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

UPMC Signs Letter of Intent to Affiliate with Harrisburg’s PinnacleHealth

UPMC Signs Letter of Intent for Affiliation with Harrisburg’s PinnacleHealthPinnacleHealth and UPMC (University of Pittsburgh Medical Center) have signed a letter of intent to pursue an affiliation that would position PinnacleHealth to expand healthcare services, advance quality initiatives and continue to provide nationally recognized care in central Pennsylvania. An affiliation would offer a larger scope of healthcare choices for patients and give the hospital system the ability to recruit more top doctors.

PinnacleHealth has been exploring collaborative relationships with compatible organizations that can further its philosophy of delivering the right care per evidence-based standards, in the right place, at the right time and at the right price.

It was also announced today that Memorial Hospital of York in York, Lancaster Regional Medical Center in Lancaster, Heart of Lancaster Regional Medical Center in Lititz and Carlisle Regional Medical Center in Carlisle will be acquired by PinnacleHealth in a separate transaction, pending approval.

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What are the risks associated with indoor tanning?

What are the risks associated with indoor tanning?We asked Dr. Laura Ferris, dermatologist at UPMC, about the risks associated with indoor tanning. She recently published a study on the subject in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

What are some risks associated with indoor tanning, who is at highest risk?

A. The biggest risk of tanning is developing skin cancer – tanning increases the risk of both melanoma and non-melanoma skin cancer. Other risks include wrinkles, pigment changes and skin discoloration. Skin cancer is most often found in people ages 50 and older, but results from damage done throughout a lifetime. In fact, most skin cancers are thought to be caused by ultraviolet light exposure accumulated since childhood.

Is it safe to occasionally use tanning beds?

A. No. Tanning is a carcinogen so it can never be safe. Tan skin is actually the top portion of a cell defending the nucleus of the cell, where DNA is located. Mutations in DNA from ultraviolet light cause cancer. Tan skin represents the cells’ last defense to place a barrier between ultraviolet light and DNA. Every time someone tans, their DNA is exposed to something that causes cancer.

What did your recent study find?

A. In our recent study, we analyzed the reasons why patients seek skin cancer screenings. More than 40 percent of patients reported indoor tanning use, and when we compared patients who were tanners to those who were not, we found most tanners wouldn’t normally be at risk for skin cancer if they had never used tanning beds. Additionally, our study found about 25 percent of indoor tanners reported tanning bed usage as their reason for screening, indicating they knew their habits were unhealthy. Out of the people we surveyed, patients who tanned indoors were most likely to believe that skin cancer screening has been shown to prevent skin cancer and to reduce the risk of death.

What is the safest way to tan?

A. Spray-on tans and self-tanning creams are the only safe forms of tanning. If you are out in the sun, it’s recommended to use a broad spectrum sun screen with an SPF of 30 or higher. At the beach, the best way to stay protected is to sit under a sun umbrella. Always stay away from tanning oils as they don’t provide adequate protection. Although visiting a dermatologist doesn’t make tanning safer, anyone who has a spot on their skin that they think might be skin cancer should see a board-certified dermatologist. 

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UPMC Movement Disorders Expert Named to Parkinson Foundation Board of Directors

Dr. Mark Richardson, assistant professor of neurological surgery at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and director of Epilepsy and Movement Disorders Surgery at UPMC, has been named to the board of directors of the Parkinson Foundation of Western Pennsylvania.

Parkinson’s disease is a brain disorder that leads to symptoms that include shaking and difficulty with walking, movement and coordination. Richardson is a neurosurgeon-neuroscientist who specializes in the use of Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS) and gene therapy for movement dysfunctions commonly seen in patients with Parkinson’s disease.

“Mark [Richardson] is an outstanding clinician researcher, and a nationally recognized leader in the field of movement disorders,” said Dr. Robert Friedlander, Walter E. Dandy Professor and chair of neurological surgery at Pitt’s School of Medicine. “He is passionate about improving the lives of patients, and the Parkinson’s community will benefit greatly from his presence on the board of the foundation.”

Richardson started the interventional-MRI DBS program at UPMC, which involves a new method of performing DBS inside an MRI scanner while the patient is under anesthesia. This allows the surgeon to see real-time images of the brain that help guide the placement of the electrodes that are implanted in the area of the brain responsible for abnormal movement.

In February 2016, Richardson and his colleagues began testing the use of gene therapy to relieve the symptoms of tremor and mobility impairment in patients with Parkinson’s disease as part of a clinical trial. The technique shows promise in prolonging the effectiveness of levo-dopa, the mainstay treatment for the progressive neurodegenerative condition, by increasing production of a key enzyme essential to convert the drug into the neurotransmitter dopamine.

