UPMC Physician Resources

Pitt/McGowan Institute Team Discovers Stem Cells in the Esophagus

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 16, 2014 – Despite previous indications to the contrary, the esophagus does have its own pool of stem cells, said researchers from the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine in an animal study published online today in Cell Reports. The findings could lead to new insights into the development and treatment of esophageal cancer and the precancerous condition known as Barrett’s esophagus.

According to the American Cancer Society, more than 18,000 people will be diagnosed with esophageal cancer in the U.S. in 2014 and almost 15,500 people will die from it. In Barrett’s esophagus, the lining of the esophagus changes for unknown reasons to resemble that of the intestine, though gastro-esophageal reflux disease or GERD is a risk factor for its development.

“The esophageal lining must renew regularly as cells slough off into the gastrointestinal tract,” said senior investigator Eric Lagasse, Pharm.D., Ph.D., associate professor of pathology, Pitt School of Medicine, and director of the Cancer Stem Cell Center at the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine. “To do that, cells in the deeper layers of the esophagus divide about twice a week to produce daughter cells that become the specialized cells of the lining. Until now, we haven’t been able to determine whether all the cells in the deeper layers are the same or if there is a subpopulation of stem cells there.”

The research team grew pieces or “organoids” of esophageal tissue from mouse samples, and then conducted experiments to identify and track the different cells in the basal layer of the tissue. They found a small population of cells that divide more slowly, are more primitive, can generate specialized or differentiated cells, and have the ability to self-renew, which is a defining trait of stem cells.

“It was thought that there were no stem cells in the esophagus because all the cells were dividing rather than resting or quiescent, which is more typical of stem cells,” Dr. Lagasse noted. “Our findings reveal that there indeed are esophageal stem cells, and rather than being quiescent, they divide slowly compared to the rest of the deeper layer cells.”

In future work, the researchers will examine human esophageal tissues for evidence of stem cell dysfunction in Barrett’s esophagus disease.

“Some scientists have speculated that abnormalities of esophageal stem cells could be the origin of the tissue changes that occur in Barrett’s disease,” Dr. Lagasse said. “Our current and future studies could make it possible to test this long-standing hypothesis.”

The project’s co-investigators are Aaron DeWard, Ph.D., and Julie Cramer, Ph.D., both of Pitt’s Department of Pathology and the McGowan Institute.

The research was funded by grants from the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, National Institutes of Health grant DK08571, the McGowan Institute and the University of Pittsburgh Department of Pathology Postdoctoral Research Training Program.

Children’s Brain Care Institute Researcher to Be Featured in Documentary on Multiple Sclerosis

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 15, 2014 – A researcher from the Division of Child Neurology at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, will be profiled in an upcoming documentary produced by the National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society. Sharyl L. Fyffe-Maricich, PhD, assistant professor of pediatrics at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, will be one of four female researchers who work in MS featured in the film.

MS is the most prevalent neurodegenerative disease in young adults, affecting more than 2 million people worldwide. The mission of the National MS Society is to mobilize people and resources to drive research for a cure and address the challenges of everyone affected by MS.

Dr. Fyffe-Maricich’s lab is interested in understanding the molecules and signaling pathways that are essential for controlling the onset of myelination and determining the thickness of the myelin sheaths that are generated. The importance of myelination becomes obvious in diseases such as multiple sclerosis where autoimmune-mediated demyelination throughout the central nervous system (CNS) results in devastating functional disability. Her lab is interested in learning more about these processes both during development and after demyelinating injuries in the adult.

To investigate, Dr. Fyffe-Maricich and her colleagues use a variety of techniques, including rodent behavioral analysis, immunohistochemistry, electron microscopy, cell culture, and biochemistry to analyze various genetic mouse mutants. The ultimate goal of Dr. Fyffe-Maricich’s work is to develop new treatment approaches for patients with MS.

Pitt Gets $11 Million from NIH to Lead Center of Excellence in National Big Data Research Consortium

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 9, 2014 – The National Institutes of Health has awarded the University of Pittsburgh an $11 million, four-year grant to lead a Big Data to Knowledge Center of Excellence, an initiative that will help scientists capitalize more fully on large amounts of available data and to make data science a more prominent component of biomedical research.

