Science, Health & Tech

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

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.

Keith Srakocic / AP

Pittsburgh-based insurer Highmark has to pay the commonwealth $145,000 after a mistake that led to a number of businesses being overcharged for workers’ compensation.

VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System

On today's program: The federal Mission Act brings expanded health care options to Pittsburgh-area veterans; scientists get their feet wet in Pennsylvania bogs; a new bill could strengthen protections for horses; and a Pittsburgh city manager who sold himself a house for $2,500 faces the consequences.

Purple Air

Graduate students in Santa Monica, Calif. are collecting hyperlocal air quality data -- in Pittsburgh. The hope for the project, run out of the Pardee RAND Graduate School, is that the data collected from at-home sensors will inform public policy. Pardee RAND is an extension of the RAND Corporation, which has an office in Pittsburgh.

WITF

The Department of Health has approved eight research universities, paired with eight medical marijuana growers, to learn more about the usefulness and drawbacks of cannabis as a treatment. Penn State College of Medicine and marijuana grower Pennsylvania Options for Wellness is one such pair, and officials for the research partnership spoke about the plan Monday on WITF Smart Talk.

Kiley Koscinski / 90.5 WESA

On today's program: New technology could make scanning for neurological disorders easier; an East Liberty theater spotlights black stories; the Allegheny Land Trust wants to preserve the land where a country club used to be; the return of the federal death penalty could affect the man accused of killing 11 at Tree of Life; and PennDOT recognizes people who don't identify as male and female.

Katie Blackley / 90.5 WESA


Last weekend, more than 1,000 people waited in line — some overnight — to see a dentist. 

Steven Senne / AP

The Wolf administration is adding resources to fight opioid addiction and prevent overdoses, while pointing to the rising problem of non-opioid drugs such as stimulants.

Here are key updates from a Thursday press conference with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf and department officials.

Tracking stimulant use

Opioid overdoses in Pennsylvania decreased 18 percent in 2018 compared to the previous year.

However, the Wolf administration says it's seeing troubling evidence that stimulant use is on the rise, and is contributing to overdose deaths.

Scott Detrow / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A new study finds that pregnant women living near hydraulic fracking activity in Pennsylvania are more likely to develop depression and anxiety.

“These are vulnerable women who are growing another human being inside of them," said Joan A. Casey, the study's lead author and an environmental health scientist at the Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health.

Casey and her colleagues conducted the study with 7,715 research volunteers; all were expectant mothers within the Geisinger Health System, which serves much of central Pennsylvania.

Residents, Workers Air Their Responses To U.S. Steel Settlement

Jul 31, 2019
Reid R. Frazier / StateImpact Pennsylvania

A draft agreement between US Steel and Allegheny County officials does not go far enough, environmental advocates and some residents said at a public hearing on the agreement Tuesday night. 

Allegheny County Health Department

On today’s program: Pittsburgh's health outcomes are improving, but not for everyone; what a proposed merger between Pfizer and Canonsburg-based Mylan could mean for area jobs; a vulnerable butterfly species finds refuge in an unusual place; and a peek into Squonk Opera's latest public arts fest debut. 

Richard Drew / AP

An audit of Pennsylvania nursing homes warns that staffing levels at these facilities are insufficient and on track to get worse.

Kathleen J. Davis / 90.5 WESA

The field of cyber security needs people.

Across the country, there are more than 300,000 unfilled jobs in the sector. A five-day summer camp at the University of Pittsburgh aims to teach high school students the ropes and get them interested in a cyber security career.

Google Maps

LifeCare is closing one of its Wilkinsburg hospitals in September, two months after parent company Hospital Acquisitions LLC filed for bankruptcy. The hospital system operates two other Pittsburgh-area locations — a behavioral health facility in Wilkinsburg and a hospital in Natrona Heights — which will remain open.

Janice Carr / CDC via AP

Sepsis is the leading cause of death in U.S. hospitals, killing about a quarter of a million Americans each year. New research from the University of Pittsburgh shows statewide protocols to fight the infection appear to reduce the number of deaths it causes.

Allegheny County Health Department

An asthma registry for children secured $300,000 in funding from the Allegheny County Board of Health on Wednesday. The registry could illuminate why certain areas of the county have higher rates of the chronic respiratory condition. 

Ebrahim Noroozi / AP

On today’s program: How an executive order regarding kidney disease is affecting Pittsburgh transplant programs; the dean of Pitt's School of Law and former SCOTUS clerk reflects on the legacy of Justice John Paul Stevens; what it takes to get formerly incarcerated men back to work in Homewood; Democratic state Sen. Jay Costa explains his next legislative priorities; and WESA remembers Allegheny County elections chief Mark Wolosik.

Sarah Boden / 90.5 WESA

Regular computers, including smart phones, can do a lot of cool stuff, but some datasets are so big that normal PCs just don’t cut it. When that’s the case, many researchers turn to the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, which is planning to construct a faster, stronger machine next year.

Fifty years ago, on July 16, 1969, a Saturn V rocket was launched from Cape Kennedy Florida (now known Cape Canaveral), sending astronauts Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins on their way to the moon.

That morning, legendary CBS anchorman Walter Cronkite was in a Florida studio near the launch site bright and early. The Saturn V rocket stood next to the launch tower on the screen behind him.

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