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

Pitt Immunologist Recognized for Innovative Cancer Research

Pitt Immunologist Recognized for Innovative Cancer ResearchDr. Olivera Finn, distinguished professor at the University of Pittsburgh and founding chair of the Department of Immunology, received a top award for her groundbreaking cancer research during the recent American Association for Cancer Research (AACR) Annual Meeting in Washington, D.C.

Finn was called a “true pioneer in cancer research” as she was presented with the Lloyd J. Old Award in Cancer Immunology from AACR and the Cancer Research Institute (CRI).

She is credited with identifying the first tumor-associated T cell target on human adenocarcinomas in 1989. Her research group also identified certain antibodies in cancers of the breast, pancreas and colon, which led to the development of a potential cancer vaccine currently being tested in clinical trials.

With her family and colleagues in attendance, Finn told the audience the award has a deeper, more personal meaning for her.

“I have read everything Dr. Old ever wrote and cut my immunology teeth on his research papers,” said Finn. “He is a wonderful scientist and was a true gentleman. The dearest thing about this award is that his name will forever be on my CV.”

Finn’s research has been funded by the National Cancer Institute (NCI) continuously since 1984, and her current research is supported by the NCI Outstanding Investigator Award. She is the former director of the  Pitt Cancer Institute (UPCI) Cancer Immunology Program and currently serves on editorial boards of many cancer journals and advisory boards of several cancer centers and companies.

She was presented the award by Dr. Jill O’Donnell-Tormey, chief executive of CRI, along with Dr. Laurie Glimcher, CEO of Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and chairperson of the AACR selection committee.

Dr. Old is considered by many as the “Founding Father of Modern Tumor Immunology.”

The award in his name recognizes an active cancer immunologist who has done outstanding, innovative and impactful research in cancer immunology.

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Physician Celebrates 35 Years of Contributions to Geriatrics, Receives Lifetime Achievement Award

Physician Celebrates 35 Years of Contributions to Geriatrics, Receives Lifetime Achievement Award Dr. Vincent Balestrino is celebrating 35 years of making contributions to the field of geriatrics, an area of interest during his residency, but that he entered by happenstance.

In the late 1980s, after training in family medicine and starting his private practice, UPMC St. Margaret approached him about being a medical director for Seneca Place, a nursing home they were building. He was a candidate of choice because his practice was within walking distance from the facility. Since accepting the offer in 1989, he has continued to administer care and train future professionals in geriatrics.

Balestrino serves as director of geriatric services and associate director of family medicine at UPMC St. Margaret, and senior medical director for Presbyterian SeniorCare. Each week, his time is divided between UPMC St. Margaret hospital, his family medicine practice in Penn Hills, and Presbyterian SeniorCare. Because of his passion for global health and underserved populations, Balestrino regularly volunteers with Shoulder to Shoulder Pittsburgh, which offers medical services at a rural clinic in Honduras.

When asked how he has successfully executed the many roles he serves on the clinical side and in the community, Balestrino credited his collaborative colleagues and staff at UPMC St. Margaret, a supportive and loving wife, and a strong faith.

Balestrino has made significant contributions to the growth of geriatrics education in the Pittsburgh region and has inspired numerous students to be passionate about the specialty. As director of geriatric services at UPMC St. Margaret, he has expanded its service line to include a Geriatric Care Center in Oakmont. His experience and leadership also extends to long-term care and palliative care. Two particular areas of interest in which he has lectured and published are end-of-life care and wound care. He was a pioneer in establishing palliative care services at UPMC St. Margaret, and has held leadership roles at Gateway Hospice and Family Hospice and Palliative Care.

For his many years of dedication to the profession, the Pennsylvania Geriatrics Society – Western Division presented Balestrino with the 2017 Lifetime Achievement Award on April 6 at a dinner symposium. The award honors a physician who has made significant contributions to the education and training of students in geriatrics education, with the utmost dedication, commitment and teaching excellence spanning their professional career. (more…)

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State Task Force Tackles Prostate Cancer in Pennsylvania

State Task Force Tackles Prostate Cancer in PennsylvaniaThe Pennsylvania General Assembly passed Act 66 of 2015 and created the Prostate Cancer Task Force (PCTF) to assess the impact of prostate cancer – the most common cancer diagnosed among Pennsylvania men and the third most common cause of cancer-related death among the state’s male residents. The 15-member task force was charged with searching for actionable ideas to improve care and research in the state.

For more than a year, the PCTF has been collaborating on an extensive report that was recently published by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. As a urologist at UPMC, I was asked to chair the screening and treatment sections of the report.

If you are looking for a topic that will immediately polarize medical professionals, bring up prostate cancer screenings and treatment methods. Prepare yourself for the fisticuffs. Some doctors champion early screening with lab tests (PSA testing), while others decry PSA testing as an unnecessary and potentially harmful expense. Eliciting nuance between the two views is often hard to find.

