Science, Health & Tech

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

Researchers: When Predicting-Go with Your Feelings

Oct 22, 2012

Wondering whether the Dow Jones will make a jump in the next week? How about what the weather will be like? One study is saying you should trust your gut.

A research team comprised of professors from the University of Pittsburgh and Columbia University has found that when people trust their feelings, they can more accurately predict the outcomes of future events.

Researchers, through eight studies, asked people to predict outcomes including the 2008 Democratic Presidential nominee, the score of the Dow Jones Industrial Average, and the winner of “American Idol.” Fair WEb.wav

Using a sport analogy, the Consumer Health Coalition is urging people to build a championship healthcare team, with themselves being the most valuable player. A workshop in the Hill District will teach patients how to take a more active role in their own medical care.

Building Life from Basic Blocks Focus of Weekend Event

Oct 12, 2012

Some of the best scientist on the Eastern Seaboard will gather in Pittsburgh this weekend to show off their efforts to build new synthetic organisms.  The “jamboree” is part of the international Genetically Engineered Machine (iGEM) competition. 

Nationwide Screenings for Depression on Thursday

Oct 10, 2012

Depression is more than just a bad mood.  It’s  the most common mental disorder that impacts more than 15 million Americans including 5% of the nation’s children and teens. October 11 is National Depression Screening Day and Dr. David Palmiter, President of the Pennsylvania Psychological Association (PPA), said this event is very important.

Between 2002 and 2011 the number of women in Pennsylvania hospitals who had both a mastectomy and lumpectomy dropped, while preventative surgery increased. The findings on breast cancer surgeries are detailed in a report by the Pennsylvania Health Care Cost Containment Council (PHC4) released Tuesday. While the number of women undergoing surgery for breast cancer remained steady over the ten year period, those having both procedures fell by 60%, from 1,535 to 604.

CMU Robot Will Mine the Moon in 2015

Oct 8, 2012

Ten years ago, the theory that there is water on the moon was not widely believed in the scientific community. Now, after a 2010 NASA discovery of ice in the moon's polar regions, Carnegie Mellon University and a spinoff company have designed a robot to gather the water -- and whatever else it can find in the lunar soil.

The Allegheny County Health Department (ACHD)  has joined with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, and the Pennsylvania Department of Health to investigate an outbreak of fungal meningitis.

The outbreak has been linked to patients who received injections of methylprednisolone acetate, a steroid used to stop inflammation. The drug was made by the New England Compounding Center in Massachusetts which issued the voluntary recall and has shut down its operations. Warehouse Wrap_Emily Farah_SOC.mp3

Personalizing medicine is the goal of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center’s (UPMC) five-year, $100 million investment to create an electronic database of medical information.  The technology uses analytic and predictive modeling applications designed to improve patient outcomes, research capabilities, and improvements within UPMC.

Starting this month, hospitals will not get as much money from the federal government if they have too many too many Medicare patients readmitted within a month of being discharged.  More than a hundred Pennsylvania hospitals will face this penalty.

Hospitals with high readmission rates for Medicare patients treated for heart attack, heart failure, and pneumonia who return for care within 30 days of discharge will lose up to one percent of their regular reimbursement from the federal government.

Rite Aid is Very Different 50 Years Later

Oct 1, 2012

The residents of a Pittsburgh area senior high-rise helped to celebrate the 50th anniversary of a Pennsylvania-based company Monday by rolling up their sleeves.  Rite Aid Corporation marked its birthday by giving free flu shots to seniors across the country.

Rite Aid Pharmacy District Manager Brian Bobby vaccinated dozens of elderly residents of Town North Tower in Ross Township. He said the event is an example of how the pharmacist's role is different now than it was fifty years ago.

Human Workers Can Learn From Ants And Bees

Oct 1, 2012

How bees, wasps, and ants think, and how that heightens their work efficiency is the focus of a discussion Monday at Carnegie Science Center at 7 p.m.

“The Wisdom Of The Bee: How To Organize A Team When No One Knows What She Is Doing” will show how these swarm insects have one of the most successful workforces on the planet, despite every single worker not knowing all of the information required to normally make a decision.

The Mars Rover Curiosity recently used a high-powered laser beam to blast and analyze a Martian rock. 140 million miles away, an engineer at the University of Pittsburgh is working with the Department of Homeland Security to improve that technology to make Earth safer.

The blasting method used by Curiosity that employs a beam of light is called laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS), which can detect the composition of soils and rocks without ever touching them.

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Oct 1, 2012 Cancer Wrap.mp3

Today marks the beginning of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Susan B. Komen for the Cure Pittsburgh has planned several events including the 4th annual Paws for the Cure, a dog walk through Hartwood Acres on October 7th, and the Tickled Pink Survivor Luncheon at the Omni William Penn on October 20th, along with other local events. 

West Penn Allegheny Health System said it is released from its obligations to Highmark under the affiliation agreement signed by the two entities in 2011. The reason, said WPAHS Board Chair Jack Isherwood, is a breach of the agreement on Highmark’s part. That breach, he said, comes in the form of an indication that Highmark would not consummate the agreement, even if the insurance commissioner approved it.

“Instead Highmark wants a new deal that involves West Penn Allegheny Health System undergoing a bankruptcy process,” said Isherwood.

Walk For Parkinson’s Disease Research

Sep 27, 2012

Pittsburghers are being asked to get up and move for Parkinson’s disease on September 29.

The National Parkinson Foundation (NPF) is sponsoring Pittsburgh’s second annual Moving Day, a walk that helps to raise awareness of the disease.

In addition to the 1.5 mile walk, there will be a movement pavilion, where people can participate in activities such as yoga or zoomba, or simply go dancing.

Barbara Farrell, Executive Director of the NPF branch of Pittsburgh, said exercise is a critical component in managing the disease.

