Science, Health & Tech

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

Autism Study Sheds Light On Challenges

Jan 29, 2012

Information from more than 3,500 autistic adults and caregivers is included in the Pennsylvania Autism Needs Assessment study, the largest of its kind in the nation.

Anne Bale, a spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Public Welfare (DPW) said there was a great need for information about people living with autism.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration's (EIA) latest report finds reserve estimates for the Marcellus Shale formation are dramatically lower than reported last year. The estimate in the Annual Energy Outlook 2012 (AEO2012) is 141 trillion cubic feet of gas, compared to 410 trillion in 2011.

Policy and Communications Director for the Marcellus Shale Coalition, Steve Forde, said that isn't of much concern, and added that the estimate is simply a "snapshot in time." He said the coalition will continue to look at longer-term trends.

Health Officials Consider Rules For Wood-Fired Boilers

Jan 23, 2012

The Allegheny County Health Department is trying to figure out how to best regulate emissions from wood-fired boilers used to heat homes. The department has been seeing an increasing number of complaints about smoke as the popularity of the devices grows. However, there weren't many residents attending a recent Board of Health public hearing on proposed regulations.

Roe v. Wade Anniversary Sparks Rally

Jan 20, 2012

Two days before the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, reproductive rights activists gathered outside City Hall in downtown Pittsburgh today to rally against a new law that puts restrictions on abortion providers.

Governor Tom Corbett signed SB 732 into law on December 22 in response to the Dr. Kermit Gosnell incident that occurred in Philadelphia last year. Gosnell was indicted last January in the deaths of seven babies and a woman at his clinic.

Group Flunks Pennsylvania on Tobacco Policy

Jan 19, 2012

In a "report card" released Thursday, the American Lung Association gave Pennsylvania poor grades for its policies regarding tobacco use and taxation.

Deb Brown, President of the American Lung Association of the Mid-Atlantic, said the Commonwealth is "in the middle to the end of the pack" of the 50 states and Washington D.C., in the eyes of the ALA.

Adolescent Brain Respond Differently to Rewards

Jan 17, 2012

A new study out of the University of Pittsburgh has discovered that the adolescent brain responds differently to reward. This discovery could change what researchers know about early addiction and mental illness.

Researchers at Pitt were trying to learn if the adolescent brain processes salient events differently than the adult brain does. They found that the adolescent brain does, and that process could make them vulnerable to risky behavior and poor decision-making. It could also make them more susceptible to diseases such as addiction, schizophrenia, or eating disorders.

261 people received a liver transplant at UPMC between July 2008 and December 2010. Of those patients, 42 died. Nation-wide averages indicate fewer than 29 where expected to die. But, Christopher Hughes, UPMC's surgical director for liver transplants, said that's not due to negligence on the hospital's part, but rather to deficiencies in the way transplants are reported.

"If there's one thing I can criticize our program about, it's our self-reporting of data," said Hughes.

Marcellus Legislation Enters Final Phase as Budget Talks Loom

Jan 17, 2012

Reconciliation is underway in the state legislature for separate Senate and House versions of a bill that mandates impact fees on Marcellus shale gas drilling. Leaders from both chambers are working out discrepancies in the amount of the fee and how it will be collected, among other details.

With budget negotiations set to begin in earnest shortly, lawmakers are under pressure to wrap up the impact fee legislation in the next few weeks. Governor Tom Corbett said he'd like to see a final version by February 7.

A new DNA sequencing machine from Ion Torrent, a unit of Life Technologies Corporation, makes it possible to analyze a person's entire genome in just one day for $1,000. Previously that would take weeks and cost about $10,000, making it an impractical diagnostic tool.

Now that the cost and time have decreased, researchers at Carnegie Mellon University, Yale, and Baylor will study whether the technology can be put to practical use.

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.

Pages