Science, Health & Tech

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

Ben Allen / WITF

 

The opioid addiction crisis in Pennsylvania isn't just impacting adults, it's taking a toll on babies in the wombs of mothers who use prescription pain killers, heroin or Fentanyl.

WITF reporter Ben Allen recently reported on the issue for NPR and he spoke with WESA's Larkin Page-Jacobs about what he learned while working on the story. Allen said he visited a hospital in Harrisburg where they treat infants born addicted to opioids.

Melinda Roeder / 90.5 WESA

A new artificial lung could buy patients and doctors more time during life-threatening and cardiac-related emergencies.

Pittsburgh-based Cardiac Assist just received FDA approval for the respiratory device. Before that, the company created an artificial heart several years ago that’s been used more than 4,000 times worldwide. The artificial lung will hit the market within the next two months.

Carnegie Mellon University

Autonomous robots could handle and dispose of waste from nuclear sites as part of a robotics traineeship program between Carnegie Mellon University and the U.S. Department of Energy's Office of Environmental Management

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

Peggy Glatch spends all day on her feet. She’s constantly moving while cutting her customers' hair.

She’s worked as a hair stylist for more than 40 years, the last 15 at Izzazu Salon downtown.

The salon was recognized as the first Live Well Workplace by the Allegheny County Health Department. Workplace is the fourth installment in the county’s push for healthier lifestyles, Live Well Allegheny.

Carnegie Mellon University

Over the last year, more than 400 Pittsburghers have gone to their neighborhood Carnegie Library, not to borrow a book, but an air quality monitor.

Now, this partnership with Carnegie Mellon University will be expanded nationwide.

“We want to repeat this experiment all across the nation,” said Sarah Longo, operations manager at AirViz, which makes the monitors. “As a for-profit company, this is our way of paying it forward, because it’s part of our mission to empower as many people as possible.”

Melinda Roeder / 90.5 WESA

A group of local high schoolers recently took on a smelly task: finding innovative ways to eliminate some of life’s most offensive odors.

Dozens of classmates from Avonworth and South Fayette high schools presented their ideas and prototypes to executives at Calgon Carbon Corporation. The Moon Township-based company creates purification systems for a range of products, from drinking water to pharmaceuticals.   

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Every day, Pine-Richland High School Nurse Susan Leonberg sees 30 to 40 students come through her office door. 

She said the number of students is average, but the number of flu cases she's seen isn't. So far, no confirmed flu cases have been reported.

“Many times, we do not get notified of confirmed cases," Leonberg said. "But as far as clinically, I don’t think we have seen it. We’ve had sick children, but not flu sick. You know, the normal kind of stuff.”

Wikimedia Commons

The rate of young, white females dying from drug overdoses in Pennsylvania is increasing faster than other demographics, according to a new report from the University of Pittsburgh.

Pitt researchers found fatal drug overdoses in Pennsylvania have increased 14-fold in the last 35 years, and deaths for young white females are climbing especially fast.

The paper's co-author, Jeanine Buchanich, said she isn’t entirely sure why. It isn’t just about the quantity of different drugs, she said, but how they’re using them.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

If your primary care physician says you need a test or procedure, and he suggests a location to get it done, what do you do?

“There is data that shows that patients do what their doctor says,” said Mark Roberts, chair of the department of Health Policy and Management at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. “When your doctor tells you, ‘I want you to see a cardiologist and I want you to see this cardiologist,’ that’s who you go see.”

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

A new study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention shows Pennsylvania is making progress in decreasing some of the infections contracted during hospitalization.

The study was published Tuesday.

Healthcare-associated infections can be a major threat to patient safety, but are often preventable.

The CDC looked at data from 2014 and found that most of those infections are decreasing nationwide.

Weekend Edit-A-Thon Puts Women In Wikipedia

Mar 8, 2016
Melinda Roeder / 90.5 WESA

A group of local women are taking on Wikipedia.

“The gender gap on Wikipedia really just boils down to most of the people who write on Wikipedia are men,” said Kelly Doyle, a librarian at West Virginia University and scholar on gender equality. "We're trying to ... get more women to write on Wikipedia and, as a result, have more articles and content about women."

Doyle drove to Pittsburgh on Saturday to join more than 100 participants in a day-long Wikipedia “edit-a-thon.”

Vernon Chan / Flickr

A new code boot camp opening in Pittsburgh's Allentown neighborhood this April is meant to supply entry-level workers to fill positions in the Steel City's burgeoning technology industry, with a focus on populations underrepresented in the tech sector.

4Moms

Pittsburgh-based 4Moms, which works to create innovative parent-friendly products for children, unveiled a new product to streamline the clunky process of installing a car seat.

For sale later this year, the self-installing car seat joins a battery of other user friendly products that harness technology to sterilize, self-fold and mimic a parent's touch.   

Mara McFaddon, director of product management, said it’ll be the safest one yet on the market.

Christiaan Colen / Flickr

 Researchers at Carnegie Mellon and Stanford University have been given access to password “frequency” information of 70 million Yahoo! users in order to develop methods to make online accounts more secure.

Companies track how many users choose the same, or similar, passwords. Those figures are collected to determine password frequency.

U.S. Department of Agriculture / Flickr

Tazeen Chowdhury gets schoolchildren to eat avocados and edamame.