Ambulatory Surgery Centers (ASCs) did slightly better in 2011 than they did in 2010 according to the Pennsylvania Healthcare Cost Containment Council (PHC4). An ASC is a facility that individuals visit for outpatient procedures, rather than going into a hospital. These are procedures that don’t require an overnight stay, such as a colonoscopy or endoscopy.

The financial margins for such facilities rose to 25.19% in fiscal year 2011, compared to 24.99% in fiscal 2010.

Elderly patients in the southern states might need to be more cautious when it comes to their medications.  A recent study conducted by the University of Pittsburgh shows doctors are more likely to prescribe antibiotics to older patients in the south than any other region in the United States.

Hospital Acquired Infections Decline

Sep 24, 2012

Over the past two years hospitals nationally have reduced the number of central line-associated bloodstream infections by 40 percent down to 1.13 infections per 1,000 central line days, according to the Agency or Health Care Research and Quality and the American Hospital Association.

A small group of volunteers is raising money to tackle a big problem in the Pittsburgh area: food insecurity, when a family is routinely unsure of where and when it will find its next meal.

The Wake Up Call USA initiative is aiming to raise awareness of the issue with a corps of young volunteers. Three young women set up a table and refrigerator in the lobby of a PPG Place building for the "Skip Your Lunch, Feed a Child" program on Tuesday. A second crew worked at Pitt's Litchfield Towers in Oakland.

According to a new report, America is getting fatter.

The number of obese adults, along with related disease rates and health care costs, are on course to increase dramatically in every state in the country over the next 20 years. These statistics come from the new report F as in Fat: How Obesity Threatens America's Future 2012, released today by Trust for America's Health (TFAH) and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation.

City, County Officials Urge Seniors to get Flu Shots

Sep 18, 2012

The national “Flu + You” campaign brought its message to Pittsburgh, stopping at the Homewood Senior Center to urge residents to get vaccinated against influenza. Pittsburgh Mayor Luke Ravenstahl and County Executive Rich Fitzgerald were on hand, emphasizing the importance of getting the vaccine.

Watchdog Finds Insurance Coverage Lacking in PA

Sep 17, 2012

A new study looking to build a baseline for future evaluations of the federal Affordable Care Act has found some deficiencies in Pennsylvania that at least one group feels need to be improved. 

“Some of the goals of the health care reform law are to provide insurance to more people and basically make the health care system more accessible to people,” said Pennsylvania Partnership for Children Spokesperson Michael Race.  “We wanted to find a way to measure the effectiveness of the Affordable Care Act, as its implemented, in reaching children and in insuring children.”

One of the "byproducts" of the Marcellus Shale gas drilling industry is tons and tons of used well pad liners.  Now two companies have begun collecting and recycling the plastic liners from drilling sites throughout the Marcellus region.

WellSpring Environmental Services in Orwigsburg, PA and Ultra-Poly Corporation in Portland, PA hope to take at least 20 million pounds of plastic per year out of the waste stream.

DA Recommends Stepped-Up Security at UPMC Facilities

Sep 14, 2012

Following the deadly Western Psych shooting in March and the recent abduction of a newborn from Magee Womens Hospital, the Allegheny County District Attorney is recommending police patrols be added inside of UPMC medical facilities.

“One of the most important considerations is the presence of a uniformed police officer,” said Zappala, “just to refresh the public’s memory, it took about 5 minutes and a little over 15 seconds for police to arrive on scene [at the Western Psych shooting] and the movement of the shooter was pretty much unlimited until that time.”

Hundreds of Parkinson’s patients and their loved ones are expected to gather at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center Saturday in an effort to learn more about the disease, the latest research, and a few tricks to living with the illness.  The day-long and free Victory Summit sponsored by the Davis Phinney Foundation kicks off at 9:00am. Wrap_Emily Farah_SOC.mp3

All veterans who receive healthcare from the Veterans Affairs Healthcare System have the opportunity to be one of potentially one million veterans participating in a research project at 40 locations nationwide, the Million Veteran Program (MVP).  Dr. Elif Sonel, a medical physician with the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, says MVP is a national, voluntary research program.

A Pittsburgh-area physician has agreed to repay two insurance companies $700,000 for covering powerful narcotic painkillers that he pleaded guilty to overprescribing to dozens of patients.

McMurray physician Oliver Herndon pleaded guilty in May and is will be sentenced Sept. 24. As part of his plea agreement, he's expected to serve 11 years and three months in federal prison, though a federal judge has yet to formally approve the deal.

Prominent government, business, and labor leaders gather in Pittsburgh today to discuss the importance of investing in the energy and manufacturing industries as part of the Consumer Energy Alliance (CEA) 2012 Pennsylvania Energy and Manufacturing Summit.

Mike Mikus, Executive Director of the CEA Mid-Atlantic region, said this meeting will be similar to the Colorado and Gulf Coast Energy Summits, which were held in February and March.

Drake Oil Museum Get Facelift

Sep 8, 2012

In 1859, the country's first commercial oil well was drilled by Colonel Edwin Drake, near Titusville, north of Pittsburgh. Soon the country's first oil rush ensued. More than 150 years later, Pennsylvania has another kind of drilling boom at hand, this time for natural gas. And in the middle of this boom, one museum unveiled a new exhibit that wants us to take a good look back. The Allegheny Front's Reid Frazier went to Titusville for an up-close look at the Drake Well Museum, which tries to connect our energy past to our energy present and future.

Ryan Clark’s Cure League Tackles Sickle Cell

Sep 4, 2012

The Steelers play in Denver Sunday night, and Ryan Clark, who usually starts at safety, will once again be inactive. If he has his way however, Clark and others eventually won’t have to shy away from activities that could affect their genetic disorder—sickle cell trait.