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

Archive for October, 2016

UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute Adds Two New Physicians

One of the world’s premier centers for comprehensive cardiac care, the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute recently added two new physicians who will aid in the development of revolutionary devices and new models of treatment that will improve the lives of those facing the most complex heart and vascular conditions.

Christopher Sciortino, M.D., joined as the surgical director of the Advanced Heart Failure Center and will help lead UPMC’s efforts in heart transplantation and mechanical circulatory support with ventricular assist devices (VAD), as well as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). He has also been appointed assistant professor of cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

sciortino_christopher_md_card_surg_transplant_20161011_“I look forward to working with a highly motivated team of health care providers, researchers and business leaders who have a passion for their mission to administer to the sick of our community,” Dr. Sciortino said. “UPMC has an important place in the history of development of cardiac transplantation and mechanical support devices.  It is considered by many one of the founding institutions that brought these therapies into the mainstream of cardiovascular treatment.”

Dr. Sciortino joins UPMC from Johns Hopkins University, where he served as assistant professor of surgery, surgical chief of mechanical surgery support and heart transplantation, and director of adult extracorporeal life support. He has an extensive background in bioengineering research and will join the team at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, where he will pursue research in both heart transplantation and VAD development. (more…)

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Pitt Physician Receives Highest Honor from Chinese Government


Timothy Billiar, M.D., George Vance Foster Professor and chair in the Department of Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and associate medical director, UPMC International, recently traveled to Beijing to receive the Friendship Award, the highest recognition bestowed by the People’s Republic of China to foreign experts who have made outstanding contributions to the country’s economic and social progress.

Dr. Billiar was nominated by Central South University in Changsha, Hunan, China for his work in developing student and physician exchange programs, and for his role in developing a Chinese medical student research training program at the Pitt School of Medicine.

“Our collaboration with colleagues in China has been of great mutual benefit as we work to advance medical science,” Dr. Billiar said. “I am truly honored to receive this recognition from the Chinese government.”

Every year, 50 foreign experts are selected for the Friendship Award. This year, recipients came from 18 foreign countries and included experts in the fields of industry, science and technology, medicine, agriculture, energy, environmental protection and education.

In addition to Pitt’s academic partnerships, UPMC International currently works with several partners in China to provide world-class care close to patients’ homes, including second-opinion telepathology services for KingMed Diagnostics, operational support for Xiangya International Medical Center in Changsha, and development of oncology services on Hainan Island in collaboration with  First Chengmei Medical Industry Group.

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Inaugural ‘Ride and Rally’ at the Zoo a Roaring Success


With the help of the Fire and Iron Station 6 Motorcycle Club, who generously donated funds, the UPMC Mercy Burn Center recently hosted a picnic for pediatric burn patients and their families at the Pittsburgh Zoo & PPG Aquarium for the inaugural “Ride and Rally at the Zoo.”

The event had 52 attendees, which included 10 pediatric patients and their families, as well as six staff members. The group spent the day exploring the zoo and also got an up-close and personal experience learning about and petting some of the animals, like the great horned owl. In the afternoon, the families took a break from their adventures to have lunch and accept a donation from the motorcycle club members.

This year they were able to donate $12,722.50. The money benefits pediatric patients by providing state-of-the-art equipment to the burn center to assist in the care of pediatric patients, as well as aid them with the costs of necessary wound care supplies after discharge from the hospital that may not be covered by insurance carriers.

“Our job is to educate children about what is going on while they are patients at our burn center, as well as provide coping mechanisms for them to utilize during their stay,”  We always aim to provide the children with normal experiences like they would have outside of the hospital”, said Melissa Shiring, child life specialist, UPMC Mercy Trauma Burn Center.

The Pittsburgh “Station 6” of the Fire and Iron Motorcycle Club began in 2002. The organization is composed of firefighters and their friends and families. They routinely participate in charity work, bonding over their shared interest of bettering the community by helping those who need it most. The Fire and Iron Motorcycle Club raises monies by hosting a Valentine’s Day dance in February, and a motorcycle run in the summer. The funds are then donated to two burn centers in Pittsburgh, one being the UPMC Mercy Burn Center. Over the past eight years, they have raised $133,415 dollars that was split between the two burn centers.

