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Mark Gladwin, M.D., Named New Chair of Department of Medicine at Pitt School of Medicine

PITTSBURGH, March 6, 2015 – The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine has chosen one if its own renowned faculty members to be the next chair of the Department of Medicine, which ranks among the nation’s largest clinical and research departments with divisions in cancer, cardiology, endocrinology, gastroenterology, geriatrics, infectious diseases, kidney, lung and allergy, and rheumatology.

Mark T. Gladwin, M.D., who assumed his new role on March 1, will remain the director of Pitt’s Heart, Lung, Blood, and Vascular Medicine Institute and will continue to see patients in the critical care units at UPMC Presbyterian. He was recognized as a Distinguished Professor of Medicine in 2014.

“Dr. Gladwin will be taking on critical responsibilities in a time when the scientific opportunities to improve the human condition have never been greater, but the funding to address these opportunities has never been more threatened,” noted Arthur S. Levine, M.D., Pitt’s senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of Medicine. “I have great confidence in his ability to rise to these challenges and take the Department of Medicine to the highest achievements in medical education, as well as research and clinical excellence.”

The Department of Medicine is home to 650 faculty members and 10 divisions, including Pulmonary, Allergy, and Critical Care Medicine (PACCM), which Dr. Gladwin chaired for the past six years. Last year, the department’s direct research expenditures were $94 million, and its physicians saw 340,000 outpatients.

“I am honored to be selected to play this key role in the School of Medicine,” Dr. Gladwin said. “We face many opportunities to translate the remarkable progress in genetics and science to better care for our patients and to develop new therapies. I am convinced that Pittsburgh will continue to be home and catalyst for new models of efficient and high quality patient-centered care and the training of future generations of physicians and scientists. Our work and success will enhance our regional economy, with science and medicine bringing National Institutes of Health grants to the community and attracting new businesses and industry partnerships that will take our exciting discoveries to the patient at the bedside and the clinic.”

Dr. Gladwin will continue his research into the role of nitrite and nitric oxide (NO) in vascular medicine. Among his major scientific discoveries is the finding that the nitrite salt is a biological signaling molecule that regulates physiological and pathological hypoxic responses, blood pressure and flow, and dynamic mitochondrial electron transport. His 2003 Nature Medicine paper on proteins that regulate NO production has been cited more than 1,000 times, is listed in the journal’s top 10 “Classic Collection,” and has led to the development and licensing of intravenous, oral and inhaled nitrite as a human therapeutic agent, currently in clinical trials. He also has characterized a novel mechanism of disease called hemolysis-associated endothelial dysfunction, a state of resistance to NO in patients with sickle cell disease, malaria, the transfusion of aged blood, and other conditions of damaged red blood cells.

Dr. Gladwin received his bachelors of science and medical degrees from the University of Miami. He completed his internship and chief residency in internal medicine at the Oregon Health Sciences University in Portland, followed by a critical care medicine fellowship at the National Institutes of Health and a pulmonary fellowship at the University of Washington. He returned to NIH for postdoctoral research fellowships in cell and molecular biology and later served as chief of the Pulmonary and Vascular Medicine Branch of the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, part of NIH. He joined Pitt as chief of PACCM in August 2008.

Among Dr. Gladwin’s numerous academic awards are: the U.S. Public Health Service Achievement Award, the NIH Director’s Award for Mentoring, the NIH Clinical Center Director’s Award for Science, and the Recognition Award for Scientific Accomplishments from the American Thoracic Society.

He succeeds John Reilly, M.D., who is now dean of the University of Colorado’s medical school.

Workplace Lifestyle Intervention Program Improves Health, Reduces Diabetes and Heart Disease Risks

PITTSBURGH, March 6, 2015 – A healthy lifestyle intervention program administered at the workplace and developed by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health significantly reduces risk factors for diabetes and heart disease, according to a study reported in the March issue of the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine.

The program was well-received by participants at Bayer Corp., who lost weight and increased the amount of physical activity they got each day, when compared with a control group in the study, which was funded by the National Institutes of Health.

