Science, Health & Tech

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

Melinda Roeder / 90.5 WESA

A doctorate project-turned-start up by two University of Pittsburgh students has grown from its days sharing a space at AlphaLab in East Liberty.

Kasey Catt and Noah Snyder first started InterPhase Materials with the intent of developing nontoxic coatings to be used inside the body for brain or dental implants. But after hitting roadblocks with the FDA, they refocused their efforts on coatings to keep marine life, such as mussels and barnacles, and mold from sticking to boats and buildings. 

CDC

The number of Pennsylvanians infected with acute hepatitis C more than doubled from 2009 to 2013, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC report shows that after the infection rate leveled off for a few years, it jumped from 39 cases per every 100,000 Pennsylvanians in 2009 to 81 in 2013, the latest year data is available. That translates to about 10,000 Pennsylvanians currently living with the liver disease.

John Amis / AP

School nurses in Allegheny County will soon begin reporting HPV vaccination rates to the county Health Department.

Felipe Dana / AP

The University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health is stepping up its efforts to learn about the Zika virus, which has been linked to an epidemic of birth defects in Brazil and other parts of Latin America.

UPMC Magee Women's Hospital

In a quiet, dimly-lit room of UPMC's Magee-Women's Hospital in Oakland, volunteer "cuddler" Donna Comfort held a tiny newborn in her arms. The baby was one of at least five in the hospital born dependent on heroin, prescription painkillers, addiction treatment medication or another form of opioid.

Alan Levine / Flickr

A report released Thursday by the Allegheny Health Network found a high rate of asthma in Allegheny County elementary school students. The study suggests poor air quality is partially responsible for the pervasive incidences of childhood asthma in the Pittsburgh region.

Deborah Gentile, the director of allergy and asthma clinical research at Allegheny Health Network, surveyed 267 fifth graders in the county and found 29 percent had asthma and 11 percent more were at risk of developing the disease.

Flickr user jrgcastro

The University of Pittsburgh Medical Center has signed a letter of intent to pursue an affiliation with a north-central Pennsylvania hospital network.

Susquehanna Health and UPMC jointly announced the letter of intent Thursday.

The details of the affiliation have yet to be determined.

Susquehanna serves 11 counties through four hospitals, Divine Providence, Muncy Valley, Soldiers & Sailors Memorial and Williamsport Regional Medical Center.

Flickr user Lindsay Fox

This story was updated May 5, 2016 at 9:55 a.m.  

County health officials want to ban the use of e-cigarettes and vaping devices everywhere regular cigarettes are already prohibited.

Members of the Allegheny County Board of Health have instructed health department officials to come up with a policy by the board's next meeting in July.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

In a small, but growing office in Shadyside, Rhiza Founder and CEO Josh Knauer stood in front of a computer linked to the cloud and crunched big data for a Kia car dealer and a Pittsburgh TV station.

“Behind this very simple display of data are hundreds of billions of records of data that we are sifting through,” Kanuer said of the colorful mix of graphics and numbers on his screen. “And in a matter of seconds … we were able to get to results that had gone through those records and found just the ones that are relevant to this story for this television station and for this very local specific advertiser.”

rumpleteaser / Flickr

Jenny Stalnaker, her husband, and their 3-year-old son Townes spend a good two hours cleaning their house every night before bed. 

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

The days of an individual doctor hanging out a shingle and offering a general family practice are all but gone. The new norm is that your primary care physician is part of a multi-doctor practice. It’s also more likely than not that those doctors have either already hired a nurse practitioner or a physician assistant, commonly referred to as physician extenders, or they are considering making such a move.

“I find that the PA (physician assistant) generally gives you a lot of time,” said Jeff Phillips of McCandless.  Phillips said until recently he never saw a PA, but now almost exclusively sees a PA when he visits his doctor’s office. “So far so good.”

Sanofi Pasteur / Flickr

Every year, about 300,000 students get immunized in Pennsylvania.

Now, the state Department of Health is asking for the public’s comments on proposed changes to its immunization policy.

Mora McLaughlin / 90.5 WESA

Paleontologists have unearthed the most well-intact titanosaur skull ever found. The herbivore was 40-to-50 feet long and weighed twice that of an average zoo elephant.

After presenting their findings in Pittsburgh, Dr. Rubén D. F. Martínez of the Universidad Nacional de la Patagonia San Juan Bosco; Dr. Lawrence Witmer of Ohio State University and Matt Lamanna of the Carnegie Museum of Natural History published their research in the scientific journal PLOS ONE.

Melinda Roeder / 90.5 WESA

As companies like Uber and Google work to make self-driving cars, a local company is working on another autonomous vehicle: forklifts.

Engineers and designers at Seegrid have spent the last decade perfecting technology that allows automated forklifts to travel through warehouses and move heavy product without a human behind the wheel. The machines roll about like robots, making noises that sound like beeps, bells and sirens as a means of communicating with one another and employees.

Deanna Garcia / 90.5 WESA

The city's water authority got a slap on the wrist Monday from the Wolf administration two years after making a critical change to the chemicals added to Pittsburgh drinking water.

State Department of Environmental Protection Secretary John Quigley said Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority should have gotten approval from the state before switching from soda ash to caustic soda for corrosion control.

Courtesy University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Public Health have found that areas that are hot spots for drug trafficking haven’t necessarily seen a corresponding increase in overdose deaths. The findings are based on overdose data from 1979 to 2014 and are published in the journal Preventive Medicine.

