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

Archive for February, 2017

‘Superbug’ Priority List Aligns with UPMC Infectious Disease Expert’s Priorities

‘Superbug’ Priority List Aligns with UPMC Infectious Disease Expert’s PrioritiesThe World Health Organization (WHO) yesterday unveiled its first list of antibiotic-resistant priority pathogens – popularly known as “superbugs” – it believes pose the greatest threat to the world’s public health.

The list of 12 bacteria came as no surprise to Dr. Yohei Doi, director of the University of Pittsburgh Center for Innovative Antimicrobial Therapy.

“The list WHO provided accurately reflects the challenges we face at our hospitals today,” said Doi, also a UPMC infectious disease physician.

Three bacteria were designated “Priority 1: Critical” – Acinetobacter, Pseudomonas and Enterobacteriaceae. Doi noted that these are the most problematic pathogens because they are becoming resistant to multiple antibiotics, including carbapenems, which are last-resort antibiotics typically reserved for gravely ill patients with infections who aren’t responding to other treatments.

Doi’s laboratory collects samples of drug-resistant infections from hospitals, testing them against therapies with the goal of developing long-term solutions to the antimicrobial resistance crisis. Multiple health organizations, including the WHO and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have named antimicrobial resistance as one of the biggest threats to human health.

The WHO’s new list is meant to spur governments to put in place policies that incentivize investing in basic science and advanced research and development in antibiotic discovery by both publicly funded agencies and the private sector.

Antibiotic resistance is growing, and we are fast running out of treatment options. If we leave it to market forces alone, the new antibiotics we most urgently need are not going to be developed in time,” Dr. Marie-Paule Kieny, WHO’s assistant director-general for health systems and innovation, said in a news release.

Doi noted that progress is being made for Enterobacteriaceae, with several new antibiotics approved or nearing approval, but there continues to be a dearth of effective treatment options for multidrug-resistant Acinetobacter and Pseudomonas.

“Developing new antibiotics or other strategies that are active against these bacteria is challenging, both technologically and economically,” Doi said. “Public-private partnership is essential in advancing research and development in this field. As the WHO points out, investment in developing strategies to prevent infections and preserve the antibiotics we already have is also a high priority.”

UPMC has one of the nation’s oldest antibiotic stewardship programs. Among other responsibilities, the program reviews antibiotic requests for patients at UPMC’s hospitals to ensure that the patients are receiving the correct antibiotic at the best dosage for their infection, and not getting unnecessary or mismatched antibiotics.

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Fact or Fiction: Do E-Cigarettes Help Smokers Quit?

Fact or Fiction: Do E-Cigarettes Help Smokers Quit?During an Allegheny County Council public hearing held earlier this month, more than 30 people spoke both for and against a proposed regulation that would prevent people from using electronic cigarettes (commonly called e-cigarettes or vaping) in public places or inside facilities.

Supporters of the regulation argued that vaping could be a gateway for users – especially teens – to start smoking cigarettes, and also exposes bystanders to the dangers of secondhand e-cigarette smoke. Those against the regulation cited a risk of vapers going back to smoking cigarettes because of their increased exposure to tobacco smokers and claimed that vaping helps smokers quit.

“E-cigarettes help with cessation.”


A study on the association of e-cigarettes with quitting found the odds of quitting cigarettes to be 28 percent lower in vapers compared to those who didn’t use e-cigs.

Dr. Elizabeth Miller, chief of the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, helps bust a few more myths about e-cigarettes.

“E-cigarettes are safe.”


Nicotine, even at low exposure levels, has negative and permanent effects on the adolescent brain as it relates to cognitive functions, such as thinking straight and learning. It also primes the brain for future substance use by inducing epigenetic changes (changes in the genes). Research finds this to be evident because the adolescent brain is developing and reorganizing so rapidly.

 “E-cigarettes have therapeutic value.”


Suggestions of nicotine having therapeutic value to individuals with serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder were also addressed in the hearing. Although people with serious mental illnesses are more likely to smoke cigarettes than the general population, nicotine is not considered a medication for use in treating these disorders. There’s also no supporting evidence that not being permitted to use e-cigarettes in public places would have a greater impact on a users’ access to nicotine than what already exists.

Despite e-cigarettes being marketed as a safer alternative to traditional cigarettes or aiding in smoking cessation, regulatory authorities haven’t accepted either of these claims and little is actually known yet about the health risks of vaping.

The Allegheny County Council’s Health and Human Services Committee is scheduled to discuss the proposed legislation on Wednesday. It could then be sent to the full council for consideration. The meeting will be held at 4 p.m. in Conference Room 1 at the Allegheny County Courthouse, 436 Grant St., Pittsburgh.

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Pitt Research Provides Clues to Early Detection of Multiple Sclerosis

Pitt Research Provides Clues to Early Detection of Multiple SclerosisDr. Zongqi Xia, assistant professor of neurology and biomedical informatics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, studies multiple sclerosis (MS) at the Pittsburgh Institute for Neurodegenerative Diseases and the Pittsburgh Institute for Multiple Sclerosis Care and Research.

In collaboration with Dr. Daniel Reich at the National Institutes of Health and Dr. Philip De Jager at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, he has been studying families of people diagnosed with MS as part of a larger effort known as the Genes and Environment in Multiple Sclerosis (GEMS) project. The goal is to map the sequence of events leading to MS.

