NEWS BLOG from UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh Schools of the Health Sciences

Archive for May, 2016

‘The Musical Mind’

In collaboration with Roper St. Francis Hospital in Charleston, South Carolina, and the Charleston Symphony Orchestra and Carnegie Mellon University, researchers from University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and UPMC met at the crossroads of art and neurology to showcase how a seasoned musician’s brain works when creating music.

Countless studies have been tightly controlled to see if there is a correlation between music and language, comprehension or emotion. The study was a theater art project designed to display the brain’s activity when an expert is performing his or her craft.

In this video, James T. Becker, Ph.D., professor of neurology, psychology and psychiatry at Pitt, describes how the various parts of the brain are activated as the artist imagines playing the piece, and how the region of the brain that’s connected to emotions and memories was also active throughout.

Charleston Symphony Orchestra principal cellist, Norbert Lewandowski, participated in and performed for the research. Researchers hope people will be inspired by watching the cellist and seeing what was happening in his brain while he was playing, and be driven to create, study and explore for themselves.

On Saturday, Anto Bagić, M.D., Ph.D., chief of Pitt’s epilepsy division and director of the UPMC Epilepsy Monitoring Unit, will participate in a presentation about the research in Charleston’s Riviera Theatre as part of the Piccolo Spoleto Festival.

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Transforming Medical Drama into Health Education



The average American spends one hour every year face-to-face with a health care provider.

That same American spends 104 hours every year face-to-screen watching a Hollywood-created medical drama.

But, that isn’t necessarily a bad thing, according to Brian Primack, M.D. Ph.D., director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health (CRMTH). It’s an opportunity, he recently told a crowd of medical students and clinicians.

CRMTH hosted a lecture Tuesday on the Pitt campus by Ryan McGarry, M.D., executive producer of “Code Black,” a hit CBS medical drama that was renewed last week for a second season. Dr. McGarry graduated from Pitt’s School of Medicine in 2009.

“We, as a center, study the influence of media – such as medical dramas – in our lives,” said Dr. Primack, also a practicing physician and assistant vice chancellor for health and society in Pitt’s Schools of the Health Sciences. “Sometimes those influences are negative, but other times they’re positive. We’re trying to discover how you can leverage the positive to improve health.”

“Code Black” originated following a documentary by the same name that Dr. McGarry created about Los Angeles County Hospital, which is said to be “America’s busiest Emergency Department.” The television series is fictional but aims to realistically convey the drama of an overwhelmed public hospital.

At the CRMTH lecture, Dr. McGarry presented research on how medical dramas have evolved and the influence they have on public opinion of the medical profession.

In the 1960s, medical dramas portrayed more paternalistic, older doctors as the voice of authority. Now the dramas have younger casts with sexier fictional lives and doctors with a dark side. Still, 69 percent of Americans rate the honesty and ethical standards of physicians as high or very high. (more…)

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UPMC’s Dr. David Whitcomb Honored as Outstanding Mentor

whitcomb-davidDavid C. Whitcomb, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Nutrition at the University of Pittsburgh, received the 2016 Pancreatic Disorders Section Research Mentor Award at the Digestive Disease Week conference in San Diego. This award has been presented since 2010 to outstanding mentors in specific areas of gastroenterology research.

Dr. Whitcomb has been leading pancreatic disorder research at Pitt since he joined the faculty in 1991, and he has received over two decades of continuous funding from the National Institutes of Health. His research interests include hereditary pancreatitis and pancreatic cancer. Currently, Dr. Whitcomb’s laboratory is working to develop new ways to detect pancreatic cancer in its early stages.

After receiving his M.S. and Ph.D. in physiology and his M.D. from Ohio State University, Dr. Whitcomb completed an internship, residency and gastroenterology fellowship at Duke University. During his time at Pitt, Dr. Whitcomb co-founded and directed the Center for Genomic Sciences, now the Genomic and Proteomic Core Laboratories. He also founded the North American Pancreatic Study Group to conduct research.