“The club is composed of firefighters and their friends and family who ride together and participate in a lot of charity work” said Ernie Daum, president; Fire and Iron Motorcycle Station 6 Club. The UPMC Mercy Burn Center hopes to make the Ride and Rally at the Zoo an annual event in which club members, and the pediatric patients their donations benefit, can reunite as a celebration of the patient’s survival and the member’s generosity.

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Q&A: Botox Injections and Urinary Incontinence


The University of Pittsburgh and Magee-Womens Research Institute were one of nine participating sites of an National Institutes of Health (NIH)-sponsored Pelvic Floor Disorders Network study that compared an implantation of a neuromodulation unit to bladder injections of Botox to help women suffering from bladder incontinence.

Dr. Halina Zyczynski, medical director of Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC’s Center for Continence and Pelvic Floor Disorders, answers questions about the study and its important findings.

What is bladder incontinence and what are some traditional therapies women opt for?

A: Urinary incontinence is the involuntary leakage of urine. There are different reasons for loss of bladder control. One of the most bothersome reasons is unexpected bladder muscle spasms, which usually cause a sense of bladder pressure and urgency to urinate. We refer to this as urgency urinary incontinence. First- and second- line therapies offered to improve the symptoms of urgency urinary incontinence include reducing the amount of liquid drunk each day to reducing dietary bladder irritants such as caffeine and artificial sweeteners. People can also benefit from pelvic floor muscle training (a very specific form of physical therapy) and medication.

You were recently the principal investigator for Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC for a multi-site trial that compared third-line therapies of Botox and sacral neuromodulation. How do these treatments help with bladder incontinence?

A: One of the major causes for urgency urinary incontinence is a malfunctioning of the nerve signals between the central nervous system, the brain and the bladder muscle. The brain through the spinal cord is constantly delivering a message for the bladder muscles to relax, stretch and accommodate or hold the urine made by the kidneys. When there is a “hiccup” or “static” in the message to keep the bladder muscle relaxed, it can contract or cramp. Unfortunately, the commonly prescribed oral medications for urgency incontinence are insufficient or poorly tolerated by some patients. It’s they who are offered “third” line therapies of Botox injection or implantation of a neuromodulation unit. An injection of Botox into the bladder muscle works by relaxing the twitchy or overactive bladder muscles. A sacral neuromodulation works like a pacemaker for the bladder muscle. The electrical stimulator suppresses the spasms by sending electrical pulses to nerves in the spine that control the bladder muscle. Up to this point, doctors and patients did not know if one of the third-line treatments was better than the other, and for whom.   


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Forum Explores How to Make Communities Healthier, More Walkable

For Carol Reichbaum, getting people to walk the walk sometimes means finding the right platform to talk the talk.

Reichbaum spoke at the recent Healthy Cities, Healthy Towns forum hosted by The Atlantic in Washington, D.C. The forum drew public health experts and municipal leaders from across the country to address what works when building healthy communities. Reichbaum is the project director at WalkWorks, a collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health’s Center for Public Health Practice and the Pennsylvania Department of Health, as well as community-based partners throughout the state.

When it comes to making communities healthier, one of the most crucial steps is making them more walkable.

“WalkWorks is in 14 counties in Pennsylvania,” she explained at the forum, “and we ask our partners in each area to create 1- or 2-mile walking routes with input from their communities. It’s important that they are built in the environment, that they’re accessible and that there are points of interest along each of these routes.”

After identifying and building the routes, “the next step is engaging walking groups, and that’s where we’re really seeing people come together,” Reichbaum said. “We have more people walking than were walking before, and we also are increasing the intensity and the length of walking – so people who may have walked fewer times a week, or not quite as far, are walking more frequently and greater distances.”


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