That bit of miracle-working earned her an invitation to testify this week before a Senate committee on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. She joined this week to enlighten lawmakers about the tricks she uses to get students in the Mt. Lebanon School District to eat better and healthier both on and off campus.

Chowdhury said students gobble up newer food choices like avocado, kiwi and edamame.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

Imagine if companies knew the probability of turning someone into a customer – and keeping that customer.

That’s exactly what Green Tree-based Othot thinks it can do. The start up’s current focus is higher education student recruitment, and Chief Technology Officer John Abbatico said there’s plenty of data to mine.

stclair.org

St. Clair Hospital in the South Hills is making at least one portion of the health care system a little more transparent. 

The hospital has just rolled out an online tool that allows potential patients to find out what the hospital will charge them for more than 150 procedures.

brokinhrt2 / flickr

The deer once considered a nuisance in Mt. Lebanon, and culled over the past year are serving a new purpose for local food banks.

Raymond "Dmitri" Beljan / Flickr

 

Carnegie Mellon University will receive a $750 million settlement stemming from a patent infringement lawsuit against a Bermuda-based technology company that allegedly used a CMU professor’s data retrieval algorithms without permission.

Jennifer Morrow / Flickr

  The Pennsylvania House of Representatives has unanimously passed a bill to increase the penalty for attacking a health care practitioner.

Under House Bill 1219, the legal charges in such assault cases would be elevated from misdemeanors to felonies.

Pennsylvania Medical Society President Scott Shapiro said health care workers face a disproportionate amount of violence in the workplace.

Melinda Roeder / 90.5 WESA

The makers of a new “smart plug” claim it can save companies and organizations millions of dollars each year on electric bills.

Boss Controls is a Pittsburgh-based company that produces the plugs. They’re designed to go directly into a wall outlet. But unlike traditional plugs, these gadgets are programmed to turn themselves on and off.

CEO Greg Puschnigg said they’re designed to reduce energy usage during times when devices, such as vending machines, copiers, coffee pots and computers, are not being used.

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

A soldier in the field with little or no technical training could fix a piece of high-tech weaponry, seniors might use a complex health monitoring device and a newlywed couple can be coached through complicated IKEA instructions, all without the help of another human. 

Researchers at the Carnegie Mellon School of Computer Science are using wearable technologies like Google Glass to place an "angel" on a user's shoulder to do those types of tasks.

James St. John / Flickr

A group that supports the legalization of marijuana for medical use is responding to the Pennsylvania Medical Society’s stance against it.

Right now, cannabis is what’s called a Schedule 1 substance by the FDA, which means it can’t be used medically. Medical society physicians have said they won't endorse legalization until cannabis is classified as a schedule 2 drug, and they can research its effects.

Melinda Roeder / 90.5 WESA

A Pittsburgh-based company is aiming to make the fracking process safer for the environment with an innovative approach to water purification, by reducing the need to transport contaminated water and byproducts from drill sites.

In parts of Washington and Greene counties, residents in rural areas often hear the rumble of trucks traveling to and from fracking sites. Many of the trucks are used to haul water, which is an important element in the process.

Gordon Craig, of Epiphany Water Solutions, recently took WESA on a tour of an active well pad about 1 mile off of Interstate 79. The well is owned by Rice Energy, one of the companies now using Epiphany's new water purification systems.

Jason Howie / Flickr

People who spend more than an hour a day, or 30 times per week, browsing through social media often don't get a good night's sleep.

A study from the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Medicine found adults who use social media more have a greater likelihood of having sleep disturbances. Nearly 1,800 adults between the ages of 19 and 32 were surveyed on their levels of social media use and how often they had disturbed, or restless sleep. Researchers found 30 percent of participants had high levels of sleep disturbance.

Brett Levin / Flickr

 

Late last year, The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration announced it was easing requirements for FDA-approved clinical trials of cannabis. 

Felipe Dana / AP

Health officials are asking Pennsylvanians to pay attention to travel advisories as they test six to eight people for the mosquito-borne Zika virus. No cases are confirmed yet.

University of Essex / Flickr

About three years ago, Laura Offutt was between medical consulting projects and looking for something new to try. Around the same time, she noticed that her teenage children and their friends were not happy with the way health information was being presented in school. 

Additionally, Offutt said the teens seemed to have picked up bad information while attempting to fill in the gaps in knowledge from their school presentations. That’s how she started a teen health blog, now a website, called Real Talk with Dr. Offutt.

Lead-Tainted Water Has A Long History In The U.S.

Jan 28, 2016
Carlos Osorio / AP Photo

The municipal water crisis in Flint, Mich., has brought new attention to the dangers of lead in drinking water.

When the city starting using the Flint River as its source for municipal water in 2014, the water was so corrosive, it caused lead to leach out of pipes and fixtures. 

Mark Nootbaar / 90.5 WESA

It’s not much bigger than a laptop and a set of ski goggles, but workers at Neuro Kinetics, located in O’Hara Township’s RIDC Park, said they’ve created technology that will help diagnose concussions.

It's called the I-Portal, and it's awaiting FDA approval. 

“This is not quite what Star Trek envisioned, because that is a little bit more smaller, easier, portable, but on the right sort of path,” said Howison Schroeder, president and CEO of Neuro Kinetics.

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