Much of science focuses on understanding the “why” or “how” in nature, and now the challenge is to find these answers within terabytes and petabytes of data, or what is now known as “Big Data,” said Gregory Cooper, M.D., Ph.D., professor and vice chair of the Department of Biomedical Informatics, Pitt School of Medicine and director of the new Center for Causal Modeling and Discovery.

“Individual biomedical researchers now have the technology to generate an enormous quantity and diversity of data. Adequately analyzing these data to discover new biomedical knowledge remains a major challenge, however,” Dr. Cooper said. “Our goal is to make it much easier for researchers to analyze big data to discover causal relationships in biomedicine.”

The Pitt Center for Causal Modeling and Discovery will be part of an elite national team addressing the challenges of Big Data in biomedicine.

“As part of a national consortium, this Center of Excellence will put Pitt on the map as a home of Big Data science,” said Arthur S. Levine, M.D., senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of the School of Medicine. “Our strengths in this field have stimulated collaborations with leading institutions, including Harvard and Stanford, and now we will be able to further develop such partnerships in many more meaningful ways.”

According to center co-director Jeremy Berg, Ph.D., associate senior vice chancellor for science strategy and planning in the health sciences and director of Pitt’s Institute for Personalized Medicine, researchers now have access to a tremendous amount of information from electronic health records, digital images and molecular analyses of genes, proteins and metabolites.

“The good news is that we have so much data. But the bad news is that we have so much data,” Dr. Berg said. “Our challenge is to find strategies that enable us to sort through all this collected information efficiently and effectively to find meaningful relationships that lead us to new insights in health and disease.”

A collaboration of researchers at Pitt, Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, and Yale University, the new center will develop and disseminate tools that can find causal links in very large and complex biomedical data. Faculty in CMU’s Department of Philosophy, led by Clark Glymour, Ph.D., Alumni University Professor and founding chair, are key partners in this data science effort; and Nicholas Nystrom, Ph.D., director of strategic applications at the Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, will work to optimize these tools for a high-performance computing environment.

The Center includes a team that will develop and implement causal modeling and discovery algorithms, or processes, to support the data analyses of three separate investigative groups, each focusing on a distinct biomedical problem whose answer lies in a sea of data: cell signals that drive the development of cancer, the molecular basis of lung disease susceptibility and severity, and the functional connections within the human brain (the “connectome”).

Each project will act as a test bed for the development, rigorous testing and refinement of analytic tools. When successful, these algorithms and software likely can be applied to other biomedical research questions. The center will provide free, open-source software that scientists all over the world can use with their own datasets to uncover causal biomedical relationships. Their feedback will further enhance the algorithms and software.

“The center also will be a training ground for the next generation of data scientists who will advance and accelerate the development and broader use of Big Data science models and methods,” said center co-director Ivet Bahar, Ph.D., Distinguished Professor and JK Vries Chair, Department of Computational and Systems Biology, Pitt School of Medicine. “We will create new educational materials as well as workshops and online tutorials to facilitate the use of causal modeling and discovery algorithms by the broader scientific community and to enable efficient translation of knowledge between basic biological and applied biomedical sciences.”

Other collaborators include the California Institute of Technology, Rutgers University, University of Crete, and the University of North Carolina.

“Data creation in today’s research is exponentially more rapid than anything we anticipated even a decade ago,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D. “Mammoth data sets are emerging at an accelerated pace in today’s biomedical research and these funds will help us overcome the obstacles to maximizing their utility. The potential of these data, when used effectively, is quite astounding.”

UPMC Investigation into GI Scope-Related Infections Changes National Guidelines

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 9, 2014 – National guidelines for the cleaning of certain gastrointestinal (GI) scopes are likely to be updated due to findings from UPMC’s infection prevention team.

The research and updated disinfection technique will be shared Saturday in Philadelphia at ID Week 2014, an annual meeting of health professionals in infectious disease fields.

“Patient safety is our top priority,” said senior author Carlene Muto, M.D., M.S., director of infection prevention at UPMC Presbyterian Hospital. “We are confident that the change from disinfection to sterilization of GI scopes is necessary in preventing serious infections and we are glad to share our findings with hospitals nationwide.”