“Health care expenditures associated with diabetes are spiraling, causing widespread concern, particularly for employers who worry about employee health and productivity,” said lead author M. Kaye Kramer, Dr.P.H., assistant professor in Pitt Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology and director of the school’s Diabetes Prevention Support Center. “This leads to an interest in workplace health promotion; however, there are very few evidence-based programs that actually demonstrate improvement in employee health. This study found that our program not only improves health, but also that employees really like it.”

This demonstration program is based on the U.S. Diabetes Prevention Program (DPP), a national study that found people at risk for diabetes who lost a modest amount of weight through diet and exercise sharply reduced their chances of developing diabetes, outperforming people who took a diabetes drug instead.

Dr. Kramer and colleagues built on the DPP to create a group-based program that puts the findings into practice, called Group Lifestyle Balance. The program is divided into 22 sessions over a one-year period and aimed at helping people make lifestyle changes to improve health. The sessions can be done as a group with a lifestyle coach or through a DVD coupled with brief weekly phone or, in certain cases, email consultations with the lifestyle coach. The option of the DVD with lifestyle coach support not only served as the main intervention option for those employees who traveled or who did not want to participate in the program in a group venue but also offered a valuable replacement for employees who chose to participate via group setting but had to miss an occasional session.

“Our Group Lifestyle Balance program has proven successful in diverse community settings, so we adapted it for the workplace since we found that there was a real need for effective programs that could fit into people’s work lives,” said senior author Andrea Kriska, Ph.D., professor in Pitt Public Health’s Department of Epidemiology and principal investigator of the study. “This current effort in the worksite shows clearly that a proven healthy lifestyle program, like the Group Lifestyle Balance program, offered to people where they work is not only feasible but effective in reducing risk factors for diabetes and heart disease for participating employees.”

A total of 89 employees at Bayer Corp. in Robinson Township, Pa., who were at risk for diabetes or heart disease were enrolled in the demonstration program in the fall of 2010 and followed for 18 months.

Over the course of a year, participants lost an average of 5 percent of their body weight (10 pounds), shrunk their waistlines by about 2 inches and brought down the levels of fat and sugar in their blood – all measures that reduce the risk of heart disease and diabetes. They also increased their physical activity by almost twofold.

Of the participants, 96 percent said they felt it was beneficial to offer the program at the worksite, and 99 percent said they would recommend it to their co-workers.

“The positive results that employees experienced from this lifestyle program speak to the benefits of personalized health programs in the workplace,” said Phil Franklin, M.D., U.S. corporate medical director, Bayer Corp. “I would like to congratulate the University of Pittsburgh researchers on the study.”  

Additional authors on this research are Donald Molenaar, M.D., Veterans Health Administration in Minneapolis; Elizabeth Venditti, Ph.D., Western Psychiatric Institute and Clinic of UPMC; and Vincent C. Arena, Ph.D., Rebecca Meehan, M.S., R.D., L.D.N., Rachel Miller, M.S., Karl Vanderwood, Ph.D., and Yvonne Eaglehouse, M.S., M.P.H., all of Pitt Public Health.

This research was funded by the National Institutes of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (R18 DK081323–04).

Pediatric Rehabilitation Chief Asked to Participate in CDC, AAP Activities

PITTSBURGH, March 5, 2015 – Amy Houtrow, MD, PhD, MPH, chief, Division of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine and a member of the Brain Care Institute at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, recently was invited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to participate in its National Center on Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities (NCBDDD) and the Division of Human Development and Disability. Selected for her expertise in the area of disability and health, Dr. Houtrow also serves as associate professor and vice chair in the Department of Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation at the University of Pittsburgh. The group’s goal is to develop concrete recommendations to inform a current and innovative Disability and Health Branch roadmap over the next decade.

Dr. Houtrow also has been asked to serve on the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) National Conference & Exhibition Planning Group, a cross-section of more than two dozen practicing pediatricians, medical, and surgical pediatric subspecialists. The group reviews and accepts approximately 350 sessions — out of more than 500 proposals — that comprise the conference program.

