Pitt Public Health will lead data coordination for a trial on condition in preterm infants

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute has selected the University of Pittsburgh as the Data Coordinating Center for a $5.5 million trial to help guide parents on treatment options for patent ductus arteriosus, or PDA — an extra blood vessel that develops in utero and allows blood circulation to skip the lungs of a developing baby.

Wendy King, associate professor of epidemiology at Pitt’s School of Public Health, and Stephen Wisniewski, vice provost at Pitt and co-director of Pitt Public Health’s Epidemiology Data Center, are principal investigators on the trial titled, “Percutaneous intervention versus observational trial of arterial ductus in lower gestational age infants,” or PIVOTAL. 

Usually, either before birth or shortly thereafter, the extra vessel shrinks and closes. But sometimes, particularly in premature infants, the PDA is large and more likely to stay open, which may require the infant to be put on mechanical ventilation and lead to problems that strain and enlarge the child’s heart. The best course of action to help the newborn — medication, insertion of a catheter or corrective surgery — isn’t always obvious.

“Using the best data science methods is critical to answering clinical questions, which in this trial could prevent chronic lung disease, intestinal injury, brain damage, congestive heart failure and even mortality among preterm infants,” King said.

In preterm infants on breathing support with PDAs that affect the flow of their blood, the trial will compare cardiopulmonary outcomes such as days free of mechanical ventilation following PDA closure via a minimally invasive heart catheter closure-device versus supportive care without closure. The study also will evaluate safety and improvement in neurodevelopmental outcomes.

Leigh Patel elected to National Academy of Education

Leigh Patel, professor in the School of Education, has been elected to the National Academy of Education, an honorific society of scholars and educators who make outstanding contributions to the education field.

She is one of 17 new members elected from around the United States.

As a member of academy, Patel will serve on expert study panels that address pressing issues in education and will be a mentor for the organization’s professional development fellowship programs.

Patel is a transdisciplinary scholar who studies the narratives that shape how people are treated in society. She is an internationally known scholar of education, ethnic studies, critical higher education studies and literacy.

“This is a significant honor that means a great deal to me,” Patel said. “There are a number of Black, Indigenous, migrant and decolonial women in the Academy doing quality research that impacts the possible futures of Black and Brown children. Their work has deeply influenced me, and it’s an honor to be in the same group.”

Alejandro Hoberman earns Top 10 Clinical Research Achievement Award

Executive Vice Chair of Pediatrics Alejandro Hoberman received the Top 10 Clinical Research Achievement Award for 2022 from the Clinical Research Forum, a nonprofit association of clinical research experts and thought leaders from the nation’s leading academic health centers.

Hoberman is the first person to receive this award twice from the forum.

This year's award recognizes Hoberman and his research team for a study entitled “Tympanostomy Tubes or Medical Management for Recurrent Acute Otitis Media.” First published in May 2021 in the New England Journal of Medicine, the study found no long-term benefit to surgically placing ear tubes in a young child’s ears to reduce the rate of recurrent ear infections compared to use of episodic oral antibiotics.

In 2015, the Clinical Research Forum recognized Hoberman for his team’s findings in “Antimicrobial Prophylaxis for Children with Vesicoureteral Reflux.”

Nicole Scheff named Award in Pain scholar by Rita Allen Foundation

The Rita Allen Foundation named Nicole Scheff, assistant professor of neurobiology, a 2021 Award in Pain Scholar.

The award celebrates four early-career leaders in the biomedical sciences whose research holds exceptional promise for revealing new pathways to understand and treat chronic pain.

The scholars, nominated by the United States Association for the Study of Pain, will receive grants of $50,000 annually for up to three years to conduct innovative research on critical topics on the biological mechanisms of pain.

“With millions of people in the United States suffering from chronic pain, the pain research field holds increasing importance for public health,” said Elizabeth Good Christopherson, president and CEO of the Rita Allen Foundation.

Scheff’s research seeks to understand how peripheral neurons evolve and adapt during cancer initiation and growth. She will investigate whether therapy targeted to neurons innervating the cancer can alleviate pain and slow the formation of tumors.

“My father, a professor of anatomy and neurobiology at the University of Kentucky, taught me at a very young age to score electron micrographs for synapse loss in different areas of the cerebral cortex,” Scheff said. “This ‘father-daughter quality time’ sealed the deal for me to become a neurobiologist.”

