Science, Health & Tech

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

Carolyn Kaster / AP

Smokey restaurants in Pennsylvania are a thing of the past thanks to the Clean Indoor Air Act. The law, which passed 10 years ago, outlaws smoking in most public spaces and workplaces.

Kathleen J. Davis / 90.5 WESA

Baptist Homes is a sprawling senior care campus, located on a lush, quiet hillside in Mt. Lebanon. About 50 people live in the personal care part of the facility, where they can get help with everyday tasks. 

Eric Risberg / AP

A new program at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine aims to help young physicians learn the ropes of research. Less than 1.5 percent of medical doctors pursue research careers, according to the National Institutes of Health.

Kailey Love / 90.5 WESA

Ambulance providers in Pennsylvania are enthusiastic about a bill advancing in the state legislature that would require insurance companies to reimburse EMS for calls that don’t end in a hospital trip.

Richard Drew / AP

The $85 billion merger between AT&T and Time Warner moved one step closer Tuesday after a federal judge ruled in favor of the two companies in an antitrust suit brought by the U.S. Department of Justice.

Angela Washko

The aesthetic of “The Game: The Game” couples lurid fluorescents with hazy shadows to create the same disjointed feeling of standing in a loud, dark bar.

While the player's character is femme-presenting, the other avatars are all men. The goal of the game is to navigate a bar that's been infiltrated by a group of so-called "pick-up artists."

Thein Zaw / AP

For a long time, scientists thought that the flu virus degraded in humid conditions and that was the reason most people don’t catch it in the summer.

University of Pittsburgh microbiologist Seema Lakdawala and collaborators devised an experiment to determine how mucus enables the airborne transmission of H1N1, which caused the 2009 swine flu pandemic, and found that it survived in several types of environments. Dry, moist – it didn’t matter.

Screengrab / CDC

Suicide rates have increased in nearly every state from 1999 to 2016, according to a study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released Thursday. Since 2016, there have been 45,000 suicides nationwide.

Sarah Boden / 90.5 WESA

An ambulance pulled up to the entrance of UPMC Preysbetarian's emergency room in early June, a pair of EMTs unloaded a portable isolation pod, basically a human-sized, medical-grade Ziploc bag.

The Breathe Project

A new initiative aims to employ citizen scientists to monitor air pollution created at U.S. Steel Corporation plants located in the Mon Valley.

Carnegie Mellon University

Robots are able to perform a wide variety of tasks, from providing companionship to senior citizens to searching for survivors in the rubble of an earthquake, but they can't always reflect on how well they performed. 

Blair Roughley / Netflix/AP

A University of Pittsburgh psychiatrist is one of the primary collaborators on a new, public health toolkit that presents important information related to the Netflix program “13 Reasons Why,” a teen drama that depicts events surrounding a high school girl’s suicide.

The second season came out earlier this month. 

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

Robots are becoming increasingly important in our lives, but robotics research can be time-consuming and expensive. A local company wants to offer flexibility for researchers in the field and help them test ideas more quickly.

M. Spencer Green / AP

Women who deliver children before 37 weeks of pregnancy are also more likely to have heart attacks, according to a new study from Magee-Women’s Research Institute.

Researchers followed 1,049 women for 25 years and found that women who had preterm births and a pattern of increasing blood pressure were also more likely to have greater calcium buildup in their hearts, putting them at higher risk for cardiovascular disease and heart attacks.

Keith Srakocic / AP

A Commonwealth Court judge has ordered a preliminary injunction on Pennsylvania's plan for medical marijuana research, siding with dispensaries and growers who challenged the state Health Department’s approach.

Walter Astrada / AP

Black babies in Allegheny County are nearly three times more likely than white babies to die before their first birthdays.

Matt Nemeth / 90.5 WESA

A recent report from Allegheny County’s medical examiner on the number of overdose fatalities in 2017 contains both good and bad news.

For the fourth year in a row, the number of overdose deaths was the highest on record -- more than 735 people in 2017 -- but the rate of fatalities decreased in each subsequent quarter of last year.