Pervasive Chemical Potentially Alters Levels of a Pregnancy Hormone that Influences Sex Development

PITTSBURGH, March 5, 2015 – Exposure to hormone-altering chemicals called phthalates – which are found in many plastics, foods  and personal care products – early in pregnancy is associated with a disruption in an essential pregnancy hormone and adversely affects the masculinization of male genitals in the baby, according to research led by the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health.

The findings, presented today at the Endocrine Society’s 97th annual meeting in San Diego and funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, focus on the role of the placenta in responding to these chemicals and altering levels of a key pregnancy hormone. These results suggest that there may be reason to push routine clinical testing earlier in pregnancy to check for the effects of chemicals and help guide potential interventions to protect the health of the baby.

“Phthalates are pervasive,” said Jennifer Adibi, M.P.H., Sc.D., assistant professor of epidemiology at Pitt Public Health. “Reducing exposure to phthalates and other hormone-disrupting chemicals is something that needs to be addressed at a societal level through consumer advocacy and regulation, and education of health care providers.”

The research builds on a study led by Shanna S. Swan, Ph.D., of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai that was published in February in the journal Human Reproduction. Dr. Swan is senior investigator on this presentation, which provides new information about how phthalates target a key pregnancy hormone called human chorionic gonadotropin (hCG), which is made by the placenta and can be measured in the mother’s blood and urine.

“The placenta, which is an extension of the fetus and a target of the chemicals in our bodies, broadcasts information early in pregnancy, through hCG, about what might be occurring to the fetus from chemical exposure,” said Dr. Adibi. “A long-term benefit of this research might be the development of new knowledge and methods for earlier screening in pregnancy, with the potential to act on this information to improve the long-term health of the future child.”

Dr. Adibi and her colleagues analyzed data collected from approximately 350 women and their babies who participated in a multicenter investigation called The Infant Development and the Environment Study (TIDES). Between 2010 and 2012, the women gave blood and urine samples in their first trimester of pregnancy and allowed researchers to take measurements of the babies at birth.

Higher levels of two molecules that are produced when phthalates are digested – mono-n-butyl and monobenzyl phthalate – in the mothers’ urine early in pregnancy were significantly associated with lower levels of hCG in women carrying male babies and with higher hCG in those carrying female babies.

The new research also looked at hCG in relation to a biological marker called anogenital distance, which is the distance between the anus and genitals. In men, a short anogenital distance is associated with decreased sperm count and infertility.

Higher levels of hCG in the mother’s blood were associated with a shorter anogenital distance in male babies. The researchers estimate that about 20 to 30 percent of the phthalate effect on the babies’ genitals could be attributed to the influence of phthalates on hCG, specifically mono-n-butyl and mono-ethylhexyl phthalate.

“Our study is the first to look at hCG as a target of phthalate exposure in pregnancy,” said Dr. Adibi. “There is growing societal concern over pediatric disorders that have a basis in the fetal period and which may be more common in one sex or another, such as autism, attention deficit disorder, obesity, asthma and infertility. It is important to find out if chemicals in our food or environment might influence these conditions.”

The participants in this study were enrolled at prenatal clinics in California, Washington, Minnesota and New York. Dr. Adibi is looking ahead to future studies where she will enroll women in the earliest stages of pregnancy at clinics in Pittsburgh to assess exposures to endocrine disruptors and measure effects on the placenta and the baby.

Additional researchers on this study are Myoung Keun Lee, M.S., of Pitt; Ashley I. Naimi, Ph.D., of McGill University; Emily Barrett, Ph.D., of the University of Rochester; Ruby Nguyen, Ph.D., and Bruce Redmon, M.D., both of the University of Minnesota; Sheela Sathyanarayana, M.D., M.P.H., of the University of Washington; and Kara Saperston, M.D., Mari-Paule Thiet, M.D., Sarah Janssen, M.D., Ph.D., M.P.H., and Lawrence Baskin, M.D., all of the University of California.

This research was funded by National Institutes of Environmental Health Sciences grants 1 K99 ES017780-01 and 5 R00 ES017780-06. TIDES was funded by National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences grants R01 ES016863-04 and R01 ES016863-02S4.