She thanked Brian Davis and Michael Gold, professors of neurobiology at Pitt, for their support. “Both continue to inspire me to go beyond normal limits and to try out new and different ideas that might contradict current views.”

Waverly Duck wins Scholarly Achievement Award for book ‘Tacit Racism’

Waverly Duck, an associate professor in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, won the North Central Sociological Association's Scholarly Achievement Award for "Tacit Racism."

A three-member committee of association judges called it a “wonderful piece of research and scholarship.”

The book, co-authored with Anne Warfield Rawls, lays out the many ways in which racism is coded into the everyday social interactions of Americans.

“Tacit Racism,” published by University of Chicago Press, will be honored during an awards ceremony at the group's April 1-2 meeting in Indianapolis.

Alaina Roberts

History professor Roberts a finalist for Los Angeles Times Book Prize

Alaina E. Roberts, assistant professor of history in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, is a finalist for this year’s Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the history category.

In her book, “I’ve Been Here All the While: Black Freedom on Native Land,” Roberts tells the history of Indian territory during the Reconstruction era and the ways African-American and Native American history are tied together. Digging into archival research and family history, she connects debates about Black freedom and Native American citizenship to westward expansion onto native land.

This year’s winners will be announced at an award ceremony on April 22, marking the 42nd year of the prize recognizing literary achievement.

Three from Pitt presented at SXSW 2022

Three people from the University of Pittsburgh presented at SXSW 2022.

Dan Ding, associate professor in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, participated in, “The Technology Making Fitness More Accessible,” on March 11. Ding, who also has appointments in the Department of Bioengineering and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, discussed new tech to make fitness more accessible to people of all abilities, including adaptive sports and wheelchairs designed for activities like hiking.

Assistant Professor Lori Delale-O’Connor and Medina Jackson, P.R.I.D.E. director of engagement in the Office of Child Development, both from the School of Education, shared experiences, curiosities and more around promoting innovation as Black and Latinx educators for Black and Latinx youth during their panel, “Shifting Power in Educational R&D,” on March 8. They discussed how to make the world of academic research and development more diverse and equitable.

Hear the presentation by Delale-O'Connor and Jackson.

The 10-day festival in Austin, Texas, brings together entertainers, technologists, education specialists and other innovators to discuss the future of their industries.

Winners of the Black Excellence Service Award announced

The virtual Black Excellence Bash held Feb. 25 marked the conclusion of the University of Pittsburgh’s 2022 K. Leroy Irvis Black History Month Program.

The event brought together Pitt people, community members and stakeholders to announce and honor the recipients of the Black Excellence Service Award. The winners include current and former Black students, faculty or staff who were nominated for making significant contributions to the community through their time, actions, talents and dedication, and as role models for compassion and service.

Winners were announced across five categories — students, staff, faculty, businesses and alumni:

  • Jorden King (EDUC ’22)

  • Taylor Robinson (A&S ’21)

  • Channing Moreland, inaugural director of the SHRS Wellness Pavilion at the Homewood Community Engagement Center and senior director of strategic programs and services in School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences’ Office of Equity, Inclusion and Community Engagement

  • Khamara Turner, senior access and early engagement coordinator in the Office of Admissions and Financial Aid

  • Karen Gilmer, award-winning costume designer and lecturer in the Department of Theatre Arts in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences

  • Alecia Young, founder of YOGAMOTIF

  • Khristen Scott, assistant professor of English in the Dietrich School

  • Rev. Paul Abernathy (GSPH ’06)

  • Tre Tipton (A&S ’19)

Jumoke Davis (CGS ’05), Pitt’s new director of video production, served as the host while introductions were made by Kimberly Williams, a research associate and instructor in the Department of Anthropology, and Clyde Wilson Pickett, vice chancellor for equity, diversity and inclusion.

Danielle Obisie-Orlu (pictured above), a junior and the 2021-2022 Allegheny County Youth Poet Laureate, closed the ceremony with a performance of her original poem “The Becoming” — an ode to the contributions of Black Pitt community members at Pitt and the overall blue, gold and Black experience.

