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Pitt, UPMC Experts Present at 2014 American College of Gastroenterology Annual Meeting

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 31, 2014 – The University of Pittsburgh Division of Gastroenterology, Hepatology, and Nutrition and UPMC were well represented in Philadelphia at the recent American College of Gastroenterology (ACG) Annual Meeting. Faculty research was featured in both oral and poster presentations throughout the conference, including:

  • Pancreatic Cancer: The Genes You Need to Know
    Presented by Randall Brand, MD
  • Perceived Effectiveness of Endoscopic and Surgical Treatments Among North American Women With Complications of Chronic Pancreatitis (2014 ACG Presidential Poster Award winner)
    Co-authors Jyothsna Talluri, MD; Dhiraj Yadav, MD; David Whitcomb, MD, PhD
  • Antibiotic-Associated Microbiome Changes in Health Volunteers and Corrective Impact of the Probiotic Saccharomyces Boulardii (2014 ACG Presidential Poster Award winner)
    Co-author Toufic Kabbani, MD
  • Stratification of Crohn’s Disease Patients Using the Lemann Index to Quantify Gut Damage: A 5-Year Prospective Study (2014 ACG Presidential Poster Award winner and 2014 ACG Governor’s Award for Excellence in Clinical Research)
    Co-authors Claudia Ramos Rivers, MD; Miguel Regueiro, MD; Jason Swoger, MD; Marc Schwartz, MD; Leonard Baidoo, MD; Jana Al Hashash, MD; Arthur Barrie III, MD; Michael Dunn, MD; David Binion, MD
  • Association of Mean Vitamin D Level With Clinical Status in Inflammatory Bowel Disease: A 5-Year Prospective Study
    Co-presenters Toufic Kabbani, MD; Claudia Ramos Rivers, MD; Jason Swoger, MD; Miguel Regueiro, MD; Arthur Barrie III, MD; Marc Schwartz, MD; Jana Al Hashash, MD; Leonard Baidoo, MD; Michael Dunn, MD; David Binion, MD

For more information on ACG’s Annual Meeting, please visit the conference page.

Brain Care Institute Members Among Most Prolific Authors on Traumatic Brain Injury Worldwide

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 30, 2014 – A study by ScienceWatch into research on traumatic brain injury (TBI) over the last 15 years revealed that the volume of research has increased markedly in recent years — spurred by the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as sports-related brain injuries. ScienceWatch determined that the most prolific of authors in the TBI dataset is Patrick Kochanek, MD, professor and vice chairman in the Department of Critical Care Medicine at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, who contributed to 300 reports that have resulted in almost 3,800 citations. Among Dr. Kochanek’s co-authors on more than one-third of the papers is Robert S.B. Clark, MD, chief of Pediatric Critical Care Medicine at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC. Both Dr. Kochanek and Dr. Clark are members of the pediatric critical care team at the Brain Care Institute at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC.

Among institutions, the University of Pittsburgh topped both the list of most prolific and the list of most-cited institutions. Other highly cited University of Pittsburgh authors are Dr. Clark and Michael “Micky” Collins, PhD, UPMC Sports Medicine.

The volume of papers on TBI has increased significantly over the years. In 2001 just over 1,100 research papers were published — a number that nearly quadrupled in 2013. Similarly, in 2010 TBI was a diagnosis in more than 280,000 hospitalizations and 2.2 million emergency room visits, and a cause in more than 50,000 deaths, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 2001 and 2009, the rate of emergency room visits for sports or other injuries with a diagnosis of TBI rose 57 percent in those 19 or younger.

For more information on the study, please visit the Special Topic: Traumatic Brain Injury page.

Pitt Public Health Expert Receives Career Achievement Award from Society for Medical Decision Making

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 22, 2014 – A University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health physician and health policy expert who devises mathematical models to assess the impact of medical decisions will receive one of the highest accolades offered by the professional society he joined more than 30 years ago as a medical student.

Mark Roberts, M.D., M.P.P., professor and chair, Department of Health Policy and Management, Pitt Public Health, received the Career Achievement Award of the Society for Medical Decision Making (SMDM) on Tuesday during its 36th Annual North American Meeting in Miami.

The SMDM’s members include scientists from a variety of disciplines including decision science, psychology, health economics, operations research, biostatistics, clinical epidemiology and informatics. The award recognizes distinguished senior investigators who have made significant contributions to the field of medical decision making.