Under Our Nose: Supplemental Oxygen Can Make Tumors Shrink, Says New Study

PITTSBURGH, March 4, 2015 – A method of profoundly enhancing some cancer treatments could be right under our noses. A study co-authored by a University of Pittsburgh researcher has shown in an animal model that breathing air with a higher than usual concentration of oxygen can alter certain metabolic pathways to allow chemotherapy and immunotherapy to shrink tumors more effectively.

The blood supply of a tumor often does not match the pace of the cancer’s growth, which leads to areas that are ischemic, or oxygen deprived, explained Edwin Jackson, Ph.D., professor of pharmacology and chemical biology, Pitt School of Medicine, and a co-author of a paper published online today in Science Translational Medicine. That causes the tumor cells to make adenosine, a molecule that not only promotes blood flow, but also binds to a receptor on killer T-cells and essentially puts them to sleep. In effect, adenosine acts as a shield against immune system cells that would otherwise attack the cancer.

“We realized if we could find a way to block the increase in adenosine, we might be able to help the immune system respond to the tumor to make anti-cancer therapies more effective,” Dr. Jackson said. “This study shows that simply breathing more oxygen can accomplish that aim, which could lead to an amazing breakthrough in cancer treatment.”

The study team, led by Michail Sitkovsky, Ph.D., director of the New England Inflammation and Tissue Protection Institute at Northeastern University, exposed mice with lung tumors to respiratory hyperoxia at levels of 40 to 60 percent oxygen, comparable to what patients might receive in the hospital. Another group of mice breathed air, which is approximately 21 percent oxygen. Tumors in mice that received supplemental oxygen shrank – some regressed completely – and the animals were more likely to survive than those on room air.

“Supplemental oxygen prevented the tumor from making extra adenosine, so the immune cells could do their job and attack the cancer cells,” Dr. Sitkovsky explained. “But if anti-tumor immune cells aren’t present, oxygen has no effect. We hope we will soon see clinical trials of respiratory hyperoxia in combination with immunotherapies to see whether it can help cancer patients.”

He noted also the effects might be stronger in combination with an agent that he calls “super-caffeine,” which blocks the receptor where adenosine binds to inhibit the immune cells.

For Dr. Jackson, whose lab is thought to be the world’s best in the measurement of adenosine and its metabolites, the breakthrough research is personally deeply rewarding. Fourteen years ago, his older brother, James F. Jackson, died at 57 of renal cell carcinoma. In 1986, Mr. Jackson received the National Science Foundation Presidential Award for Excellence in Science Teaching from Vice President George H.W. Bush.

“Jim was my childhood mentor and the reason I am a scientist today. His three years of treatment was an emotional and frustrating time for me because we didn’t have the right tools to help him,” Dr. Jackson said. “I started doing cancer research because of that experience, and I hope these results will one day prevent suffering and loss by countless other families.”

Other study investigators included researchers from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute, Harvard Medical School and the University of Miami. The project was funded by National Institutes of Health grants CA 112561, CA 111985, AT 002788, and AI 091693; National Cancer Institute grant 5PO1CA109094-03; and Northeastern University.

Medicare and Patients with Schizophrenia Could Save $150 Million on Part D Plans

PITTSBURGH, March 2, 2015 – Using an “intelligent,” rather than random, method for assigning people with schizophrenia to Medicare Part D prescription drug coverage plans could save Medicare and patients a combined $150 million annually, a new University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health analysis discovered.

The results are reported in the March issue of the journal Health Affairs and build upon an earlier study finding that Medicare could have saved more than $5 billion in its Part D low-income subsidy program in 2009 if it had used intelligent assignment among all beneficiaries who received a subsidy.

Medicare Part D provides prescription drug coverage assistance to people enrolled in Medicare who have incomes below 150 percent of the federal poverty level. Since 2006, the government has randomly assigned low-income enrollees to stand-alone Part D plans, based upon the region in which they live.

“If the government pilots intelligent assignment of Medicare Part D beneficiaries, people with schizophrenia would be an ideal group to start with,” said lead author Yuting Zhang, Ph.D., associate professor of health economics at Pitt Public Health’s Department of Health Policy and Management. “The majority of these patients are already randomly assigned to Part D plans. They spend considerably more on medication than the general Medicare population, but most of their drug spending is subsidized by the government, and these patients often have a difficult time selecting ideal plans themselves.”