Education’s Kokka receives nearly $1 million NSF grant

The National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development Program awarded Kari Kokka a $996,249 grant. Kokka is an assistant professor of mathematics education in Pitt’s School of Education and the primary investigator for the five-year grant-funded project titled "Partnering with Teachers and Students to Engage in Mathematical Inquiry about Relevant Social Issues."

"The project partners with the math department of one Pittsburgh public high school and helps teachers learn to use social justice mathematics with their students," said Kokka.

The award is part of an NSF-wide initiative that supports early career faculty with the potential to serve as academic role models in research and education and to lead advances in the mission of their department or organization. Activities pursued by early career faculty build a firm foundation to sustain a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.

Kokka has long worked to combine justice and education. Born and raised in California, her high school honors classes didn't reflect the school's population, which Kokka recalls as 88 percent students of color. This experience, combined with being a fourth-generation Japanese American whose family was unconstitutionally incarcerated in internment camps during World War II, informed her understanding of white supremacy and racism from a young age.

"That's why I became a teacher — to work towards justice," Kokka said.

SVC for Research Rutenbar receives Pioneering Achievement Award

Senior Vice Chancellor for Research Rob A. Rutenbar has been named the 2021 SIGDA Pioneering Achievement Award recipient by the Association for Computing Machinery Special Interest Group on Design Automation (ACM SIGDA) for his “extraordinary leadership in analog design automation and general EDA education.”

This award recognizes outstanding contributions within the scope of electronic design automation (EDA) and is based on the impact of the awardee’s work during their lifetime.

Rutenbar pioneered the first commercially viable software design tools for custom analog circuits. Previously regarded as a problem only solvable by human experts, his research showed how to build automated tools that reached human expert levels of design. His startup company Neolinear, Inc., successfully commercialized these ideas and was acquired by Cadence Design Systems, which became the nucleus of the large Cadence Pittsburgh R&D office.

At the start of the Massive Open Online Course (MOOC) revolution, he also recognized the need to teach the core ideas of EDA to a global audience. His classes on the Coursera MOOC platform were the first for this important technology, enrolling more than 100,000 learners to date.

As Pitt’s senior vice chancellor for research, Rutenbar provides strategic vision, leadership and partnership expertise to help University researchers and scholars advance their world-class research, scholarship and innovation. He also holds Distinguished Professor appointments in the School of Computing and Information and Swanson School of Engineering.

Rutenbar will be presented the ACM SIGDA Pioneer Award at the group's annual meeting.

Nursing’s Gallagher honored for work on NIH COVID-19 Guidelines Panel

School of Nursing Professor John Gallagher recently received special recognition for his contributions to the National Institute of Health (NIH) COVID-19 Guidelines Panel.

The panel has worked on COVID-19 treatment guidelines for front-line workers. Gallagher, the only nurse in the country appointed to the panel, has been a member since 2020.

Gallagher received a letter of appreciation in December for his work on the NIH “Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) Treatment Guidelines” from two of the nation’s top doctors — Francis Collins, former director of the NIH, and Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Gallagher’s work helped create treatment guidelines used across the country during the pandemic that supported clinicians who were caring for patients suffering from the illness.

“Your devotion to the process, participating in virtual meetings that typically occurred multiple times per week, and numerous hours spent in writing and editing content, are much appreciated,” Collins and Fauci wrote in the letter.

“We are proud that, with your help and contributions, the guidelines have been updated 38 times since their first release in April 2020, reflecting our rapidly changing understanding of COVID-19. This has enabled the guidelines to be a ‘gold standard’ for currency and accuracy. We are also proud that the guidelines have been so widely used, with over 27 million page views as of November 21, 2021. Almost half of the page views currently come from outside the United States.”

“I was very proud that our individual efforts were recognized by these letters,” Gallagher said. “This panel operates at the highest level of integrity, and the guidelines we produce are based on the best scientific evidence available.”

Read more from the School of Nursing.

Engineering’s Niepa wins early career award from NSF

Tagbo Niepa, assistant professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at the Swanson School of Engineering, received a Faculty Early Career Development Award from the National Science Foundation

The $663,372, five-year funding will enable his lab to further explore how bacteria cope with changes in surface tension and energy, and their adaptation to changing conditions to develop new materials. The research also seeks to understand how viruses and nanomaterials could be used to control bacterial development at fluid interfaces. 

