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What Can Pregnancy Tell Us About Disease?

Teresa Crawford


On today's program: The NHL looks to restart the 2019-20 season with revised playoffs; pregnancy could offer insights into future health outcomes for moms and babies; the race for Pennsylvania’s 19th state House district heats up; and the “gig workers” of academia worry for their jobs. 

Pittsburgh Penguins get ready to hit the ice after pandemic hiatus
(00:00 — 3:34)

After most sports teams in the U.S. took a brief pause amid the coronavirus pandemic, the NHL is gearing up to resume play.  However, it will not finish out the regular season. Instead it will hold a 24-team playoff format.

Games will look a little different than usual, saysRob Rossi, who covers local hockey forThe Athletic. For one thing, fans will not be allowed in arenas, at least to start. 

Rossi tells The Confluence that the league couldn’t afford to just scrap this season and start anew in the fall.

“The revenue that the league would lose from not holding a Stanley Cup playoff—even one that wouldn’t have fans in the building—that would be more revenue lost which would impact the overall revenue for the 2019-2020 season,” he says.

Completion of the season is also tied to some local television contracts (though none in Pittsburgh) and player salaries.

Unlike other sports, most of the NHL’s money comes from gate revenue, Rossi says.

“So any money they can make up for losing the gate revenue from the Stanley Cup playoffs in addition to the final—for some teams—six home regular season games, that would be significant.”

The playoffs will not begin before July, and the Penguins will take on the Montreal Canadians in a best-of-five games qualifying round.

Data collected during gestation could unlock future health outcomes
(3:36 — 9:29)

Health care professionals have been attempting to predict health outcomes for decades using family history, existing risk factors and genetic information as it became available.Dr. Yoel Sadovsky, director of theMagee-Womens Research Institute, wants to use big data to make those predictions even sooner—before babies are born.

Sadovsky says that pregnancy is a great test case for using data to analyze for disease markers, in part, because of the regular testing and medical checkups both mothers and babies receive.

“The period of pregnancy—the nine months of pregnancy—is truly unique from the point of view of a convergence of data from maternal exposure influences, fetal growth, environmental exposures,” he tells The Confluence. “It’s a very special time where convergence of those influences can truly shape disease risk, health, and hopefully life-long wellness.”

Their approach, called deep phenotyping, combines traditional strategies in digital health data, like clinical laboratory tests, with subjective data, like mothers’ stress levels, and mathematical and statistical models to predict disease.

“Our idea is if we can integrate patients’ subjective information and feelings along with health care, along with biotechnology and “big data,” can we actually build a phenotype that cannot only indicate to us the health of the current pregnancy but also what is the trajectory for the mother, for the infant who is going to be the product of this pregnancy,” he says.

Sadovsky co-wrote a piece about this work in Science Translational Medicine this spring. Find more informationhere

Old rivals face off in 19th state House District primary
(9:31 — 13:28)

Pennsylvania primary elections were moved to June second because of COVID-19, but 90.5 WESA’s Ariel Worthy reports that while many other things have changed this election season, voters will have a familiar choice in the 19th state House district.

Longtime incumbent Jake Wheatley faces Aerion Abney, a repeat challenger.

Adjunct professors fear losing livelihood
(13:30 — 18:11)

Universities and colleges which halted in-person classes in March are now planning what their fall semesters will involve. No one knows how many campuses will be openl, or how many students will show up. That uncertainty has huge financial implications for universities and their staff.

Keystone Crossroads reporter Avi Wolfman-Arent profiles the so-called academic “gig workers” who are stuck in limbo.

 The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in weekdays at 9 a.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts.

Kevin Gavin is the host of WESA's news interview program "The Confluence." He is a native Pittsburgher and served as news director for 90.5 WDUQ for 34 years. Since the sale of the radio station by Duquesne University to Pittsburgh EPM, Inc. (now Pittsburgh Community Broadcasting Corp.), he served as Executive Producer of Special News Projects prior to being named as host of "The Confluence" five years ago. kgavin@wesa.fm
Julia Zenkevich is a general assignment reporter for 90.5 WESA. She first joined the station as a production assistant on The Confluence, and more recently served as a fill-in producer for The Confluence and Morning Edition. She’s a life-long Pittsburgher, and attended the University of Pittsburgh. She can be reached at jzenkevich@wesa.fm.
Megan Harris is a writer, editor, photographer and curator for Pittsburgh's NPR News station. She leads editorial coverage for The Confluence, 90.5 WESA's live, one-hour, daily morning news show.
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