Dr. Zhang and her team obtained data on nearly 120,000 beneficiaries with schizophrenia and developed a computer algorithm to intelligently assign them to plans available in their regions based on their medication needs.

Intelligent assignment translated into an annual savings of $466 per beneficiary with schizophrenia.

Schizophrenia – a chronic, disabling brain disorder often treated with medications – affects 2.6 percent of Medicare beneficiaries enrolled in stand-alone Part D plans. More than 9 out of 10 people with the disorder are eligible for a low-income subsidy for their Part D prescription drug benefit, meaning they pay little or no premium for their Part D plan and have only nominal copayments. Although Medicare beneficiaries are allowed to select a plan other than the one to which they were randomly assigned, there is little financial reason for people with schizophrenia to do so.

“This situation highlights why it would be beneficial for the government to use intelligent assignment,” said Dr. Zhang. “We recommend that Medicare use intelligent assignment as the default approach for all beneficiaries with schizophrenia who receive a low-income subsidy, and consider it as an option for all Part D beneficiaries, regardless of their income.”

Additional authors on this research are Seo Hyon Baik, Ph.D., of Pitt Public Health; and Joseph P. Newhouse, Ph.D., of Harvard University.

This research was supported by National Institute of Mental Health grants RC1 MH088510 and R21 MH100721; and the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality grant R01 HS018657.

Dr. Newhouse is director of, and holds equity in, Aetna, which sells Part D plans.

UPMC CancerCenter First in World to Treat Patient with New Cyberknife MLC that Shapes Radiation to Tumor, Decreases Treatment Time

PITTSBURGH, March 2, 2015UPMC CancerCenter last week became the first center in the world to treat a patient with the CyberKnife® M6™ System’s new multileaf collimator, which enables precise shaping of radiation beams to any irregularly shaped tumor, sparing healthy surrounding tissues and reducing the time patients must undergo treatments.

The CyberKnife® M6™ System with the InCise™ Multileaf Collimator (MLC) was used for the first time on Feb. 26 on a 56-year-old western Pennsylvania woman being treated for a benign brain tumor. UPMC CancerCenter was one of the InCise MLC evaluation sites working in collaboration with Accuray, the device’s manufacturer. The patient’s treatment lasted 22 minutes, about half of the time treatment would have taken without the use of advanced software and novel technologies, said Dwight E. Heron, M.D., FACRO, FACR, director of Radiation Services at UPMC CancerCenter, a partner with the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.

This new technology will be especially useful for tumors in the body that are hard to reach or tend to move, he said. The treatment was administered as a multidisciplinary effort between Steven Burton, M.D., from the department of Radiation Oncology and Johnathan Engh, M.D., from the department of Neurosurgery.

“Our patient was diagnosed with a brain meningioma and was a good candidate for the highly-focused treatment that can be delivered by the CyberKnife,” said Dr. Heron, who oversees the largest system in the U.S. accredited by the American College of Radiation Oncology. “With the addition of the MLC, we were able to precisely target the tumor and spare healthy tissue, and it took us significantly less time to do it. This real-world case is consistent with our InCise MLC technical evaluation experience and exceeded our expectations in its efficiency.”

The M6 Series delivers radiosurgery and stereotactic body radiation therapy, enabling precise, high-quality dose distributions to be administered to patients with extreme accuracy over a minimum number of treatments, reducing side effects and preserving patients’ quality of life. The system is able to adjust and automatically stay on target in real-time, accounting for patient and tumor motion. CyberKnife is the only robotic radiosurgery system available today that delivers such high-precision treatments throughout the body.

“We congratulate Dr. Heron, Dr. Saiful Huq and their team on treating the first patient using the CyberKnife M6 System and InCise MLC,” said Joshua H. Levine, president and chief executive officer of Accuray. “With the addition of the MLC, clinicians can deliver the same precise radiosurgery treatments they have come to expect with the CyberKnife System for a wider range of tumor types, including larger and different kinds of tumors than were previously treated.”