After tracking and monitoring  an uptick in antibiotic-resistant infections in 2012 in patients who had undergone an Endoscopic Retrograde Cholangiopancreatography (ERCP) procedure with flexible endoscopy scopes, UPMC began investigating the devices, which are equipped with an “elevator channel” used to deflect accessories passed through the biopsy channel and assist clinicians in examining a patient’s gastrointestinal tract. The elevator channel is most commonly found on ERCP and endoscopic ultrasound scopes.

UPMC took the scopes out of service, notified the manufacturer and began an investigation into the disinfecting process that takes place between each use. When it was ultimately determined that the normal process failed to eliminate all bacteria, UPMC switched to gas sterilization using ethylene oxide to ensure proper disinfection of the scopes.

“Throughout UPMC, no additional health care-associated infections have been linked to scopes since switching to sterilization,” said Dr. Muto.

The move from high-level disinfection of endoscopes to sterilization of them was foreshadowed earlier this year at the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology annual conference in Anaheim, Calif., by Bill Rutala, Ph.D., M.P.H., author of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Guideline for Disinfection and Sterilization in Healthcare Facilities. He said he believed the transition would take place in the next five years.

Approximately 11 million gastrointestinal endoscopies are performed annually in the U.S. and contaminated scopes have been linked to more hospital-acquired infections than any other type of medical device.

Pitt Researchers Receive $1.25 Million from Defense Department to Make Whole-Eye Transplantation a Reality

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 7, 2014 University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine researchers have been awarded $1.25 million from the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) to fund two projects that aim to establish the groundwork for the nation’s first whole-eye transplantation program. 

Offered through the DOD’s Vision Research Program, the grants support conceptually innovative research that ultimately could lead to critical discoveries or major advancements. The Pitt researchers will lead a multidisciplinary consortium that includes clinicians and scientists from Harvard University and the University of California, San Diego.

Although corneal transplants are routinely performed today,  whole-eye transplantation has remained an unrealized goal in vision restoration because of challenges related to immune rejection and reestablishing the connectivity of the optic nerve to the visual centers in the brain.

The Audacious Restorative Goals in Ocular Sciences (ARGOS) Consortium established at Pitt will be the first cross-disciplinary, systematic attempt to explore strategies to enable corneal regeneration, retinal cell survival, long-distance optic nerve regeneration with cortical integration and whole-eyeball transplantation.

“Recent advances in our understanding of retinal ganglion cell survival and successes with optic nerve regeneration in experimental studies strengthen our hope that whole-eye transplantation is an audacious yet achievable goal,” said principal investigator Vijay Gorantla, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of surgery in the Department of Plastic Surgery at the University of Pittsburgh, and the administrative medical director of the Pittsburgh Reconstructive Transplant Program at UPMC. “Our experience with transplanting complex immunogenic tissues, such as the hand, will help us optimize treatments for rejection in eye transplants.”

According to the DOD, blast injuries are the most common for soldiers wounded in action, with up to 40 percent of blast injuries affecting the eyes. Approaches to minimize worsening of injury to the eye after trauma, preserve and protect residual retinal and optic nerve function, and restore vision are all goals that will be investigated.

“This is an aggressive program with very high-risk and high-reward scenarios. We’re excited to be leading the project and honored to be collaborating with global leaders in optic nerve regeneration,” said co-principal investigator Joel Schuman, M.D., chair of the Department of Ophthalmology, Pitt School of Medicine, and director of the UPMC Eye Center. “By solving one facet of the problem at a time, the long dreamed-of goal of whole-eye transplantation may be possible with the promise of a better life for millions of patients worldwide.”

Sub-awardees of the current award include Jeffrey Goldberg, M.D., of the University of California, San Diego; and Larry Benowitz, Ph.D., of Harvard University.

In a related project  led by principal investigator Kia Washington, M.D., assistant professor of plastic surgery, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, the research team will focus on establishing baseline viability and structural integrity in an  animal model of whole-eye transplantation. The researchers will examine immune rejection and evaluate the usage of extracellular matrix therapy for improvement of optic nerve function after whole-eye transplantation.

“We have successfully performed an eye transplant in a small animal model,” said Dr. Washington. “This ongoing project may eventually lead to restoration of vision after trauma or degenerative disease.”

The Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration will provide additional key funding for the whole-eye transplantation effort.

UPMC Partners with GK Klinika to Develop and Co-Manage Cancer Hospital in Lithuania

 PITTSBURGH, Oct. 7, 2014 GK Klinika Group, a private health care company in the Baltic region, is partnering with UPMC for its help in developing and co-managing a new, 100-bed cancer hospital in Vilnius, Lithuania.

Scheduled to open in 2017 and funded by GK Klinika, the hospital is expected to care for patients covered by both private and public insurance to enhance the quality of oncology care throughout the Baltic region. Under the 15-year agreement, UPMC will assist with project planning, construction and training, and will co-manage all clinical and administrative activities after the facility opens.

The prime minister of Lithuania, Algirdas Butkevicius, will participate in a signing ceremony at UPMC’s headquarters today. The Lithuanian government is actively working to encourage foreign business expansion in that country, particularly in its highly advanced life sciences sector, and expects that this partnership with UPMC will foster U.S.-Lithuania relations and geopolitical stability in the region. 

“As an international leader in health care and medical research — and one that has proven that its model of care can be adapted to other countries and cultures — UPMC was the logical choice to be our partner in creating a world-class cancer facility,” said Karapet Babaian, M.D., chief executive officer of GK Klinika and of Baltijos Medicinos Tyrimu Institutas (BMTI), the unit that is working with UPMC. “The scope and length of this agreement is a testament to our faith in this new partnership.”

GK Klinika is one of the leading private clinics in the Baltic region, with more than 15 years of experience and a reputation for promoting innovative medical technology to achieve better patient outcomes. 

“GK Klinika and UPMC share the same vision: to give patients access to the best cancer care in the world close to home. We look forward to working with our partner to make that dream a reality in Lithuania,” said Charles Bogosta, president of UPMC’s International and Commercial Services Division.

UPMC’s wide-ranging assistance to GK Klinika will include hiring and training of staff in Pittsburgh and Vilnius, information technology planning, developing early cancer detection programs, conducting a genomics-testing pilot project and providing disease-specific treatment algorithms. UPMC physicians also will periodically provide consults related to advanced surgeries performed at the new hospital and second opinions via telemedicine.

The chief executive officer of the new hospital will be appointed by mutual agreement of both partners. 

Starting with its partnership to create a transplant center in Italy 18 years ago, UPMC has expanded its international footprint to include operations or services in countries that now include Ireland, India, China, Singapore, Japan and Kazakhstan. Through its international growth and commercialization efforts with industry partners, UPMC is diversifying its sources of revenue, fueling economic development in its local communities, and strengthening its ability to recruit and retain the best clinicians to improve health care outcomes globally.

Pitt Researchers Awarded $4.2 Million to Continue Cancer Studies in Chinese Populations

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 6, 2014 – Cancer epidemiologist Jian-Min Yuan, M.D., Ph.D., has been awarded a five-year grant of more than $4.2 million from the National Cancer Institute (NCI) to support the continued work of two studies examining how environmental and lifestyle exposures and genetics have affected the incidence, mortality and age-related outcomes of cancer in more than 81,000 Chinese men and women.

Dr. Yuan, associate director for Cancer Control and Population Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI), partner with the UPMC CancerCenter, and co-leader of UPCI’s Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Program, is the principal investigator of the Shanghai Cohort Study and the Singapore Chinese Health Study. For the two population-based prospective studies, researchers examine cancer and other major health outcomes by evaluating blood, urine and other samples collected from participants for more than 25 years. These studies already have yielded important findings about the causes and prevention of cancer and have led to chemoprevention trials underway in the U.S.

“We anticipate that the two Asian study groups will become even more scientifically valuable over the next five years as the younger members of these groups get older and have a greater risk of developing cancer, thereby increasing the number of pre-disease, biomarker-based research opportunities,” said Dr. Yuan, who also is Pitt’s Arnold Palmer Endowed Chair in Cancer Prevention.

With the new award, Dr. Yuan and his collaborators hope to accrue 2,700 new cancer cases over the next five years. They also hope to:

  • Gather data to maintain and enhance the two Asian study databases, including follow-up for cancer, non-cancer and death outcomes; maintenance of the biorepositories; and management of the databases.
  • Conduct in-person and telephone interviews among participants to update exposure and medical information.
  • Collect blood and urine samples from participants with cancer diagnoses.
  • Engage in collaborative research projects of the NCI and the Asia Cohort Consortium. 