Biofilms are a ubiquitous, resilient form of microbial life. They can form where liquids and solids meet, like around a knee replacement; where air and liquid meet, like in the lungs; and where oil and water meet, like in an oil spill on the ocean.

Because of this extreme versatility, the mechanism of how they grow and adapt to different environments is not yet well understood. But a better grasp would not only help mitigate their deleterious health effects but also put them to work for us. 

The award also will allow Niepa to engage under-represented minority, first-generation and financially challenged pre-college and college students through a range of mentored experiences, including a “Bugs as Materials” Camp, a college application workshop and an international summer experience for undergraduates.

Shannon Reed book nominated for Thurber Prize

Shannon Reed, a lecturer in Pitt’s creative writing program, has been named a semifinalist for the 21st Thurber Prize for American Humor for her book, “Why Did I Get a B? And Other Mysteries We’re Discussing in the Faculty Lounge.”

Past winners for the Thurber Prize include Trevor Noah, Jon Stewart, David Sedaris and Pittsburgh native Damon Young.

“I don’t know if I can truly encompass all of the many things [this nomination] means to me,” Reed told Pittsburgh Magazine. “I’ve known about the Thurber Prize for a long time, and so many of the humor writers I admire and have read for years have been nominated for, or won it. To be included in that list is overwhelming and, frankly, unbelievable.”

Reed’s book is a collection of personal essays and humor that “explores all the joys, challenges and absurdities of being a teacher.” It came out in June 2020 from Atria Books.

The prize winner will be announced at a live ceremony on April 22.

Anna Balazs named to National Academy of Engineering

Less than a year after being elected to the National Academy of Sciences, University of Pittsburgh Distinguished Professor Anna Balazs has been named as one of the newest members of the National Academy of Engineering. 

The academy accepted Balazs’ membership “in recognition of distinguished contributions to engineering and for creative and imaginative work in predicting the behavior of soft materials that are composed of multiple cooperatively interacting components.”

She is the first faculty member in the Swanson School of Engineering to hold membership in both the Engineering and Science academies. Balazs and the 111 new members and 22 international members will be inducted at the academy’s a nnual meeting this fall in Washington, D.C.

Balazs’ research focuses on “biomimicry” and the theoretical and computational modeling of polymers. An internationally-acclaimed expert in the field, her many accolades also include the first woman to receive the prestigious Polymer Physics Prize from the American Physical Society in 2016. She is also the John A. Swanson Chair of Engineering in the Swanson School’s Department of Chemical and Petroleum Engineering,

Read more about Balazs on the Swanson School’s website.

Alejandro Hoberman

Hoberman first person to receive top clinical research award twice

Alejandro Hoberman,  executive vice chair of pediatrics, has received the 2022 Top 10 Clinical Research Achievement Award from the Clinical Research Forum, a nonprofit association of clinical research experts from the nation’s leading academic health centers.

Hoberman is the first person ever to receive this award on two separate occasions. 

The award recognizes Hoberman and his research team for a study entitled “Tympanostomy Tubes or Medical Management for Recurrent Acute Otitis Media.”  First published in May 2021 in the New England Journal of Medicine, the study found no long-term benefit to surgically placing ear tubes in a young child’s ears to reduce the rate of recurrent ear infections compared to use of episodic oral antibiotics.

In 2015, the Clinical Research Forum recognized Hoberman for his team’s findings in “Antimicrobial Prophylaxis for Children with Vesicoureteral Reflux,” a two-year multi-site study demonstrating how use of low-dose preventive antibiotic therapy in children diagnosed with vesicoureteral reflux following an initial episode of urinary tract infection significantly reduced the likelihood of recurrences of urinary tract infection, but did not reduce risk of renal scarring.

Among his roles at Pitt Pediatrics, Hoberman is the Jack L. Paradise Distinguished Service Professor of Pediatrics and Clinical and Translational Medicine, Vice Chair for Clinical Research, and director of the Division of General Academic Pediatrics. Hoberman also has administrative responsibilities as the president of UPMC Children’s Community Pediatrics.

