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

Precision Measurement of Single Cell Forces Provides Window to Study Aortic Disease

Researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and Virginia Tech have developed a technique to study the complex and dynamic mechanical interactions between cells that make up blood vessels and the fibrous extracellular matrix that surrounds these cells. The findings, which could help us better understand the biology of aortic disease, were published in a special “Forces” issue of the journal Molecular Biology of the Cell, flagship journal of the American Society of Cell Biologists (ASCB).

Smooth muscle cells are muscle cells present in the walls of blood vessels undergo periodic expansion and contraction. The complex force signatures arising from this involve the interplay between the innate contractility of the cells and the forces exerted upon the cell by fibrous extracellular matrix, which structurally and functionally support these cells. To understand disease manifestation and progression, it is vitally important to study the forces and their disruption in disease.

Julie Phillippi, Ph.D., an assistant professor in Pitt’s Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery and affiliated with the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine studies the matrix and cell forces in blood vessel smooth muscle cells as a window to understanding aortic disease. The aorta, the largest artery in the body, carries oxygen-rich blood pumped out by the heart. Cardiovascular disease caused by high cholesterol for example, can result in a hardening and narrowing of the aorta.

“The key idea behind our study is to show that disease mechanisms might be detectable at the single cell level,” said Phillippi.

To understand the role of biomechanical forces in aortic disease, it is important to understand the forces exerted and felt by cells simultaneously. Dr. Phillippi teamed up with her collaborator Amrinder Nain, Ph.D., an associate professor of mechanical engineering at Virginia Tech, who had built a device to do just that.  The method, called nanonet force microscopy (NFM), utilizes extracellular mimicking fibers, which allows researchers to interrogate what cells experience in the body while also measuring individual cellular forces with a high level of precision.


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Pitt Alzheimer’s Researcher Receives Zaven Khachaturian Award

Pitt Alzheimer’s Researcher Receives Zaven Khachaturian Award The Alzheimer’s Association recently recognized Dr. William E. Klunk with the 2017 Zaven Khachaturian Award. The award was presented during this year’s Alzheimer’s Association International Conference in London.

Klunk was recognized for his many contributions to Alzheimer’s research, including his influential work in regards to amyloid imaging, which is used to diagnose Alzheimer’s. His group’s initial work remains the most frequently cited research article in the field of Alzheimer’s disease neuroimaging since its publication in 2004.

Named in honor of noted scientist, administrator, consultant, lecturer and author, Dr. Zaven Khachaturian, the award recognizes an individual whose compelling vision, selfless dedication and extraordinary achievement has significantly advanced the field of Alzheimer science.

Dr. Maria C. Carrillo, chief science officer for the Alzheimer’s Association, said Klunk’s excellent work earned him the award.

“Dr. Klunk’s contributions to Alzheimer’s disease research have changed not only how we understand the disease today, but have been the harbinger of an era of prevention of Alzheimer’s based on this knowledge,” Carrillo said. “His work enabling amyloid imaging in the human brain has been transformational for the field of Alzheimer’s research. He is a tireless and dedicated researcher who is advancing our understanding of Alzheimer’s at the earliest stages.”

Klunk is a Distinguished Professor of Psychiatry and Neurology and the Levidow-Pittsburgh Foundation Chair in Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia Disorders at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. He is also the co-director of the Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center at Pitt, and the director of the Laboratory of Molecular Neuropharmacology at Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic.

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UPMC East Celebrates 5th Anniversary, Pledges Continued Commitment to the Community

UPMC East 5-year Anniversary Celebration

To commemorate their fifth anniversary, UPMC East recently held an outdoor celebration for its employees and stakeholders from the community.

Under a large white tent, the crowd was peppered with leaders and staff including housekeeping, laboratory, dietary, technicians, nurses and doctors. Between nurses and doctors on lunch breaks and hospital executives smiling and shaking hands, it was a rare opportunity for everyone to come together and reflect on the past five years of operation.

Mark Sevco, president of UPMC East, said he takes pride in the evidence of success over the past five years. The increase in emergency department visits from 36,000 to 50,000 is just the tip of the iceberg.

“We continue to have aspirations to grow,” said Sevco.