“Having the ability to examine diseases in large populations is reshaping the way we approach diagnosis and treatment. We’re excited about the possibilities this research holds and what we’ll learn next,” said Nancy E. Davidson, M.D., director of UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter.

This research is supported by the NCI under award number UM1CA182876.

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC Partners with Tampa Hospital to Provide Cardiothoracic Services

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 2, 2014 Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC today announced a partnership with St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital in Tampa, Fla., to assist their team with pediatric cardiothoracic services. Surgeons from the Heart Institute at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh will provide highly specialized cardiovascular care for patients.

The partnership will be led by Victor Morell, M.D., co-director of the Heart Institute at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC and chief of the Division of Pediatric Cardiothoracic Surgery.

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh’s pediatric cardiovascular surgery program has the lowest overall four-year surgical mortality rate among all medium- and high-volume programs with a rate of 1.1 percent, according to the latest data compiled by the Society of Thoracic Surgeons (2008-2012).

“We are grateful for the opportunity to bring our unique expertise in pediatric heart surgery to families in Florida,” said Dr. Morell. “We share a commitment with St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital to provide the absolute best possible pediatric care to patients and families from the Tampa area and beyond.”

In addition to collaborating with St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital’s cardiac team on surgical and non-invasive cardiology services, Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh’s experts will provide support to patients, families and caregivers in St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital’s cardiac intensive care unit via telemedicine.

Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is leading the way in the development of telemedicine services to meet the needs of young patients regionally and around the world with video conferencing technologies that provide complex pediatric cardiac care through remote and virtual examinations — whenever and wherever expertise is needed.

For nearly two decades, St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital has provided a full spectrum of pediatric cardiac services, from less-invasive diagnostic catheterization, nonsurgical valve replacement and electrophysiology studies, to cardiovascular surgery for the rarest and most complex congenital heart defects. St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital has been home to one of the largest pediatric cardiovascular programs in the southeast and is a regional referral center for the diagnosis and treatment of congenital heart defects.

Prior to joining Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC in 2004, Dr. Morell led the pediatric cardiac surgical team at St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital.

“This partnership brings the expertise of some of the country’s top-ranking pediatric heart physicians to our community, providing families across Florida with unprecedented access to the highest level of pediatric heart care available,” said Kimberly Guy, president, St. Joseph’s Children’s Hospital.

Pitt Shares in $17 Million Federal Grant to Improve Traumatic Brain Injury Clinical Trials

PITTSBURGH, Sept. 30, 2014 – University of Pittsburgh researchers are key players in a national “dream team” that seeks to identify the best biological and imaging markers of traumatic brain injury (TBI) to improve the ability of clinical trials to find effective treatments for the condition, which annually affects 2.5 million people in the U.S., including athletes and soldiers.

The $17 million initiative, called the TBI Endpoints Development (TED) Award, is funded by the U.S. Department of Defense (DOD) and includes many universities, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), companies and philanthropies. It is overseen by the University of California, San Francisco.

“This project is going to redefine how we measure the outcomes for traumatic brain injury studies,” said TED investigator Stephen Wisniewski, Ph.D., senior associate dean and co-director of the Epidemiology Data Center at the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health. “We need a more robust, detailed way to determine what challenges a person faces when he suffers a traumatic brain injury, and that is what we’re setting out to accomplish with this ambitious study.”

Under Dr. Wisniewski’s leadership, Pitt Public Health will run the data analysis for the project, meaning the school will compile data from previous studies and analyze it to see what existing methods for measuring traumatic brain injuries prove most promising. That information will be used as a launch point for clinical evaluation in real-life situations.

David Okonkwo, M.D., Ph.D., associate professor of neurological surgery and clinical director of the Brain Trauma Research Center at Pitt’s School of Medicine, is co-leading the second branch of the project to test those findings through the previously announced $18.8 million National Institutes of Health (NIH) project called Transforming Research and Clinical Knowledge in TBI, or TRACK-TBI.