“I am very honored and humbled by this recognition,” Dr. Roberts said. “This professional society built me into the researcher and academician I have become, and I am delighted and amazed to join a group of Career Achievement Award recipients that includes many of my teachers and mentors.”

“Dr. Roberts is an ‘evangelist’ for introducing sophisticated modeling techniques from the field of industrial engineering and operations research to the field of medical decision making. He has a gift for translating the key aspects of a clinical problem to an industrial engineer and being able to explain the subtleties of complex modeling to clinicians,” said Myriam Hunink, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the SMDM Awards Committee. “He has made major contributions in the area of end-stage liver disease, the national liver allocation system and the optimal timing of living-donor liver transplantation.”

Dr. Roberts has been an active member of the SMDM since 1984, served as its president from 2008 to 2009 and has held other leadership roles with the organization. He joined the faculty of Pitt School of Medicine in 1993 and has held the chair of Pitt Public Health’s Department of Health Policy and Management since 2010. He studied economics as an undergraduate at Harvard College and completed a master’s degree in public policy and health policy at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government while attending medical school at Tufts University. His unconventional background allowed him to bring quantitative methods and modeling techniques to the study of medical decision making.

“My late father used to joke that I went into decision sciences because I can’t make them,” Dr. Roberts said with a laugh. “That inability to stick with one field has proved to be a very good thing, though, because it gave me a broader perspective for my research.”

His talk at the award ceremony focused on the importance of “out-of-the-box” thinking and the value of multidisciplinary approaches.

“I won a prize for the best postgraduate student paper presented at the 1989 SMDM meeting and was very proud to think that my colleagues and I had found a brand new technique that could build better disease models,” Dr. Roberts said. “Then someone told me that industrial engineers had been doing the same thing for decades. We probably could have saved 18 months of work if we’d crossed campus and talked to an engineering student. That taught me not to be so insular, and I hope to get that message across to young researchers.”

Never Giving Up: UPMC, Pitt Researchers Receive Grants Totaling $800,000 from V Foundation

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 21, 2014 – Researchers from the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI), partner with UPMC CancerCenter, have been awarded a grant from the V Foundation for Cancer Research to study gene mutations in patients whose head and neck cancer was caused by human papillomavirus (HPV) in hopes of finding a more effective, less toxic therapy for this often painful, disfiguring disease.

The three-year, $600,000 grant was awarded to principal investigator Julie Bauman, M.D., M.P.H., associate professor of medicine and director of the Head and Neck Cancer Section in the Division of Hematology-Oncology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and co-director of the UPMC Head and Neck Cancer Center of Excellence. The V Foundation, formed by ESPN and former college basketball coach Jim Valvano who is known for challenging people to never give up, also recognized Pitt’s Kara Bernstein, Ph.D., with a V Scholar award, worth $200,000 over two years.

“Coach Valvano established the V Foundation in 1993, the same year he lost his own battle with cancer. His dream was to find a cure for cancer, and we share in that dream here at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute,” said Nancy E. Davidson, M.D., director UPCI and UPMC CancerCenter. “These are highly competitive grants, and we are so pleased that Pitt investigators were recognized.”

Dr. Bauman said the grant will help researchers build on existing scientific knowledge and pioneer new treatments for head and neck cancer, which affects more than 50,000 people in the U.S. and 600,000 people worldwide each year. The primary cause of head and neck cancer in North America and Europe is becoming oral infection with HPV. Although HPV-related cancer responds well to intensive treatment, combinations of surgery, radiation and chemotherapy can result in permanent changes to uniquely human functions: facial expression, speech and swallowing.

“We’ve already learned that half of HPV-related head and neck cancers demonstrate abnormalities in a gene known as PIK3CA,” Dr. Bauman said. “We’re now learning how alterations in this gene cooperate with the virus to transform benign HPV infections into cancer. In addition, we are conducting a clinical trial to see whether a new drug that targets PIK3CA improves response in patients with HPV-related cancer. Ultimately, we aim to identify more effective and less toxic treatments, and even to prevent the transformation of HPV infection into cancer.”

Dr. Bauman is collaborating on the study with Jennifer Grandis, M.D., F.A.C.S., Pitt’s vice chair for research, professor of otolaryngology and pharmacology, and program leader for UPCI’s Head & Neck Cancer Program; Michelle Ozbun, Ph.D., the Maralyn S. Budke Endowed Professor of Viral Oncology at the University of New Mexico Cancer Center; Uma Duvvuri, M.D., Ph.D., Pitt assistant professor of otolaryngology; Andrew Cowan, M.D., Ph.D., assistant professor of surgery, Division of Otolaryngology, University of New Mexico Cancer Center; and Simion Chiosea, M.D., of the UPMC Anatomic Pathology Department.