Pitt to Lead $14M National Trial Comparing Approaches to Treat Back Pain, Avoid Surgery

PITTSBURGH, Feb. 25, 2015 – The University of Pittsburgh will lead a $14 million clinical trial to determine how well an intervention that helps people better understand their back pain early on works toward promoting recovery and keeping the pain from becoming chronic down the road. UPMC will be the first in the trial to offer the intervention, followed by four other academic medical centers nationwide.

The five-year award from the Patient-Centered Outcomes Research Institute (PCORI) is the 13th and largest to come in to Pitt and UPMC through the Comparative Effectiveness Research Center housed in the university’s Health Policy Institute. This Center bridges Pitt’s Schools of the Health Sciences and UPMC, providing a multidisciplinary platform and research infrastructure for patient-centered comparative effectiveness research across all of the health sciences.

The Pitt-led study will examine the transition from acute lower back pain to chronic lower back pain, and compare two approaches that can be delivered in a primary care office. The first approach allows physicians to do what they think is best, which is termed “usual care.” The second approach teams up physicians with physical therapists to deliver cognitive behavioral therapy, a specialized therapy designed to help patients put their lower back pain in perspective, allowing them to identify and overcome barriers to recovery.

“Certain patients are more inclined to worry that when their back hurts they are further harming it, causing them to become inactive,” said lead investigator Anthony Delitto, Ph.D., chair of the Department of Physical Therapy in Pitt’s School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. “That can seriously impede recovery, cause further damage and lead to chronic back pain. Once the problem becomes chronic, the effects are magnified, even causing some people to lose their jobs and have prolonged difficulty with most daily activities. Chronic lower back pain is clearly something we would like to avoid.”

Lower back pain accounts for about $86 billion in health care expenditures every year, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association. A major focus of the Affordable Care Act is mandating studies to examine pain as a public health problem and look for solutions.

“Our Comparative Effectiveness Research Center was created to provide the infrastructure to support these larger, pragmatic studies,” said Sally C. Morton, Ph.D., director of Pitt’s Comparative Effectiveness Research Center and chair of the Department of Biostatistics at Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health. “We built the necessary methodological expertise and data environment to allow researchers to answer the questions facing our health system that are important to patients. Ultimately, these taxpayer investments through PCORI will improve outcomes and inform national policy and practice. ”

Dr. Delitto’s study, called TARGET, will recruit 60 primary-care clinics affiliated with UPMC, Intermountain Healthcare, Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System, Boston Medical Center and The Medical University of South Carolina. At each site, 12 primary-care clinics will be randomly assigned to one of two study arms: the usual care their physician would prescribe for lower back pain or primary care coupled with physical and cognitive behavioral therapy.

Across the five regional sites, the team expects to recruit 2,640 patients with acute lower back pain, which is defined as pain they feel less than half the time and have had for less than 6 months. These patients will be evaluated with a standardized test that characterizes their response to pain and their predisposition to psychosocial characteristics that cause them to avoid pain out of fear.

The study will compare a patient-centered outcome that asks how well the patients perform activities that typically bother people with lower back pain, such as sitting, standing, walking, lifting, traveling and sleeping. Finally, the research team will measure the number of X-rays, MRIs, surgery and other lower back-related medical procedures for all patients enrolled in the study.

“This is the heart of patient-centered comparative effectiveness research,” said Everette James, J.D., M.B.A., director of Pitt’s Health Policy Institute. “Our mission is to use real-life research to find the right treatment for each patient at the right time.”

The PCORI award has been approved pending completion of a business and programmatic review by PCORI staff and issuance of a formal award contract.

Stem Cells from Wisdom Teeth Can Be Transformed into Corneal Cells

PITTSBURGH, Feb. 23, 2015 – Stem cells from the dental pulp of wisdom teeth can be coaxed to turn into cells of the eye’s cornea and could one day be used to repair corneal scarring due to infection or injury, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The findings, published online today in STEM CELLS Translational Medicine, indicate they also could become a new source of corneal transplant tissue made from the patient’s own cells.