Some examples of the impact the hospital has had since opening are:

  • Primary Care Physicians have increased 50 percent from 100 to 150.
  • The number of employees has doubled.
  • There have been 219,899 ED visits.
  • More than 21,000 surgeries across 10 different surgical services have been performed.
  • Community benefits contributions of more than $30 million.

The impact and successes go far beyond the numbers.

“We’ve always talked about providing the ultimate patient care experience. Our numbers here have reflected your commitment to taking care of patients and supporting the community,” Sevco said to the tent full of health care providers and staff at the hospital. “It’s not about the brick-and-mortar. It’s not about the technology. It’s really about the relationships that you guys make along the way while taking care of patients.”

Many of the staff members in attendance have been there since the first day the hospital opened (and some even before), and the pride they have in their workplace was evident with every wide smile.

With the numbers and care UPMC East has delivered since its opening, they have a great foundation for growth in the next five years. Dr. Steve Shapiro, president of UPMC Health Services division, is optimistic about UPMC East’s future in the area.

“UPMC stands for high quality, affordable care with a great experience, and this is a growing area and we look forward to more growth and taking outstanding care of the community,” he said.

Behind all the innovations and successes to come, executives made the reasoning behind those successes clear: the people.

“I feel very blessed to be a part of this team and work with these associates here,” Sevco said. “The reason that East has continued to grow isn’t just because it’s beautiful — it’s because of the care that you’ve delivered.”

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Facing Measles Outbreak, Europe Could Benefit from Pitt Public Health Project

As it wrestles with an ongoing measles outbreak, Europe may soon learn more about the impact of vaccination programs, thanks to a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health project just getting underway.

This week, the World Health Organization issued a strong warning that measles continues to spread in Europe and has caused 35 deaths in the past year, the most recent in a 6-year-old boy in Italy. The Pitt Public Health project – based on a similar analysis of vaccine-preventable diseases in the U.S. that was published in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2013, called Project Tycho – could give European countries some much-needed evidence to promote the value of vaccination.

Project lead Dr. Wilbert van Panhuis, assistant professor of epidemiology and biomedical informatics at Pitt, explained that most of Europe actually has high vaccination rates, but there are still pockets where many people are not vaccinated. Those unvaccinated and tight-knit communities are providing fuel to the outbreaks.

“In Europe, the reasons people aren’t vaccinated are very diverse, and there isn’t any single policy to encourage vaccination, such as a vaccination mandate to attend school like we have in the U.S.,” said van Panhuis. “So the public health messaging to advocate for vaccination can be more difficult.”

For example, he said, Eastern Europe has migrant communities that may not have easy access to regular vaccination; in the United Kingdom, many people are worried about the debunked idea that vaccines cause autism; Germany, Switzerland and France all have alternative medicine communities that opt-out of vaccination; and a swath of the Netherlands is home to religious communities that say vaccination goes against their beliefs. (more…)

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Leechburg Police Chief Optimistic About his Future

Nearly two weeks after losing his left arm in a fireworks demonstration accident, Leechburg Police Chief Mike Diebold recently spoke at UPMC Mercy about his experience and his future.

Diebold, a licensed pyrotechnician, has been a police officer for the past 20 years and spent the last 10 as the police chief in Leechburg, Pennsylvania.

“I didn’t think I was going to make it out of the ambulance the night they loaded me up,” he said. At the press conference, he had a smile on his face and is optimistic for the future. After four to six weeks of recovery, he will begin the process of being fitted for a prosthetic arm. He’s hopeful that he will be able to return to the force as a fully functional police officer.

Leeanna McKibben, chief nursing officer and vice-president of Patient Care Services at UPMC Mercy, said Diebold’s optimism has been present throughout his time at the hospital.

“[He] has been both brave and resilient and has fully participated in his care,” she said. “We wish him the best in his journey to recovery.”

With his fiancé Danielle Reinke by his side, Diebold said he was grateful for all the support his family and the community has given him. The local community has organized various fundraisers and created shirts that say, “We Stand By Ours, #teamdiebold15656.”

His gratitude didn’t end with the people of Leechburg. He also spoke of his treatment at western Pennsylvania’s only hospital with a comprehensive burn center and level one regional resource trauma center under one roof.

“I didn’t choose to blow my arm off,” Diebold said. “I didn’t choose UPMC, but I’m damn glad that helicopter pilot did.”

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