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

Archive for July, 2016

Pitt Public Health Alum Receives Award for Groundbreaking LGBT/HIV Research Study

AIDS 2016

For Leigh Bukowski, M.P.H., having the opportunity to present her LGBT-related research at the 2016 AIDS International Conference in South Africa was a dream come true.

A few short hours after her presentation, the experience was made even more special when she was awarded the 2016 Joep Lange and Jacqueline van Tongeren Prize for Young Investigators for Track D, Social and Political Research, Law, Policy and Human Rights. Her abstract, “Physical assault partially mediates the impact of transgender status on depression and poly-substance use among Black MSM and Black transgender women in the United States: results from POWER,” was selected from over 6,700 other abstracts for the prestigious award.

“It’s really important we have people advocating for change on all levels: community, direct service and policy change,” she said. “My goal is to use my skills to explore health disparities in this population and ultimately find solutions.”

Bukowski researched the differences between gay black men and black transgender women. Though they are not the same, the two groups are often clumped together as one in HIV/AIDS-related research, she said. This is because the two groups engage in similar sexual relations. However, they have very different identities and are therefore treated differently in society.

She compared the rates of physical assault, substance use and depression between the two populations, and found that those incidences occur much more often in black transgender women than gay black men, proving that the two populations have very different experiences and should be treated as such.

“Though they have similar behaviors, their lived experiences are vastly different,” Bukowski said.

Bukowski currently serves as a project coordinator for Promoting Our Worth, Equality, and Resilience (POWER) in the Center for LGBT Health Research at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. Before receiving a master’s degree in public health at Pitt, she worked at an organization trying to improve the lives of refugees and minority groups in Vermont.

She credits Ronald Stall, Ph.D., and Robert W.S. Coulter, M.P.H., both of Pitt Public Health, for providing mentorship with her analysis, abstract and presentation. She plans on donating part of her award to the Sylvia Rivera Law Project and the Transgender Law Center.

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Life-Saving Smartphone App Launches in Pittsburgh


Through a partnership with UPMC, every city of Pittsburgh employee will be trained in CPR by the end of 2016. This summer, Pittsburgh city councilman Dan Gilman announced a comprehensive plan to get people the life-changing care they need in the shortest time possible.

The councilman has three goals for the residents of Pittsburgh – get more people trained in CPR, inform everyone on the location of automatic external defibrillators (AEDs), and launch a new smartphone application called PulsePoint, a lifesaving app that allows anyone in cardiac arrest to get the help they need until an ambulance arrives.

“Many times bystanders are the first responders, said Lenny Weiss, M.D., UPMC emergency medicine physician. “If you do not get a sustainable heart rate within four to eight minutes after the heart stops, the patient can suffer irreversible brain damage.”

City employees will train community groups and other city departments. Additionally, the councilman has introduced legislation requiring the registration of all AEDs with the city of Pittsburgh to verify locations and ensure they are fully operational. The registry will enable 911 operators to tell callers where they can find the nearest AED.  PulsePoint, Gilman’s third initiative, is activated by calling 911 and alerts bystanders who have the PulsePoint app, telling them when and where they are needed in an emergency situation. Anyone who in close proximity who is trained in CPR can help a person in cardiac arrest.

The city of Pittsburgh, Allegheny County, Henry Hillman Foundation and UPMC have all partnered to implement the use of the PulsePoint in the area.

Pittsburgh residents are encouraged to download the PulsePoint app, as well as learn CPR and how to use an AED. People can also help find and tag the AEDs by visiting


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Comprehensive Pulmonary Hypertension Program at UPMC Earns National Recognition


The Comprehensive Pulmonary Hypertension Program at UPMC has been added to the short list of programs nationwide to earn accreditation by the Pulmonary Hypertension Association (PHA) as a Center of Comprehensive Care. UPMC is one of 39 medical centers nationally to receive the distinction for the quality of its pulmonary hypertension program.

“The accreditation is an important component in recognizing the exceptional care that we offer our patients,” said Stephen Y. Chan, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of medicine, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, and director, UPMC Center for Pulmonary Vascular Biology and Medicine at the Vascular Medicine Institute at the University of Pittsburgh. “With the significant resources and expertise that we are focusing on pulmonary hypertension, this accreditation and our already sterling reputation as a first-class research center in pulmonary hypertension make us one of the top programs in the world for both research and clinical care.”

Pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure that occurs in the arteries in the lungs, making it difficult for blood to flow from the heart to the lungs. Symptoms of the disease, which can lead to heart failure, include shortness of breath, fatigue and chest pain, and in its early stages might not be noticeable for months or even years. A rare and life-threatening condition, it becomes progressively worse, making early and accurate diagnosis important to allow treatment methods to extend and improve the quality of life for many patients.