Flickr user Abby Lanes

Pittsburgh-based PPG industries announced to shareholders on Thursday that it will stop putting lead in any of its products by 2020.

The announcement came shortly after shareholder Perry Gottesfeld, public health activist and founder of the nonprofit Occupational Knowledge International, delivered a petition with more than 5,000 signatures asking the company to discontinue the use of lead.

“PPG is now the first large U.S. company to agree to completely reformulate their products and take out lead,” Gottesfeld said.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Lab rats can be taught to do just about any simple task for food or a treat. 

Scientists can also watch what is going on inside a rat’s brain by inserting a few electrodes. So it's not unusual that researchers at the University of Pittsburgh attached wires to the brains of a group of rats while performing menial tasks. The researchers wanted to understand the effect of anxiety, but what they learned was unusual.

Cannabis Pictures / Flickr

It could take up to 24 months for the state of Pennsylvania to set up a system for regulating and dispensing medical marijuana. In the meantime, patients who want to use cannabis as medicine do so at their own risk, according to researchers studying the issue.

Marcel Bonn-Miller is a professor at the University of Pennsylvania and is currently studying how cannabis use affects people with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.

PA Internet News Service

By the end of 2016, Pennsylvanians should be able to set aside money in tax-exempt savings accounts to spend on the wide range of expenses brought on by disabilities.

The new Pennsylvania Achieving a Better Life Experience Act, also called ABLE, allows family members to contribute up to $14,000 total per year into an “ABLE account,” which is modeled after the Section 529 accounts that parents can use to set aside pre-tax savings for their children’s college bills.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

Downtown-based investment company BNY Mellon is one of many large organizations trying to change what it means to go to work by providing some of the comforts of home. 

The company opened a new Innovation Center on Monday on the 12th floor of its Grant Street office. 

Employees sat on Adirondack chairs and picnic tables near a bocce court and large windows. Nearby, a kitchenette sat filled with coffee and snacks. Those spaces are what Jen Wagner, head of the Pittsburgh Innovation Center, called collision points.

Melinda Roeder / 90.5 WESA

Managers at the Beaver Valley Nuclear Power Station got some advice this year from a panel of unlikely consultants – high school students.

Blackhawk High School students studied federal regulations for problems like workers' exposure to dangerous gases and the disposal of radioactive waste. Nuclear engineers and scientists from First Energy Corporation challenged the teens to produce energy safely and more efficiently.

Governor Tom Wolf / Flickr

 

Senate backers hope medical marijuana legislation in Pennsylvania will get to Gov. Tom Wolf's desk this week.

A Senate committee made changes to the bill Monday, and the bill's backers say they hope it can win passage in the House and Senate this week.

Charles Williams / Flickr

While much of the testimony at a state Senate hearing in Pittsburgh on Thursday focused on the need for the state to fund opioid addiction treatment regimens, one expert recommended the state take legal action against insurers who illegally deny coverage of long-term rehabilitation programs for those addicted to heroin or prescription painkillers.

Melinda Roeder / 90.5 WESA

Anyone attached to their phone knows how frustrating a dead battery can be. But if you need a quick charge, look no further than your shoe.

Pittsburgh-based tech startup Sole Power has created a shoe insert with a battery pack that can charge small electronics such as flashlights, radios and cell phones. Sole Power was founded by Carnegie Mellon University graduate Matthew Stanton, who said it all started with a simple idea for a class project.

Courtesy of David Bellinger

 

It's 1957. Dr. Herbert Needleman is on his way to see a three-year-old patient at the Children's Hospital of Philadelphia.

Needleman is a young doctor, about six feet tall, with brown eyes and dark hair. This is the first case of lead poisoning he's ever seen.

When he shows up, the girl is not in good shape. Her eyelids are drooping. Her pulse is slow. She's not making a sound.

Noah Brode / 90.5 WESA

About 30 people gathered at Smallman Galley in the Strip District Monday for one of the first events of more than 60 this week geared at including all types of people in innovative practices across the city.

That includes everything from a small business resource fair and a women business leaders breakfast, to several more colorful ideas, like "Pizza Poems" and "Maker Storytime Thursday."

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

  Keith Shettler worked to install and retrofit duct systems in downtown buildings for more than 20 years, opening structures that had been closed off for decades.

“You could see the coal dust that was there when the steel mills were there," Shettler said, "to the asbestos that might be hidden behind all that put there years ago when asbestos was prevalent to put on job sites.”

Melinda Roeder / 90.5 WESA

A Pittsburgh-based company is finding new ways to use eye-tracking technology to help children with disabilities learn language skills at a younger age by playing digital games. Now the video gaming industry is taking notice.

Tobii Dynavox has been making devices to help nonverbal patients communicate with the help of computer-assisted voice technology. Many of their customers are stroke survivors and adults with degenerative diseases like ALS, in which sufferers lose muscle control. But the company is now looking to expand their devices to young children, and even toddlers.

Felipe Dana / AP

  Post updated March 29 at 5 p.m. 

The aedes aegypti mosquito that carries the Zika virus is present in Pennsylvania, and there are now 11 confirmed cases of people who became infected with the virus while traveling abroad.

And Allegheny County officials announced Tuesday afternoon the first confirmed case of Zika locally, contracted by a man who had visited "an affected area." 

But public health officials keep saying the risk of contracting the disease is slim to none. Have you ever wondered why?

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