according to panelists who met with the Pennsylvania Public Utility Commisison (PUC) earlier this month.

The Health Effects of Hydraulic Fracturing

Nov 23, 2011

In the past few years, protesters who have opposed Marcellus Shale activities have focused on the detrimental effects that they believe drilling for natural gas could have on the water, and air, and ultimately everyone's health.

But those concerns have been mostly anecdotal, leaning on stories that people have told about the effects that the gas drilling process has had on their neighbors, livestock, pets, and family members — tales that without scientific evidence, that gas drilling companies readily refute.

Environmental Group Releases Report on Green Infrastructure

Nov 21, 2011

Pittsburgh is making progress in using green infrastructure to combat water pollution, but more improvement is needed. That's one of the findings of the National Resources Defense Council's second "Rooftops to Rivers" report which explored the efforts of 14 cities.

David Beckman, Director of NRDC's Water Program, said green infrastructure mitigates urban storm water run-off and sewage overflows by using environmentally friendly practices to capture rainwater before it floods into storm drains or overwhelms sewer systems.

November is Diabetes Awareness Month

Nov 21, 2011

The Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council will release a report tomorrow examining numbers for diabetes-related hospitalizations based on age, race, gender, and geographic regions in the state. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 18.8 million Americans have been diagnosed with diabetes. Another 7 million are believed to have the disease but haven't been diagnosed.

This month, the Pennsylvania Department of Health has been urging people to take control of their health and get screened for diabetes as part of National Diabetes Awareness Month.

For the seventh straight year, local organizations will receive more than $1 million for use towards breast cancer education, screenings, and treatment initiatives. The Pittsburgh Affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure said that the $1.8 million in grants is the largest amount handed out at one time in the history of the affiliate.

Kathy Purcell, executive director of the local chapter, said a large proportion of the money will go to the Mammogram Voucher Program (MVP). Through the MVP, Adagio Health provides women in need with free mammograms and follow-up services.

Facebook Likes Carnegie Mellon

Nov 8, 2011

Mark Zuckerberg brought his college tour to Pittsburgh on Tuesday. The 27-year-old Facebook founder and CEO was on the Carnegie Mellon University campus along with Facebook's vice president of engineering, Mike Schroepfer, scouting talent for the social networking site.

Report Finds Internet Anti-Trackers Insufficient

Nov 8, 2011

Internet users looking to stop companies from tracking them online are having a hard time using common opt-out tools, according to a report from Carnegie Mellon University.

The growth of Online Behavioral Advertising (OBA) — advertising that targets individuals based on their online activity — has some privacy advocates pressing for more regulations limiting the information that companies can gather.

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