Science, Health & Tech

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

'Once You Have It, You Need It': Opioid Epidemic Still Rages

22 hours ago
John Minchillo / AP

As lawyers exchange mountains of paper and dicker over the details of a settlement with OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, Americans are dying from opioids by the tens of thousands in an epidemic that grinds on in state after state, community after community, with no end in sight.

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Hepatitis A is on the rise, but the Allegheny County Health Department says it could be worse.

There have been 22 cases of the disease since January 2018, the highest number in over a decade.  Hepatitis A is a highly contagious liver disease that causes inflammation. 

Nam Y. Huh / AP

Seventeen people across the state are believed to have “lung diseases associated with vaping,” according to the state Department of Health.

Sarah Boden / 90.5 WESA

Summer is winding down, which means pumpkin spice lattes are popping up in coffee shops and Halloween decorations are appearing on store shelves.

Kathleen J. Davis / 90.5 WESA

Local financial technology company Honeycomb Credit is encouraging people to invest in Pittsburgh businesses through crowdfunding, a departure from donation-based sites like Kickstarter or GoFundMe.

Matt Rourke / AP

Pennsylvania will receive another $75 million in federal aid to fight the opioid-addiction crisis, money that Gov. Tom Wolf's administration says will help with treatment, prevention and education.

Judge Grills U.S. Attorney Who Opposes Injection Site Plan

Sep 6, 2019
Matt Rourke / AP

A federal judge in Philadelphia grilled the city's top federal prosecutor Thursday over his opposition to a plan to open the nation's first supervised injection site to address the opioid crisis.

U.S. Attorney William McSwain called the goal of reducing overdose deaths "laudable," but accused organizers of "hubris" for thinking they can ignore the law.

"I think the hubris here is pretty astonishing. They're saying we know better, we're going to do it anyway," McSwain, a President Trump appointee, argued.

Kathleen J. Davis / 90.5 WESA

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S. and for those who need a transplant, the wait list is long. A Carnegie Mellon University bioengineering lab is on its way to achieveing a lofty goal: 3-D printing the human heart.

Bebeto Matthews / AP

Duquesne University is planning to admit its first class of osteopathic medical students in the fall of 2023. The field is growing; according to the American Osteopathic Association, about one in four medical students attends an osteopathic school instead of a traditional, allopathic medical school.

Adam Tunnard / 90.5 WESA

The U.S. Army is developing data surveillance and analysis technology in Pittsburgh, though an offshoot of the controversial Department of Defense initiative Project Maven within Carnegie Mellon University’s Army AI Task Force. 

Damian Dovarganes / AP

State health authorities are warning the public about possible measles exposure at a number of Pennsylvania locations over the past week.

The Pennsylvania Department of Health says people may have been exposed to measles between Aug. 22 and Aug. 29 in York County and Hershey.

Sarah Boden / 90.5 WESA

The rate of fatalities caused by the opioid epidemic has begun to wane, according to both national and local data.

Sarah Schneider / 90.5 WESA

Pennsylvania officials are hoping to lower the risk of lead poisoning through mandated blood testing for children and other measures.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf is backing legislation to require testing that meets federal guidelines, and is rolling out other strategies to address the problem.

The administration is working on ways for regional response teams to care for children with dangerous amounts of lead in their system.

Parents Petition Pittsburgh Public Schools To Stop Herbicide Spraying

Aug 29, 2019
Andy Kubis / Allegheny Front

A common but controversial herbicide is used on school grounds across Pennsylvania to kill weeds. But a group of concerned parents and others in Pittsburgh are raising questions about its use. 

Kathleen J. Davis / 90.5 WESA

Pittsburgh's medical community creates a lot of data, and embedded within that data are potential answers to important questions. The Pittsburgh Health Data Alliance -- a collaboration of UPMC, the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University -- sifts through that data. This month, they announced a new sponsor in that effort: Amazon's computing subsidiary. 

Sarah Boden / WESA

People were given free naloxone, the medication that can revive someone from an opioid overdose, at an event at the City County building in downtown Pittsburgh, Tuesday afternoon. 

