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

Archive for November, 2016

ALS Research at Pitt and UPMC Gets a Boost


Research at the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC into amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, received a significant boost this week with the donation of $500,000 by, a donor-advised fund of The Pittsburgh Foundation.

Last year, the Live Like Lou Center for ALS Research was established at the Pitt’s Brain Institute (UPBI) with the help of a starting gift from The fund was created by Neil and Suzanne Alexander at The Pittsburgh Foundation in 2011, soon after Neil Alexander was diagnosed with ALS at age 46. pledged to raise $2.5 million for the research center in five years.

The starting gift given last year was matched by Pitt in an effort to raise $10 million in funding for the center. Neil Alexander, who passed away in early 2016, was inspired by the dignity and perseverance shown decades ago by legendary Yankees first baseman Lou Gehrig, who died from ALS in 1941.

Currently, there is no effective treatment for ALS, which causes progressive paralysis and eventually makes swallowing and breathing difficult, if not impossible, while sensation and cognitive function remain unaffected. Patients with ALS live two to five years after diagnosis, on average, with about 10 percent surviving for 10 years or longer.

The Live Like Lou Center at Pitt will focus both on developing new treatments and, ultimately, a cure for ALS, as well as improving the quality of life for people who are now living with the progressive, degenerative neurological condition.

One of the researchers who will contribute to that effort is Chris Donnelly, Ph.D., assistant professor of neurobiology at Pitt and member of the UPBI. Donnelly, whose research is funded by the center, hopes to improve our understanding of ALS by studying cells from patients with the disease. His research involves converting these patient cells into stem cells, which have the potential to become any cell in the body. He then coaxes them in the lab to become neurons in order to study how they are different from normal neurons.

Donor Wall Recognizes Contributions, Showcases Research

In recognition of the efforts of the many individuals and organizations that have contributed to this grassroots effort to advance research, UPMC helped construct a “living” donor wall, located at UPMC Presbyterian. The wall features an updated list of donors who have contributed to, and features a display that showcases images from research laboratories at Pitt, along with highlights of efforts by the center.

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Annual Our Hearts to Your Soles Event Provides Foot Care in Time for the Holidays

In partnership with Catholic Charities, Dr. Stephen Conti recently hosted his 11th annual nonprofit Our Hearts to Your Soles initiative alongside fellow foot-care professionals. With supplies donated by Red Wing Shoe Company and Superfeet, Conti and his colleagues from around the country gave some 6,000 donated shoes and 8,000 pairs of socks to disadvantaged and homeless people across more than 20 cities.

Conti and a team of UPMC foot care professionals provided free foot examinations to local adults in need. Volunteers from Colaizzi Pedorthic Center and University of Pittsburgh prosthetic and orthotics students fitted participants with shoes. This year’s event served clients from a variety of organizations, including Catholic Charities, Light of Life, Jubilee Kitchen, Operation Safety Net and 411 Youth Zone.

“It is sad, but so often do we see the homeless with ill-fitted shoes, which often leads to additional stress to one’s health and wellness,” Conti said.

Our Hearts to Your Soles was founded in Pittsburgh in 2004 by Conti, an orthopaedic surgeon at UPMC, and his family after seeing the problems caused by improper footwear. Since then, the program has expanded and now hosts events around Thanksgiving at over 20 sites across the country.

“We are delighted to be able to provide this critical service to our brothers and sisters in need,” said Susan Rauscher, executive director of Catholic Charities. “It’s relatively easy to source winter clothes for clients, but well-fitting shoes are another question.”

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UPMC Once Again Atop Central Blood Bank’s Top 20 Donor List

Nurse speaking with a patient

Thanks to nearly 1,000 organizations who donated blood, Central Blood Bank collected over 6,000 units of blood that impacted the lives of 18,390 individuals in need.

This year marked the 16th consecutive year that UPMC sat atop Central Blood Bank’s top 20 donor list. Over 1,100 UPMC employees were able to donate blood to the this year, with the health system still actively encouraging employees to donate by hosting frequent blood drives at various UPMC locations.

“I started donating when I was 17 years old, and I just did my 57th donation a week ago,” said Stephanie Stanley, UPMC media relations manager. “I find it’s something easy to do that offers vital help to patients in need of blood products.”

The need for blood products can occur in persons of all ages, from premature infants to the elderly, according to the Central Blood Bank website. With an aging population, the demand for blood products is likely to increase, since management of illnesses that strike the elderly often requires extensive blood product support. The blood bank must see at least 500 donors per day to meet the needs of patients who require blood products.

“On behalf of the patients, our hospitals, and all of our customers, I’m honored to recognize UPMC for this distinct accomplishment,” said Jim Covert, president of the blood bank.

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Pitt Cancer Researcher Heads Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer

butterfield-sitcDr. Lisa Butterfield, professor of medicine, surgery and immunology at the University of Pittsburgh
School of Medicine and director of the Pitt’s Cancer Institute’s (UPCI) Immunologic Monitoring and Cellular Products Laboratory (IMCPL), has begun to serve a two-year term as president of the Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer (SITC).

SITC is an organization focused on advancing the development, science and application of cancer immunotherapy and tumor immunology. It’s comprised of influential basic and translational scientists, practitioners, health care professionals, government leaders and industry professionals around the globe. Butterfield, an expert in immunology and cancer immunotherapy clinical trials, is SITC’s first female president in its over 30-year history. She has been on the steering committee for SITC’s immunotherapy biomarkers task force, and is looking forward to new SITC initiatives in policy, global collaborations and education.

In addition to heading her research laboratory, Butterfield directs the IMCPL, which is responsible for developing cells for cancer therapy, monitoring of immune functions in patients with cancer who are treated with biologic therapies, and banking of blood and tissues for patients on clinical protocols. The IMCPL plays a critical role in supporting novel investigator-initiated immunotherapy trials at UPCI.

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Get Smart About Antibiotic Resistance

Superbug Infection Question

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), antibiotic resistance is possibly the most important infectious disease threat people face.

While antibiotics are the most important tool to combat life-threatening bacterial diseases, overuse of antibiotics can have dire side effects with global implications. Each year, more than 2 million Americans get infections that are antibiotic-resistant, and at least 23,000 people die as a result.

Antibiotic overuse increases the development of drug-resistant germs, which can lead to a rise in so-called superbugs. How can people prevent this from happening? The single most important action to help prevent this from happening is to improve the way that antibiotics are prescribed and used, today.

Together, as health care providers, hospital administrators and as patients, everyone must work together to use effective strategies for improving effective and necessary antibiotic use — ultimately improving medical care and saving lives.

Interested in more information? Consider taking part in the CDC #AntibioticSmart Thunderclap campaign today at 1 p.m. Thunderclap is a platform to rally people to spread a common message in unison. Learn how it works, then join at 1 p.m.

Get Smart About Antibiotics Week is Nov. 14 through Nov. 20. For more resources, visit the Get Smart website.

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