Science, Health & Tech

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

Fallingwater App Now Avaliable

Feb 27, 2012

Ever wonder if there was a way to carry Fallingwater in your pocket all the time? Now you can have interactive photos and videos of Frank Lloyd Wright's masterpiece on your smart phone and in your hand.

The Fallingwater app was developed by in-D media, a multimedia company, for the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy, which owns Fallingwater. The app includes 275 color photos, 17 virtual reality panoramas, and 25 minutes of video.

Linda Wagner, director of Fallingwater, said one of the most fascinating things about the app is its interactive content.

Virtual pickpocketing may have just become more challenging.

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh have created a new method to improve credit card security that allows a card to be turned "on" and "off."

With new technology such as Near-Field Communications (NFC) and Radio Frequency Identification (ID), consumers no longer have to swipe their credit card to make a purchase or withdraw money. Instead, they may simply "wave" their card over a scanner.

A new report [PDF] from the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4) finds that among patients who acquired a healthcare-associated infection (HAI) in 2010, nearly 42% were readmitted within 30 days of discharge, 31.3% were readmitted specifically because of an infection or complication.

Among those without an HAI 16% were readmitted.

New Hope for Heart Patients

Feb 23, 2012

Patients who suffer from end-stage biventricular heart failure, a condition where both sides of the heart become weakened and can't pump blood adequately throughout the body, might have a new hope, an artificial heart implantation that surgeons say will serve as a "bridge to transplant."

Penn State Explores Direct Digital Manufacturing

Feb 21, 2012

By the time the next academic year rolls around, scientists at Penn State University hope to have a cutting-edge manufacturing technology lab installed on campus.

Leaders of the school's Center for Innovative Materials Processing (CIMP) said the new facility explores "direct digital manufacturing" — a relatively new process by which machines can create products automatically, using only a digital blueprint.

Essentially, an engineer would be able to enter specifications into a computer and pick up the real, finished product at the other end of the lab shortly thereafter.

Highmark has chosen Verizon to develop Pennsylvania's first comprehensive health information exchange (HIE). Doctors will be able to enter a patient's information into a system that will then be accessible by other physicians treating that patient.

"Health information exchanges are designed to provide a clearinghouse for health care providers and hospitals to share and exchange information to improve patient care," said Aaron Billger, a spokesman for Highmark.

Track Crime In Your Area Online

Feb 20, 2012

The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Deliquency (PCCD) has launched a new website that will give the public better access to crime-related data.

The website is a clearinghouse for state and county justice statistics, data trends, and PCCD-funded research and evaluations. The site includes general information about crime in specific communities, including number of arrests, types of offenses, and the number of people incarcerated and paroled. The information is free and open to the public.

A web service that helps patients view hospital quality will begin publishing data on the occurrence of infection associated with central line-associated bloodstream infections.

Hospital Compare, which provides information about the quality of care in more than 4,700 hospitals across the country, plans to publish data on the occurrence of infection at specific hospitals.

The emergency department at West Penn Hospital in Bloomfield will reopen on Valentine's Day, after being closed for more than a year. The move comes as part of Highmark's $745 million takeover of the West Penn Allegheny Health System (WPAHS). The new facility features 23 patient beds in private rooms, all new medical equipment, and a fast track patient triage system.

Senator Calls For Stricter Smoking Laws

Feb 10, 2012

Pennsylvania State Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf (R-Montgomery) wants to strengthen the Clean Indoor Air Act to ban smoking in casinos and all restaurants, bars, and taverns.

In September 2008, the Clean Indoor Air Act took effect prohibiting smoking in most indoor work and public places through the state.

Under the current law, smoking is allowed in half of a total floor space in casinos, and bars can apply for exceptions to the smoking ban if they show they earn less than 20 percent of their revenues from food sales.

Different Approach To Environmental Argument

Feb 10, 2012

People either believe in climate changing patterns, or they don't. Dr. Andrew Hoffman, Director of the Erb Institute at the University of Michigan, looks beyond the scientific debate and considers the social aspect of the believers and non-believers.

Unveiling of the Giving Life Wall at UPMC

Feb 10, 2012

On Saturday, UPMC will dedicate the Giving Life Wall, a photomontage on permanent display at UPMC Presbyterian hospital that honors those who gave the gift of life through organ donation.

The wall is a collaborative effort between the hospital system and the Center for Organ Recovery & Education (CORE).

The popularity of smoking through a hookah has been on the rise for several years, with many towns and cities having cafes or bars specifically for hookah. The National Cancer Foundation funded a study into whether or not websites that offer Hookah products are candid about their products.

The research team at University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine did a systematic search of some of the most prominent Hookah Tobacco websites on the Internet.

Website Helps People Evaluate Tweets

Feb 6, 2012

Wonder what people think about your recent tweets? Well, a new website is offering feedback if users agree to anonymously rate tweets from people they follow.

"Who Gives a Tweet?" is a collaboration among researchers at Carnegie Mellon, MIT, and the Georgia Institute of Technology. Over 19 days, 1,443 visitors to the site rated more than 43,000 tweets.

CMU researcher Paul André said social media often help people express interest in things but not their dislikes.

One Year Later, Obama’s Energy Efficiency Plan Is Stalled

Feb 3, 2012

After last year's State of the Union Address, President Obama traveled around the country rolling out specific details of a broad policy platform he called "win the future." He made a stop at Penn State where he focused on a topic he admitted sounds kind of boring: improving energy efficiency.

"Everybody focuses on cars and gas prices and that's understandable. But our homes and our buisnesses use 40 percent of the energy," said Mr. Obama.

New Energy Coalition Touts Power of Wind

Feb 2, 2012

"I don't think the average consumer knows they have a choice about where their electricity supply comes from," said Katie Bellezza, marketing manager at EverPower Wind Holdings, Inc., at Thurday's ChoosePAWind website launch. A new wind energy coalition rolled out the program in Pittsburgh with the goal of educating the public about the benefits of wind energy, and how to buy it locally.

CORE Courts More Donors

Feb 2, 2012

The Center for Organ Recovery and Education (CORE) wants to enlist 20 million new donors this year and will devote substantial energy and resources to the national initiative.

CORE is a not-for-profit organ procurement organization that is federally designated to serve Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and parts of New York.

The so-called Women's Right to Know Act (House Bill 1077) would require an abortion provider to do an ultrasound at least 24 hours before the procedure. Supporters say they want to make sure women have all of the medical information necessary before making a final decision on having an abortion.

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.

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