Large published studies in 2008 cast serious concern over the utility of early screening for prostate cancer. Then in 2012, the U.S. Preventative Task Force recommended against PSA screenings for prostate cancer. As a result, the diagnosis of prostate cancer in the Commonwealth has plummeted. The small rise in prostate cancer metastases also is a real potential concern if this trend continues.

The PCTF explored the impact – both positive and negative – of this change in rates of diagnosis and formed some important recommendations.

  • First, the PCTF supports PSA screenings of healthy men 50 to 70 years old in the context of informed consent with their physicians.
  • Second, the task force emphasizes the role of non-treatment (or active surveillance) of low-risk prostate cancer. This might be the most salient point developed in the report. The urging of the PCTF for patients with low-risk prostate cancer to not seek active treatment is critical, and challenging. Important advice about the exciting new role of multi-parametric MRIs was cited, making active surveillance more palatable and a completely safe option.

Other important recommendations abound, including augmenting the collection of cancer data, teaching people about the concept of survivorship, requiring insurance carriers to pay for PSA testing and post-treatment conditions, and promoting public funding for prostate cancer initiatives.

Of course, the power of the report is in the follow-up. To that end, the PCTF set up reporting and funding goals that will hopefully bring some muscle and action to its thoughtful message..

Dr. Benjamin Davies is an associate professor of urology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and chief of urology at UPMC Shadyside.

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Students Partner with MedLife to Provide Care in Peru

The University of Pittsburgh’s Global Health Student Association recently traveled to Lima, Peru, on a week-long service trip. Pitt’s Global Health Student Association is composed of grad students who share an interest in global health and believe health care should be available to everyone. The students collaborated with MedLife to help provide preventative screening, health care and service to community members living in poverty.

Check out the photos to see more from their trip.

Pitt Students Partner with MedLife to Provide Care in Peru

Heather Phelos (far left) and Anshika Kapur (second from right) participated in the tooth brushing station of the MedLife mobile clinic. Both students taught the children of Lima how to properly brush their teeth and also applied fluoride. (more…)

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‘I have a new respect for human resilience, kindness and comradery’

My job at UPMC Enterprises – the innovation and commercialization arm of UPMC – is to observe health care professionals to determine how/if we can leverage information technology to improve patient care and outcomes. On Feb. 7, for the first time, I had the privilege of shadowing Dr. Sharon Goldstein, chief of general surgery at UPMC St. Margaret.

The morning of, I talked myself out of faking an illness and made it to the hospital. As I approached the operating room office, a very energetic woman asked if I was Stacy. I hesitated (this was my last chance to run), swallowed and confirmed that it was me. She pointed to the wooden doors. They opened. I entered.

On the other side, a woman greeted me with scrubs, quickly pointed me to a locker, handed me hair and shoe covers, pointed me to a place to change, and vanished. Standing in an OR locker room, I wondered “who was that blur of a person and where did these scrubs come from.”

health careWhen my brain caught up to the present, I realized there was surgical professionals flying around me like they owned the place (go figure). Totally intimidated, I put my stuff in a locker and headed to the restroom to change. In the stall with nowhere to set the scrubs, I did the only thing I could – balled them up and tucked them under my chin. (No, it did not dawn on me to hang them over the door. I was nervous. Stop judging.) It was awkward and I almost fell in the toilet twice, but I successfully changed.

A tip for tying disposable scrub pants – if you pull one side of the tie too hard, the other side disappears in to the great beyond. Needless to say, I spent more time than I would like to admit recovering a lost tie.

Sporting my scrubs and hair and shoe covers, I made my way to the lounge to wait for the doctor while professionals buzzed around me, none of whom were yet sporting their hair and shoe covers. I convinced myself it was better to be ready than to cause delays. Dignity be damned!

When Dr. Goldstein came in, she was smiling like I was a long-lost friend. As she led me out to the patient waiting area, she asked if I had a doctorate and if she should introduce me as Dr. Norman. My professionalism defeated the adolescent voices in my head and we agreed she could introduce me as Stacy.

This is where “stuff” got real. The OR waiting area is much like a printer queue of surgical patients. Everybody is lined up waiting for their turn. You’re in a room with three walls and a thin curtain (designed by the same person who designs comforters for Days Inn), and you’re as nervous as a person can be. Your doctor enters and talks you through what’s about to happen. In your head, the doctor’s job is easy. You’re the one that’s being knocked out and cut open. Right?

That day, I saw the other side and had to remind myself to breathe. The patient knew I was there only to observe, yet still looked at me with nervous eyes. I watched Dr. Goldstein as she inspired confidence and made them feel safe enough to allow her to knock them out and cut them open. It’s a skill that is definitely taken for granted. When they looked at me, the need to do right by them overwhelmed me. The weight of that responsibility made me sick in the deepest pit of my gut and I wasn’t even going to be touching anybody!

I resisted the urge to hug the patient and left with the doctor. We made our way through the hospital to attend a meeting while we waited for the anesthesiologist to do her thing. (more…)

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