In individuals affected by MS, the body’s immune system is turned against itself, injuring the nerves that allow us to feel, see and move. The immune system normally fights infection, but in MS, immune cells from the blood damage the brain and spinal cord over time. A key question is, “Can early detection of MS lead to better outcomes?” Earlier detection of the disease process can help researchers understand what triggers MS and ultimately test ways to prevent the disease.

In a recent study published in the JAMA Neurology, the team focused on family members who didn’t exhibit symptoms, but were deemed at higher or lower risk of developing MS based on their genetic burden and environmental exposure history. The researchers performed a wide range of neurological and neuroimaging tests designed to detect early evidence of MS. (more…)

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Residents Receive World-Class Heart and Vascular Services in Central Pennsylvania

Experts at the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute at UPMC Altoona offer a full range of services for the prevention, diagnosis, treatment and management of heart and vascular disease.

“Becoming part of the UPMC Heart and Vascular Institute is a step we’ve been working toward since our affiliation with UPMC, and we are proud our local programs have met all of the requirements and standards to join this nationally-recognized group,” said Jerry Murray, president of UPMC Altoona and UPMC Bedford Memorial. “The advancements in care are a significant benefit and will now be available to patients here at home that we are pleased to bring to our community.”

Dr. Arthur DeMarsico serves as medical director of heart and vascular services and surgical services at UPMC Altoona, and has been a member of the community since 2001.

Residents Receive World-Class Heart and Vascular Services in Central Pennsylvania

Dr. Arthur DeMarsico

“I have always pushed the technical envelope during my career,” DeMarsico said. “Fortunately, I joined a robust practice when I relocated here and I augmented the service line with my specialty training in state-of-the-art vascular and endovascular procedures.”

Vascular surgery services at UPMC Altoona include:

  • Open and endovascular surgery of abdominal aortic aneurysms.
  • Endovascular repair of thoracic-aortic aneurysms.
  • Percutaneous intervention on all peripheral arterial bleeds, including atherectomy, angioplasty, stenting and drug elution technology.
  • Inferior vena cava filter placement and retrieval.
  • Traumatic vascular injury management.
  • Catheter-directed treatment for acute deep venous thrombosis, varicose veins, chronic venous insufficiency and thrombophlebitis.
  • Laser and radiofrequency ablation for venous disorders.
  • Dialysis access.

“The UPMC vascular service, under the leadership of Dr. Michel Makaroun, had always been a resource for me prior to our integration,” DeMarsico said. “It was a natural fit when I was brought into the division as an employed physician. I have wonderful, gifted colleagues to exchange information with, and it always helps me remain on the forefront of evidenced-based care. Our group contains several leaders in vascular surgery that participate as primary investigators of numerous clinical trials. So, cutting-edge treatments will be seamlessly available to our community.”

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UPMC and Microsoft Plan to Develop Innovations that Empower Patients, Clinicians

UPMC and Microsoft Plan to Develop Innovations that Empower Patients, CliniciansUPMC and Microsoft announced today that they plan to create a strategic research partnership to develop transformative solutions and technologies that will empower people to live healthier lives.

By combining Microsoft’s expertise in artificial intelligence (AI), the cloud and business optimization tools with the clinical, research and product development expertise of UPMC, the two expect to solve some of the most perplexing challenges facing the health care industry — from disconnected information systems and regulatory uncertainty to physician burnout and poor communication with patients.

“Despite UPMC’s efforts to stay on the leading edge of technology, too often our clinicians and patients feel as though they’re serving the technology rather than the other way around. With Microsoft, we have a shared vision of empowering clinicians by reducing the burden of electronic ‘paperwork’ and allowing the doctor to focus on the sacred doctor-patient relationship,” said Dr. Steven D. Shapiro, chief medical and scientific officer of UPMC and president of UPMC Health Services Division. “Our planned partnership with Microsoft will help us transform the delivery of care and wellness in a way that was never possible before.”

“We are incredibly energized about the opportunities to make a difference in health care with a leading provider and payor like UPMC,” said Peter Lee, corporate vice president of Microsoft Research and leader of Microsoft’s New Experiences and Technologies (NExT) organization. “This will be the first significant partnership in a new initiative that Microsoft is calling Healthcare NExT, which will deeply integrate greenfield research and health technology product development. Through these collaborations between health care partners and Microsoft’s AI and Research organization, our goal is to enable a new wave of innovation and impact.”

The two organizations intend to focus on projects that will empower both physicians and consumers and advance ground-breaking immunology research by using Microsoft’s deep AI expertise and global-scale cloud. These new products are expected to be built with and piloted at UPMC, under the guidance of its innovation and commercialization arm, UPMC Enterprises, which already encompasses a broad portfolio of both homegrown and externally created technology companies.

“UPMC has a long history of applying technology ‘the right way’ and bringing innovations to market,” said Tal Heppenstall, president of UPMC Enterprises. “With Microsoft’s vision and technological ingenuity, our planned, multi-year collaboration has the potential to help us deliver vastly better care and a better patient experience at a lower cost—the ‘Triple Aim’ of health care.”

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