The V Foundation has awarded more than $100 million for cancer research to more than 100 facilities nationwide since its inception. The translational research grants are designed to accelerate laboratory findings with the goal of benefiting patients more quickly. The V Scholar grants are designed to help early career cancer investigators develop into promising future research talents.

As a V Scholar, Dr. Bernstein will use her award to investigate why people who have mutations in proteins known as RAD51 paralogues are more susceptible to getting cancer – particularly breast and ovarian – and to identify methods for treating their specific cancers.

“Our goal is to uncover individualized cancer treatment for these particular tumors so these patients will have the best outcomes possible,” Dr. Bernstein said.

University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Launches Initiative to Emphasize Concussions Are Treatable

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 22, 2014 – At a time when the national concussion conversation instills fear and uncertainty among parents and athletes at all levels, the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program is working to change the current discussion where two powerful messages are lost: Concussions can be treated, and there are evidence-based therapies that result in full recoveries every day.

In striving to shift the national discussion to one based in fact and research, UPMC and the Concussion Program are unveiling the online destination ReThinkConcussions.com as part of an initiative to raise awareness about scientifically proven treatments currently available. The Concussion Program, the first in the world when it opened its doors in 2000, treats more sports-related concussions than any other program nationally with 17,000 patient visits per year. UPMC’s program consistently contributes to innovations in the field with nearly 20 published, peer-reviewed research studies annually.

“An important reality is this: Concussion is treatable if managed properly,” said Michael “Micky” Collins, Ph.D., clinical and executive director of the UPMC Sports Medicine Concussion Program. “With all the new research we’ve done and the nearly 200 papers we’ve helped to publish in the past decade or so, we now are able to provide proven treatments and evidence-based rehabilitation therapies. That should be the conversation now instead of the near-hysteria.”

“People should think of concussions as a treatable injury in the right hands, not some untreatable condition that causes you to retreat to a dark room. The individualized approach to this injury, the ability to use a multidisciplinary team to return patients to normal lives, has changed the course of the injury here – and our successes could be repeated across the world, too,” added Dr. Collins.

RethinkConcussions.com offers an interactive guide to understanding concussions and how UPMC approaches this complex but unseen injury. The website features information on concussion therapies and prevalent myths. It explains UPMC’s multidisciplinary approach to treating six different types of concussions – each carrying its own symptoms and outcomes. Additionally, the site provides insight into patients’ treatment experiences and emotional journeys through some of their stories.

As part of this important initiative, professional athletes and former UPMC patients such as NASCAR great Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Major League catcher David Ross tell their powerful tales in separate videos that will air on television regionally (Ross) and nationally (Earnhardt Jr.), in addition to being found at the new website. Each participated in the spots without compensation, wanting to help spread awareness and education about concussions and their successful rehabilitations.

“We went through activities with results that made sense,” Earnhardt says in his video. He visited the clinic and consulted with Dr. Collins regularly following multiple crashes in fall 2012, keeping him out of consecutive races for the first time in his career. “The best decision I made was to go to UPMC.”

Ross similarly turned to Dr. Collins following two injuries that removed him from behind the plate in 2013. He credits UPMC and its experts with developing an individualized program that allowed him to return to starting at catcher in time for a dramatic post-season run to a championship. As Ross says, “Without UPMC, I would not be a baseball player anymore. They saved my career.”

Other pro athletes who are or will be featured in the ReThinkConcussions.com initiative include former NFL quarterback Brady Quinn, Major League second baseman Brian Roberts and Tyler Hansbrough of the NBA, among others. Athletes of all ages and levels of play – from recreational to amateur to high school and beyond – also will participate in the effort, demonstrating how concussions strike every sport and walk of life.

Dr. Collins and the UPMC Concussion Program have been at the forefront of the national concussion community for years. He is a co-developer of the ImPACT neurocognitive test, a co-author of the Centers for Disease Control’s “Concussion Tool Kit for Physicians,” a consultant to a variety of professional and collegiate leagues, and a frequent presenter nationally and internationally helping to train thousands of health care professionals in concussion management and evaluation.