Digestive Disease Week brings together the world’s largest group of physicians and researchers who are focused on gastroenterology, hepatology, endoscopy and gastrointestinal surgery.

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Trauma Survivors Reunited with UPMC Teams that Saved Them

MercyTraumaSurvivors_160518-1039When a trauma victim enters the hospital after a life-altering event, his or her future can be uncertain. Car crashes, biking accidents and head injuries are just a few of the scenarios that can place a person’s life in jeopardy.

The UPMC Trauma Care System, a network of five designated trauma centers, 14 STAT MedEvac helicopters and 45 trauma surgeons, is dedicated to helping these patients recover after their injuries.

UPMC recently recognized National Trauma Awareness Month and National Trauma Survivors Day by reuniting “unexpected” trauma survivors and their families with the medical teams that took care of them following the accidents that brought them to UPMC Mercy and UPMC Presbyterian.

Many of these patients experienced injuries so severe that they were not expected to survive.

MercyTraumaSurvivors_160518-1033“This celebration seeks not only to honor and support you as survivors along with your families and caregivers, but to draw inspiration from you,” said Alain Corcos, M.D., medical director of trauma services at UPMC Mercy. “You may not realize it, but you are our hospitals’ superstars.”

“This is our first occasion to celebrate here, and may it be the first of many yearly gatherings to celebrate our local heroes: those who have survived traumatic injuries and are now thriving,” added Father Albie Schempp.

UPMC’s trauma centers, located at UPMC Altoona, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, UPMC Hamot, UPMC Mercy — the only Level 1 Regional Resource Trauma Center and Amercian Burn Association-verified burn center under one roof in the region — and UPMC Presbyterian, have been saving lives for 30 years.

Together they make up the largest trauma system in western Pennsylvania, treating over 11,400 patients each year. Trauma and emergency care leaders from UPMC authored the Trauma Manual, which is in use by over 30,000 trauma caregivers worldwide. (more…)

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UPMC McKeesport Welcomes Plastic Surgeon Emily Beers


Emily Beers, M.D., recently began seeing patients in the UPMC Wound Healing Center at UPMC McKeesport. She specializes in breast reduction, the removal of excess skin/fat from the abdomen post-weight loss, skin cancer and wound care.

Dr. Beers obtained her medical degrees from Ohio State University College of Medicine and completed her residency in plastic and reconstructive surgery at the University of Rochester Medical Center. She also completed a palliative care fellowship at Northwestern Medicine, and is board certified in plastic and reconstructive surgery.

Prior to joining the UPMC Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery, Dr. Beers was a clinical assistant professor at the University of Rochester.

The Traverse City, Michigan, native recently sat down with a representative from UPMC to discuss what brought her to the Pittsburgh area, as well as what her patients can expect.

What made you want to go into plastic and reconstructive surgery, as well as palliative care?

A: I have always been a hands on person and very much enjoyed my surgical experiences. I chose plastic surgery specifically because of its diversity and mission – plastics touches every age and demographic, and the focus is on restoring wholeness and normalcy to people affected by disease. I did quite a bit of breast cancer reconstruction in my first years in practice, and through those patients I realized that there was a deeper, non-surgical aspect to patient care that I wanted to explore. I wanted to know how to better take care of patients for whom surgery is no longer a treatment option.

What made you want to join the Department of Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery at UPMC?

A: UPMC has been very gracious to let me practice both of my specialties, and this is an amazing institution that embraces unusual cross-disciplinary people such as myself.

Why did you choose to practice at UPMC McKeesport?

A: My former plastic surgery practice was at a community hospital, and I very much enjoy the experience of caring for a local group of patients.

What is the most fulfilling part of your job?

A: In surgery, it’s restoring wholeness and pre-illness sense of self. In palliative care, it’s helping patients navigate some of the most difficult decisions in their lives.

What can patients expect from you?

A: Patients can expect that I will do everything possible to match their goals with my treatment plan. I understand that each person has a unique set of needs in their health care, and I will do my absolute best to make sure I take care of the individual rather than the problem. (more…)

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