Corneal blindness, which affects millions of people worldwide, is typically treated with transplants of donor corneas, said senior investigator James Funderburgh, Ph.D., professor of ophthalmology at Pitt and associate director of the Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration of UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh, a joint program of UPMC Eye Center and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

“Shortages of donor corneas and rejection of donor tissue do occur, which can result in permanent vision loss,” Dr. Funderburgh said. “Our work is promising because using the patient’s own cells for treatment could help us avoid these problems.”

Experiments conducted by lead author Fatima Syed-Picard, Ph.D., also of Pitt’s Department of Ophthalmology, and the team showed that stem cells of the dental pulp, obtained from routine human third molar, or wisdom tooth, extractions performed at Pitt’s School of Dental Medicine, could be turned into corneal stromal cells called keratocytes, which have the same embryonic origin.

The team injected the engineered keratocytes into the corneas of healthy mice, where they integrated without signs of rejection. They also used the cells to develop constructs of corneal stroma akin to natural tissue.

“Other research has shown that dental pulp stem cells can be used to make neural, bone and other cells,” Dr. Syed-Picard noted. “They have great potential for use in regenerative therapies.”

In future work, the researchers will assess whether the technique can correct corneal scarring in an animal model.

Co-authors include Yiqin Du, M.D., Ph.D., Kira L. Lathrop, M.A.M.S., Mary M. Mann, M.S., and Martha L. Funderburgh, M.S.P.H., all of the University of Pittsburgh. The project was funded National Institutes of Health grants EY016415, EY009368 and EY008098; Research to Prevent Blindness; and the Eye and Ear Foundation of Pittsburgh.

Pitt Study Finds Popular YouTube Videos Drown Viewers with Positive Portrayals of Drunkenness

PITTSBURGH, Feb. 20, 2015 – The 70 most popular videos depicting drunkenness on YouTube account for more than 330 million views, with little portrayal of the negative outcomes of excessive alcohol consumption, according to an analysis led by the University of Pittsburgh Center for Research on Media, Technology, and Health (CRMTH).

The popularity of such videos on YouTube could be an opportunity for public health interventions aimed at educating teenagers and young adults of the negative consequences of intoxication, the researchers suggest in an article published in today’s issue of the journal Alcoholism: Clinical and Experimental Research.

“There has been little research examining Internet-based, alcohol-related messaging,” said lead author Brian A. Primack, M.D., Ph.D., director of CRMTH and assistant vice chancellor for health and society in Pitt’s Schools of the Health Sciences. “While we know that some viewers may be savvy enough to skeptically view music videos or advertisements portraying intoxication as fun, those same viewers may be less cynical when viewing user-generated YouTube videos portraying humorous and socially rewarding escapades of a group of intoxicated peers.”

Dr. Primack’s team mined YouTube for five terms synonymous with alcohol intoxication – drunk, buzzed, hammered, tipsy and trashed – winnowing their findings down to the most relevant.

There were a total of 333,246,875 views for all 70 videos combined.

  • Humor was juxtaposed with alcohol use in 79 percent of the videos.
  • Motor vehicle use was present in 24 percent.
  • Although 86 percent of the videos showed active intoxication, only 7 percent contained references to alcohol dependence.
  • An average of 23.2 “likes” were registered for every “dislike.”
  • While 89 percent of the videos involved males, only 49 percent involved females.
  • A specific brand of alcohol was referenced in 44 percent of the videos.

“This is the first comprehensive attempt to analyze YouTube data on intoxication, and these statistics should be valuable in guiding interventions,” said Dr. Primack, also a practicing physician. “For example, we know that men tend to report more frequent binge drinking than women and that alcohol use is perceived as more socially acceptable for men. Because they are portrayed more frequently in YouTube videos, it may be useful to target men with future interventions debunking alcohol-related myths propagated on social media.”

Dr. Primack found it concerning that nearly half the videos contained specific brand references. While this could indicate industry influence, the researchers did not note any clear indication of intentional advertising. Past research has linked exposure to brand references in popular media to encouraging alcohol consumption.

Additional authors on this research are Jason B. Colditz, M.Ed., and Kevin C. Pang, both of Pitt; and Kristina M. Jackson, Ph.D., of Brown University.

This research was funded by ABMRF/The Foundation for Alcohol Research.

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