Dr. Collins leads a team of more than 30 clinicians and researchers, comprised of neuropsychologists, primary care sports medicine physicians, physiatrists, otoneurologists, physical therapists, neurosurgeons, neuroradiologists and orthopaedic surgeons, all devoted to concussion evaluation, treatment and rehabilitation.

“Concussion isn’t something you can detect on a CT scan or an MRI, or with a standard neurologic examination. To ‘see’ this injury you have to know what questions to ask, and our research has shown us this,” Dr. Collins said. “By asking the right questions and looking at the right systems in the right way with the right tools, we can put together a very coherent approach to understanding the injury and determining active treatment strategies. That’s the important message for people to know now.”

Pitt Public Health Finds Association Between Air Toxics and Childhood Autism

PITTSBURGH, Oct. 22, 2014 – Children with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) were more likely to have been exposed to higher levels of certain air toxics during their mothers’ pregnancies and the first two years of life compared to children without the condition, according to the preliminary findings of a University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health investigation of children in southwestern Pennsylvania.

This research, funded by The Heinz Endowments, will be presented today at the American Association for Aerosol Research annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

“Autism spectrum disorders are a major public health problem, and their prevalence has increased dramatically,” said Evelyn Talbott, Dr.P.H., principal investigator of the analysis and professor of epidemiology at Pitt Public Health. “Despite its serious social impact, the causes of autism are poorly understood. Very few studies of autism have included environmental exposures while taking into account other personal and behavioral risk factors. Our analysis is an addition to the small but growing body of research that considers air toxics as one of the risk factors for ASD.”

Dr. Talbott and her colleagues performed a population-based study of families with and without ASD living in six southwestern Pennsylvania counties. The researchers found links between increased levels of chromium and styrene and childhood autism spectrum disorder, a condition that affects one in 68 children.

“This study brings us a step closer toward understanding why autism affects so many families in the Pittsburgh region and nationwide – and reinforces in sobering detail that air quality matters,” said Grant Oliphant, president of The Heinz Endowments. “Our aspirations for truly becoming the most livable city cannot be realized if our children’s health is threatened by dangerous levels of air toxics. Addressing this issue must remain one of our region’s top priorities.”

Autism spectrum disorders are a range of conditions characterized by social deficits and communication difficulties that typically become apparent early in childhood. Reported cases of ASD have risen nearly eight-fold in the last two decades. While previous studies have shown the increase to be partially due to changes in diagnostic practices and greater public awareness of autism, this does not fully explain the increased prevalence. Both genetic and environmental factors are believed to be partially responsible.

Dr. Talbott and her team interviewed 217 families of children with ASD and compared these findings with information from two separate sets of comparison families of children without ASD born during the same time period within the six-county area. The families lived in Allegheny, Armstrong, Beaver, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland counties, and the children were born between 2005 and 2009.

One of the strengths of the study was the ability to have “two types of controls, which provided a comparison of representative air toxics in neighborhoods of those children with and without ASD,” said Dr. Talbott.

For each family, the team used the National Air Toxics Assessment (NATA) to estimate the exposure to 30 pollutants known to cause endocrine disruption or neurodevelopmental issues. NATA is the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ongoing comprehensive evaluation of air toxics in the U.S., most recently conducted in 2005.

Based on the child’s exposure to concentrations of air toxics during the mother’s pregnancy and the first two years of life, the researchers noted that children who fell into higher exposure groups to styrene and chromium were at a 1.4- to two-fold greater risk of ASD, after accounting for the age of the mother, maternal cigarette smoking, race and education. Other NATA compounds associated with increased risk included cyanide, methylene chloride, methanol and arsenic. As these compounds often are found in combination with each other, further study is needed.

Styrene is used in the production of plastics and paints, but also is one of the products of combustion when burning gasoline in vehicles. Chromium is a heavy metal, and air pollution containing it typically is the result of industrial processes and the hardening of steel, but it also can come from power plants. Cyanide, methylene chloride, methanol and arsenic are all used in a number of industries or can be found in vehicle exhaust.

“Our results add to the growing body of evidence linking environmental exposures, such as air pollution, to ASD,” said Dr. Talbott. “The next step will be confirming our findings with studies that measure the specific exposure to air pollutants at an individual level to verify these EPA-modeled estimates.”

Additional investigators on this study were Vincent Arena, Ph.D., Judith Rager, M.P.H., Ravi Sharma, Ph.D., and Lynne Marshall, M.S., all of Pitt.

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.

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