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

A new facility on Pittsburgh's North Side is seeking to help local startups keep their first rounds of manufacturing in the Steel City.

In the past, many startups have gone overseas to have those small batches manufactured, said Bernie Lynch, founder of Factory Unlocked. Lynch said, historically, larger manufacturers in the U.S. haven’t had much interest in early stage companies. Smaller facilities like maker-spaces aren’t really equipped to pump out batches of 100 or 200 at a time.

Brett Sholtis / Transforming Health

York County Solicitor Glenn Smith knows the county coroner's phone number by heart. He calls often to get the most recent number of drug overdose deaths, a number that increases almost every day. 

"As of today?" said York County Coroner Pam Gay. "Twenty-two confirmed, another 25 suspected... We just had two this morning."

York County has been hit hard by the opioid crisis, with 176 overdose deaths last year. It is one of 17 Pennsylvania counties to sue Purdue Pharmaceuticals and other companies that make prescription opioids.

Sarah Boden / 90.5 WESA

Many anti-smoking efforts are focused on cigarettes, but new research from the University of Pittsburgh suggests that more energy should be spent discouraging the use of water pipes, or hookahs.

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

People want their electronics to be increasingly small and powerful, but keeping those devices running at high speeds can be a challenge.

Seth Weing / AP

Eight medical schools, including the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, have been approved by the state to do clinical research on medical marijuana, Gov. Tom Wolf announced this week.

The move is an important one, advocates say, because of how federal drug laws have hindered research into the medical benefits of cannabis over the years.

The state’s Department of Health chose the schools as Certified Research Centers in a competitive process, said J.J. Abbott, a spokesperson for the governor.

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Asthma rates among elementary school students in the Northgate School District have dropped significantly since one of the region’s top polluters ended operations in 2016, according to preliminary data.

Keith Srakocic / AP

Eight of Pennsylvania’s universities have received the go-ahead to start studying medical marijuana.

Governor Tom Wolf’s administration is billing the move as the commonwealth’s “first step towards clinical research” on the drug.

The eight medical universities and colleges in question are:

Amy Sisk / 90.5 WESA

A group of parents from the Fox Chapel School District is concerned about how their children’s health will be affected by hydraulic fracturing in the area. 

missjanetb / Flickr

The rate of maternal deaths has risen in the U.S. since 2000. Between 2014 and 2016, 51 Pennsylvania women died from complications due to pregnancy, and according to Gov. Tom Wolf, the current rate in Pennsylvania has doubled since 1994. 

Joaquin Gonzalez / 90.5 WESA

On a mild spring day, 47-year-old Tom Lefevre stood on his apartment’s back porch, which overlooks a quiet, wooded area in the borough of Bellevue, just outside Pittsburgh along the Ohio River. 

Sarah Boden / 90.5 WESA

In Spring Hill, early 20th Century houses look out over cinematic views of downtown Pittsburgh. The front of 36-year-old resident Randal Miller’s home appears fine, but the back is a mess. Part of it was slammed by a landslide this February.

“The door broke in the first day,” he said. “It didn’t break in in a way that like you could move it, cause there’s like trees sticking through.”

Miller’s laundry room sustained the worst of the damage. Reddish mud and glass cake the floor and everything smell likes mildew.

Jessica Kourkounis / AP

The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania is raising some alarm over a fee hike Governor Tom Wolf wants to include in next year’s budget.

Right now, hospitals pay $220 million annually to the state’s general fund under the Quality Care Assessment law, which started as a partnership to ease budget shortfalls after the Great Recession.  

The law is up for renewal this summer. And in his proposal released earlier this year, Wolf called to raise the contribution about 60 percent, to $350 million.

Keith Srakocic / AP

For college students, finding the right tutor at the right time isn't always easy.

Using an approach similar to that of companies like Lyft and Uber, two faculty members at the University of Pittsburgh's electrical and computer engineering department are hoping their app can help bridge that gap.

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