Kathleen J. Davis / 90.5 WESA

It's a truth we can't escape: human beings have biases, and those biases can seep into computer programs and algorithms based on who is creating them.

Brett Sholtis / Transforming Health

Health systems are known more for competition than working together, but when it comes to treating opioid addiction, that may be changing. 

Industry advocacy group Hospital and Health System Association of Pennsylvania is working to get hospitals across the state to share best practices on treating opioid use disorder. 

Brett Sholtis / WITF

After hearing reports on television of dangerous E. coli levels in the Susquehanna River, John Mower decided to head over to City Island. 

The 59-year-old from Wormleysburg said he's been sick for the last two days after taking his pontoon boat on the river and wading in it with his granddaughter and fiancee.

"Cold chills, fevers, diarrhea, throwing up, and I just ain't been feeling good, and me and my fiancee just couldn't figure out why," he said. 

Kathleen J. Davis / 90.5 WESA

On a hot, sunny day in South Park Township, a team of roboticists from Philadelphia anxiously wait outside of the Safety Research Coal Mine at the Bruceton Research Center. Team Pluto has a four-legged robot inside, and it's looking for objects in the simulated mine disaster scenario. No team members are allowed inside, so it's counting on the robot to deliver the news. 

Thrival Festival

Technology, education and music will come together next month for the seventh annual Thrival Festival,  Sept. 18-20 in Oakland. This year's event has a local theme: "By Pittsburgh, For Pittsburgh, For the World."

Sarah Kovash / 90.5 WESA

Central Lawrenceville buzzed with the sounds of chainsaws Monday, after strong winds and rain from a weekend downburst uprooted several trees in the Allegheny Cemetery. Crews spent Monday afternoon cutting off branches from a particularly large tree hovering over a grassy patch near the cemetery’s gates off Butler Street. 


UPMC

Scientists have bioengineered miniature human livers – possibly for the first time. The livers were created by University of Pittsburgh researchers in an effort to move away from less reliable experiments on mouse livers. 

The livers will be used to study non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, a condition connected to obesity that can lead to liver failure.

"We can use these systems to capture the progression of the disease to evaluate new drugs before we move into actual patients," said the study's lead author Dr. Alejandro Soto.

NASA

The University of Pittsburgh is becoming a hub for biomedical research projects being sent to space. Pitt's McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine will partner with the International Space Station's national laboratory on a first-of-its-kind alliance. 

University of Pittsburgh

Some hormone replacement therapies for menopausal women might increase the risk of cardiovascular disease, which was published the Journal of the American Heart Association.

Women are often prescribed estrogen to relieve menopausal symptoms, such as hot flashes, osteoporosis and vaginal dryness. Compared to oral hormone medication, the transdermal estradiol patch is seen as safer, since it’s worn on the skin.

Matt Rourke / AP

Pennsylvania officials have announced plans to close two of the remaining state centers for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities over the next three years.

Kathleen J. Davis / 90.5 WESA

On a warm, sunny day, Humane Animal Rescue's director of volunteer and foster services, Monica Garcia, takes a beagle named Shadow out for a walk. In especially hot weater, the rescue requires dog walkers to test the temperature of the pavement with their fingers or bare foot. Like human feet, dog paws are sensitive to heat.

Mark Lennihan / AP

In 2017, 5,614 people in Pennsylvania died from a drug overdose. County coroner and medical examiner reports show that fentanyl, a synethic opioid, was present in 64.8 percent of these fatalities. 

Many of these deaths were accidential as people often ingest or inject fentanyl without knowing it.

Jens Meyer / AP

Barriers continue to exist for transgender people seeking medical treatment, according to experts who spoke at a conference Monday called, "Becoming a Trans Knowledgeable Provider."

Carnegie Mellon University

On today's program: Social science and artificial intelligence are combining to fight disinformation on social media; how volunteerism creates community in the South Side; the Democratic ticket for the 18th Congressional district takes on gun control; and PWSA prepares to bring the Highland Park reservoir back online.

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