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

Archive for May, 2016

Pitt Public Health Nutritional Epidemiologist Selected to Serve on Federal Panel Shaping Pregnancy Diet and Health Guidelines


For the first time, federal dietary and health guidelines for Americans are being updated to include comprehensive advice for pregnant women.

To shape that guidance, the U.S. departments of Agriculture and Health & Human Services are turning to a panel of experts that includes Lisa Bodnar, Ph.D., M.P.H., R.D., associate professor in the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology.

The panel will provide advice for the 2020 edition of the existing Dietary Guidelines for Americans, and will include a new section aimed at improving the health of pregnant women.

“Women who are pregnant or likely to become pregnant have unique nutritional needs and health considerations,” said Dr. Bodnar. “Providing them with clear, research-backed guidance is an important part of ensuring they have healthy pregnancies and give their babies the best possible start in life. I’m honored to be able to provide my expertise to this important mission.”

Dr. Bodnar will be a member of the Pregnancy Working Group as part of the USDA-HHS Foundational Review Project on Diet and Health for Pregnancy and Birth to 24 Months.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans was created to provide sound advice for people wanting to make food and physical activity choices that promote good health and a healthy weight, as well as help prevent disease.

Dr. Bodnar has conducted numerous epidemiological studies looking at various aspects of nutrition and health before and during pregnancy, and the impact on the baby. Recently she found that achieving a healthy weight before becoming pregnant significantly reduces the risk of infant mortality. She’s also shown that low vitamin D levels during pregnancy are linked with preterm birth and preeclampsia in some mothers.

She’s previously served in other advisory positions regarding health and pregnancy, including at a recent Institute of Medicine workshop on reducing childhood obesity, where she explained that obesity during pregnancy is associated with obese children. (more…)

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Delving into Discordance Data

Dr. Douglas B. White, professor in Pitt’s Department of Critical Care Medicine, explains his JAMA study finding that doctors and the family and friends of critically ill patients have significantly different expectations for the patient’s outcome. Usually, the family is overly optimistic, but Dr. White found that that isn’t just because they misunderstand the doctor’s prognosis. Fundamentally different beliefs also come into play.

* Figure courtesy of The JAMA Network ® © 2016 American Medical Association (more…)

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Society of Biological Psychiatry Honors Pitt Researcher

Susanne AhmariSusanne Ahmari, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Pittsburgh and director of the Translational OCD Laboratory, recently received the Society of Biological Psychiatry’s (SOBP) A. E. Bennett Research Award in basic research for 2016 at the organization’s annual scientific assembly.

Each year, SOBP honors one young investigator in basic science with the purpose of stimulating international research in biological psychiatry.

“I am honored to receive this award and thankful for the Society’s support,” Dr. Ahmari said.  “It’s fantastic that through this award, SOBP highlights the importance of basic neuroscience research for understanding neuropsychiatric disease and ultimately developing new treatments.”

After earning her medical and Ph.D. degrees at Stanford University and completing her residency in psychiatry at Columbia University, Dr. Ahmari began full-time research on obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD). Through her research, Dr. Ahmari performs translational studies that bridge findings in OCD patients with animal models. This work includes using optogenetic technology to test the role of cortico-striatal circuits in OCD pathology and treatment, and in vivo microscopy to directly observe how the brain changes as abnormal compulsive behaviors evolve.

In addition, she is interested in dissecting the circuit-level mechanism of action of deep brain stimulation using transgenic animal models of OCD, and identifying neural plasticity mechanisms underlying perseverative behaviors.

The SOBP A. E. Bennett Research Award was established in 2005. (more…)

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Sally Wenzel Honored with Philanthropy Award From American Thoracic Society


Sally Wenzel, M.D., professor, Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine, Pitt School of Medicine, and director of the University of Pittsburgh Asthma Institute at UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, was recently honored with the Breathing for Life Award at the annual American Thoracic Society (ATS) Foundation Research Program Benefit. The award is the highest honor given to an ATS member for philanthropy.

“It’s a great honor to be the first woman recognized by the foundation for the professional society [ATS] that has provided me so much during my career,” Dr. Wenzel said. “I look forward to continuing my longtime commitment to the society as part of the global pulmonary community.”

An internationally-recognized expert in severe asthma patient care and research, Dr. Wenzel gives back to the pulmonary community in many ways. Not only is she a sought after clinician for treatment of severe asthma, she is also well recognized for her advocacy for women in science and mentoring of young scientists.

Dr. Wenzel is a global leader in the investigation of asthma phenotypes and understanding the complexities of severe asthma, where her research has been dedicated to investigation of asthma in humans, as opposed to mouse models. She has published over 250 peer reviewed publications and has been funded by the National Institutes of Health for 30 years.

For more information about the Asthma Institute, click here. (more…)

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UPMC-Led Improvements in Hysterectomy Outcomes Presented at National Meeting


UPMC gynecological research takes the national stage today as Robert Edwards, M.D., Milton Lawrence McCall Professor & Chair, Department of Obstetrics, Gynecology and Reproductive Sciences, Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, presents recent findings on the benefits of UPMC’s hysterectomy decision-making guidelines at the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists 64th Annual Clinical and Scientific Meeting in Washington, D.C.

The decision-making guidelines, which help surgeons pick the most appropriate surgical method for each patient, reduced more invasive surgeries by more than 35 percent and significantly improved patient outcomes.

In response to statistics showing that open abdominal hysterectomies are associated with more difficult recovery and worse patient outcomes than minimally invasive laparoscopic, robotic-assisted or vaginal approaches, UPMC developed the guidelines in 2012. The goal was to reduce variations in surgical care and minimize unnecessary open abdominal procedures, Dr. Edwards explained.

In this morning’s oral presentation, Dr. Edwards will describe the results from an analysis of surgical methods and patient outcomes in the two-year period after the guidelines were first put into use.

“We found that the number of open abdominal procedures dropped significantly after instituting the decision-making guidelines,” Dr. Edwards said. In 2012, open procedures made up 29 percent of all hysterectomies. By 2014, they had dropped to only 18 percent. “That’s quite a significant improvement for a health care system of our size,” he added.

Even more importantly, the researchers saw improvements in several patient outcomes over the same time period. As the number of open abdominal hysterectomies decreased, patients had less blood loss, shorter hospital stays, fewer wound infections and quicker returns to work.

“Clearly, use of our decision tool leads to better patient care,” Dr. Edwards said.

Some of the results he will present were published in the January 2016 issue of the journal Obstetrics & Gynecology.

Additional researchers on the project include Faina Linkov, Ph.D., M.P.H., John Comerci, M.D., and Suketu Mansuria, M.D., all of the Pitt School of Medicine. (more…)

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