More recently, he was awarded a three year $3.3 million grant by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to lead a multi-institutional research study to understand how speech is controlled in the brain. The study was funded as part of the NIH’s BRAIN Initiative launched by former President Barack Obama as a large-scale effort to understand the brain and apply the knowledge to treating a variety brain disorders.

Richardson received his undergraduate education at the University of Virginia. He completed his medical and doctoral education in the MD/PhD program at the Medical College of Virginia. Prior to joining the faculty at Pitt in 2011, Richardson completed his neurosurgical residency at the University of California, San Francisco, where he received specialized training in epilepsy neurosurgery, DBS and brain mapping during awake craniotomies, and was awarded a NIH National Research Service Award to study gene therapy for Parkinson’s disease.

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Pitt Researchers Study How Genes Influence Facial Appearance

Pitt Researchers Study How Genes Influence Facial AppearanceWhen looking at family photographs, it’s often quite apparent how facial features are shared across generations, suggesting that they are inherited through a person’s genes. Yet, little is known about how variations in specific regions of the genome influence facial characteristics like a how long someone’s nose is or how wide set eyes are.

Knowing how genes affect facial features could help people learn about what cellular mechanisms influence these characteristics during development, and importantly, provide insight into what goes wrong in craniofacial birth defects that result in abnormal facial features.

Dr. Mary Marazita, professor and vice chair of the Department of Oral Biology, and Dr. Seth Weinberg, associate professor of oral biology, both in the University of Pittsburgh’s School of Dental Medicine, are leading global efforts in this field, working to understand the cause of craniofacial birth defects and the genetic basis of variation in human facial features.

Weinberg heads the Facial Imaging and Morphometrics Lab in the Center for Craniofacial and Dental Genetics at Pitt, of which Marazita serves as the director. The center works with researchers throughout the United States, Europe, Central and South America, Asia, and Africa using sophisticated statistical and molecular genetic methods to study the genetic, behavioral and epidemiological factors that influence gene expression.

Weinberg and Dr. John Shaffer, an assistant professor of human genetics at Pitt’s School of Public Health, recently published the results of one of their ongoing efforts to identify locations on the genome that influence facial features in the journal PLoS Genetics.

In their study, the researchers used two sample data sets, each comprised of unrelated individuals who of European ancestry from the United States who self-reported as being white. The data from approximately 3,000 individuals included genetic information along with a set of 20 craniofacial measurements that are commonly used in clinical settings. The measurements were obtained using stereophotogrammetry, a well-established imaging method that produces a data-rich representation of the surface contours of the body. (more…)

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UPMC Earns Ebola Treatment Facility Designation, Incorporated into State Response Plans

UPMC Earns Ebola Treatment Facility Designation, Incorporated into State Response PlansUPMC has been officially approved as an Ebola Assessment/Treatment Facility for the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The health system is now formally included in the state’s Ebola Concept of Operations plan, enabling UPMC to play a key role in protecting the community while caring for patients with the highly contagious and deadly disease.

The designation was received as a result of a recent series of site visits, as well as a drill conducted at UPMC Presbyterian and Montefiore hospitals at its new Infectious Disease Unit. Local, state and federal health officials observed as UPMC practiced scenarios involving children and adults suspected of having Ebola.

“We appreciate all the work that UPMC did and commend this designation,” said Dr. Karen Hacker, director of the Allegheny County Health Department. “While there is no current risk of Ebola, the continued efforts of the health care community to meet this high level of safety related to emerging contagious diseases is a critical safeguard for our county.”

The drills UPMC performed were designed to demonstrate the ability of clinicians to provide care for very sick patients while safely using personal protective clothing and equipment, containing potentially contagious bodily fluids and communicating with their coworkers.

Normally, UPMC’s Infectious Disease Unit is used as a regular intensive care unit, caring for UPMC’s sickest patients. But, when it becomes necessary to care for a patient with a highly contagious disease, the unit can be cleared and quickly transformed into a specialized unit with two isolation hospital rooms, a laboratory capable of performing diagnostic tests, and separate rooms where clinicians can don and doff protective uniforms and equipment.

“This designation is the result of many years of hard work by people across a wide swath of disciplines at UPMC, from emergency preparedness and infection control to environmental services and nursing,” said Tami Minnier, chief quality officer at UPMC. “This effort will improve the safety of our region. We especially want to recognize our dozens of staff who selflessly stepped up when we called for volunteers to undergo the rigorous training needed to safely treat a patient with Ebola.”

Click on the gallery below for more photos taken from a recent Ebola drill.

UPMC Infectious Disease Unit Ebola Drill

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