CHAN_STEPHEN_MD_PHD_CARD_20151029Featuring one of the largest multidisciplinary teams in the country, the UPMC Comprehensive Pulmonary Hypertension Program is a joint program of the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute and the Pitt Division of Pulmonary, Allergy and Critical Care Medicine. It offers state-of-the-art diagnostics and a full range of therapy, as well as opportunity for patients to participate in cutting-edge clinical research aimed at improving diagnosis and treatment methods.

“Many centers have one or two people focused on pulmonary hypertension, but here at UPMC we have more than 60 people—researchers, physicians, nurses, pharmacists and clinical practitioners—all committed to fighting this disease,” Dr. Chan said. “We are pushing discovery forward, and getting closer to the point of creating new therapies that won’t just make our patients feel better, but rather will help reverse, prevent and hopefully cure pulmonary hypertension.”

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Revolutionary Acts: How the discussion of HIV risk matters for the health of Black men who have sex with men


Editor’s note: Dr. Matthews is an assistant professor in the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health’s Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology. His research is focused upon the disproportionate burden the HIV epidemic has on black gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) in the U.S.

He recently wrote an article for the National Institutes of Health Office of Behavioral and Sciences Research calling for a change in how public health scientists approach research on why HIV disproportionately affects black MSM, who constitute almost a quarter of all new HIV infections in the U.S. An excerpt appears below and can be read in its entirety here:

Upon their HIV infection Black MSM take longer to become diagnosed, and are ultimately less likely to achieve viral suppression, the health state achieved upon sustained successful antiretroviral treatment. This health state not only keeps HIV-positive persons healthy, but also doubles as an effective way to prevent sexual transmission of HIV to HIV-negative partners. Yet this alone doesn’t sufficiently explain the stark disparities we see in HIV infection. To understand that infectious disease epidemiology requires we also look at sexual networks. There are exceptions of course, but generally, the data show that we all tend to choose sexual partners who are more like us with respect to a variety of characteristics, including race.

So to tie this all together – what is responsible for HIV disparities if not differences in individual risk behaviors? Here’s what the research has demonstrated:

  • MSM are more likely to have sex with men of their same race than other races
  • Therefore, Black MSM are more likely to have sex with someone living with HIV
  • Black HIV-positive MSM are less likely to be virally suppressed
  • HIV infection spreads quickly in a smaller more interconnected network

So while networks appear associated with health disparities, there remains a dangerously large gap between public health science and public health practice. Upon reviewing the explosion of research about the sexual networks of Black MSM in the last decade, we decided it was appropriate to critique how public health was communicating sexual network research. In short – scientists frequently have discussed Black MSM sexual networks and the high HIV prevalence within them as the cause for these disparities rather than an effect of those systems truly responsible for this epidemic.

But how much does the way we simply talk about something matter? A great deal.

Visit to read the rest of the article.

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UPMC Passavant Holds 5th Annual Celebration of Survivorship

Survivor Celebration Tree - Brandy

UPMC Passavant recently held its fifth annual Celebration of Survivorship. Each year, the event brings together cancer survivors, their families and hospital staff for an entertaining and educational evening celebrating cancer survival.

The UPMC CancerCenter at Passavant is associated with the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute, the region’s only National Cancer Institute-designated Comprehensive Cancer Center. The CancerCenter offers patients advanced diagnosis, top-quality treatment and emotional assistance with services such as nutrition counseling, stress management and support groups.

Held at La Roche College, this year’s celebration was attended by more than 600 survivors, families and staff. Guests were provided with survivorship health and wellness education that focused on living a healthy lifestyle in remission and beyond.

Wellness coach and cancer survivor Katy Ursta provided the keynote speech, discussing how fitness impacted her journey with Hodgkin’s lymphoma.

After her diagnosis, Ms. Ursta decided to share her fight publicly and launched her One Fit Fighter Facebook campaign. Due to chemotherapy, the fitness coach could no longer work out with her usual intensity. Friends and family took to the gym on her behalf, and this ultimately grew into a social media movement known as #everysweatmatters.

The campaign helped Ms. Ursta and her supporters raise over $70,000 for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.

“Don’t ever stop living,” said Ms. Ursta, who continues to share her battle and help others through speaking engagements and fitness coaching. “Cancer, or whatever obstacle you are facing, does not define you.”

The program included two breakout sessions. Caroline Mazurek, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., discussed dietary considerations and suggestions for cancer survivors.

“Nutrition is an essential component in fighting cancer, and ultimately in preventing recurrence,” said Ms. Mazurek. “I want people to understand the connection between what they eat and how it manifests as their overall health.”

Kerry Harling, Ayurveda practitioner at the UPMC Center for Integrative Medicine in Shadyside, presented “Why Context is Everything in Health,” a talk on the benefits of holistic medicine and how true health looks at the whole person and their personal needs.

“Medicine is not one size fits all,” she said.

Overall, the Celebration of Survivorship was a great way for cancer patients to celebrate their survival and learn how to lead a healthy lifestyle.

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