“In the clinical component of the TED project, we will take the insights Dr. Wisniewski and his team gather from their systematic review of previous research and apply that to real-world TBI cases,” said Dr. Okonkwo. “If we can more accurately identify and quantify these injuries, we will be better able to select appropriate patients for clinical trials and to evaluate the success or failure of our therapies.”

TED will examine data from thousands of patients to identify effective measures of brain injury and recovery, using biomarkers from blood, new imaging equipment and software, and other tools. The research collaborators will be collecting a broad range of long-term data from existing studies and databases, and integrating these into a dataset that can be interrogated for TBI associations and causes in a way that has never before been possible.

The project is specifically designed to overcome the difficulty in demonstrating the effectiveness of TBI drugs and medical devices by actively involving the FDA in clinical-trial design from the outset. It also fosters collaboration between the DOD, the NIH, foundation-funded research networks, industry co-sponsors such as General Electric, and patient advocacy groups to try to develop procedures, outcomes measures and standards for interpreting clinical data.

Each year, more than 2.5 million people in the U.S. seek medical care for traumatic brain injuries that arise when blows to the body or nearby explosions cause the brain to collide with the inside of the skull. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an estimated 2 percent of the U.S. population now lives with TBI-caused disabilities, at an annual cost of about $77 billion. No TBI treatment has proved to be effective.

“TBI is really a multifaceted condition, not a single event,” said UCSF neurosurgeon Geoffrey T. Manley, M.D., Ph.D., principal investigator for the new award and chief of neurosurgery at San Francisco General Hospital and Trauma Center, a UCSF partner hospital. “TBI lags 40 to 50 years behind heart disease and cancer in terms of progress and understanding of the actual disease process and its potential aftermath. More than 30 clinical trials of potential TBI treatments have failed, and not a single drug has been approved.”

Pitt Public Health to Strengthen Public Health Workforce with $3.4 Million Training Center

PITTSBURGH, Sept. 29, 2014 – The University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health will receive nearly $3.4 million from the federal government over the next four years to establish and operate a training center intended to improve the nation’s public health system.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) selected Pitt Public Health to create the Region 3 Public Health Training Center to serve Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia. It also will serve as the health informatics training center for the entire country.

The center will provide free training sessions to public health professionals on a variety of topics, ranging from behavioral health programming for smoking cessation to computer programs that track an infectious disease spread and simulate interventions to stop it.

“This is a critical investment in our nation’s public health infrastructure and represents a wonderful opportunity for Pitt Public Health to further share our innovations in data collection and analysis,” said Margaret Potter, J.D., M.S., principal investigator of the grant and professor of health policy and management at Pitt Public Health.

Pitt Public Health has served as the Public Health Training Center for Pennsylvania for the past 14 years. In the new regionalization of the HRSA training centers, Pitt Public Health will oversee local training sites run by Drexel University School of Public Health, which will serve eastern Pennsylvania; Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, which will serve Delaware, Maryland and the District of Columbia; the Virginia Department of Health, which will serve Virginia; and West Virginia University School of Public Health, which will serve West Virginia.

“Monitoring for air and water pollution, inspecting restaurants for food safety, containing infectious disease outbreaks — these are all examples of the crucial work done by people who serve in our public health sector,” said Ms. Potter. “In order for public health professionals to keep up with the latest technical developments in their fields, they need formal continuing education programs. That’s what the training center provides.”

Due to Pitt Public Health’s prowess in collecting, analyzing and disseminating health-related data, the Region 3 Public Health Training Center will run sessions in health informatics nationwide. The school’s Public Health Dynamics Laboratory has developed programs including Project TychoTM, the Framework for Reconstructing Epidemiological Dynamics (FRED) and the LEgal Network Analyzer (LENA), which can assist public health professionals in making decisions based on real-world data.

“Local public health departments collect a treasure trove of data. However, they often don’t have the time, personnel or resources to turn that data into useful information that will inform their work,” said Ms. Potter. “What we’ll be able to do is give them the tools and the training to do their own analyses quickly and efficiently.”

For example, knowing how to use certain data analysis programs, such as the ones developed by Pitt Public Health, during a disease outbreak could help a public health department make decisions on how to allocate its budget, what expertise it might need to bring in to manage the outbreak, and what laws or policies might support or constrain the response.

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