Three professors named to National Academy of Inventors

The National Academy of Inventors (NAI) has selected three Pitt professors among 83 academic inventors for the 2022 class of NAI Senior Members. They are:

  • Antonio D’Amore, research assistant professor, surgery and bioengineering and the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine

  • Cecelia Yates, associate professor, health promotion & development, School of Nursing

  • Maliha Zahid, assistant professor, developmental biology

NAI Senior Members are active faculty, scientists and administrators from NAI member institutions who have demonstrated remarkable innovation producing technologies that have brought, or aspire to bring, real impact on the welfare of society. They also have growing success in patents, licensing and commercialization.

“I am thrilled that these Pitt innovators are being recognized for their extraordinary commitment to making an impact on the world through the commercialization of their discoveries,” said Evan Facher, vice chancellor for innovation and entrepreneurship and director of the Innovation Institute. “The common thread for this year’s cohort of Pitt NAI Senior Member inductees is that not only are they passionate about bringing their own ideas to life, but they are also equally dedicated to cultivating the next generation of innovators through their mentorship activities.”

D’Amore is a pioneer in developing tissue-engineered heart valves, vascular grafts and cardiac patches. 

Yates has already participated in the creation of three startup companies aimed at stopping and even reversing the progression of fibrosis. 

Zahid launched a startup, Vivasc Therapeutics Inc., in 2019 and serves as chief scientific officer. The company is initially focused on the treatment of atrial fibrillation and ventricular tachycardia.

Read more about their research on the Innovation Institute website.

Amber Johnson

Amber Johnson receives $50,000 Escalator Award

Amber Johnson, a Pitt assistant professor of medicine, is one of four recipients of the 2022 Escalator Awards. The $50,000 grant from Women as One will go to the University of Pittsburgh in recognition of Johnson as a talented woman in cardiology.

Johnson, a cardiologist who is certified in cardiovascular disease and internal medicine, plans to explore neighborhood-level determinants of health for patients with hypertension.

“Dr. Johnson is one of our most successful academic cardiologists,” said Mark T. Gladwin, professor and chair of Pitt’s Department of Medicine. “She is committed to advancing our understanding of how racial and economic disparities affect the delivery of cardiovascular care and the prevalence and severity of heart diseases.”

Johnson has published more than 30 manuscripts about health equity in cardiovascular disease and has received multiple awards, including the 40 Under 40 Leaders in Minority Health award from the National Minority Quality Forum and grants from the National Institutes of Health.

Leigh Patel

Patel elected to National Academy of Education

Leigh Patel, professor in the School of Education, is one of 17 new members elected to the National Academy of Education (NAEd), an honorific society of scholars and educators who make outstanding contributions to the education field.

“This is a significant honor that means a great deal to me,” Patel said. “There are a number of Black, Indigenous, migrant, and decolonial women in the academy doing quality research that impacts the possible futures of Black and Brown children. Their work has deeply influenced me, and it’s an honor to be in the same group.”

As a member of NAEd, Patel will serve on expert study panels that address pressing issues in education and be involved as a mentor for the organization’s professional development fellowship programs.

Patel, who joined Pitt Education in 2018, is a transdisciplinary scholar who studies the narratives that shape how people are treated in society. She is an internationally known scholar of education, ethnic studies, critical higher education studies, and literacy.

One of her current projects — in collaboration with PittEd Justice Collective facilitator Anneliese Martinez and predoctoral fellow Ogechi Irondi — is to create an oral history of parent and caregiver experiences when schools shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Terry Smith

Terry Smith wins Teacher of Art History Award

The College Art Association, a professional body for art historians, artists and the museum community, has bestowed its Distinguished Teacher of Art History Award for 2022 on Pitt professor Terry Smith.

Smith is a professor of contemporary art history and theory in the Department of the History of Art and Architecture in the Dietrich School of Arts & Sciences. He also is a professor in the Division of Philosophy, Art and Critical Thought at the European Graduate School, which has campuses in Switzerland and Malta.

The citation from the association says: “Terry Smith has long written, curated and taught across borders, in the beginning coming from Australia to study and work in New York as both a scholar and an active member of Art & Language. He has been expanding his sights ever since. He has long advocated for the study of indigenous art. For the past 20 years, starting with projects such as Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin, 1950s–1980s at the Queens Museum, he was the trusted collaborator of Okwui Enwezor. He has always insisted that the past and the present be given their due consideration and global perspectives.”

Smith received his award at the association’s annual meeting last week.

Four innovation teams awarded Chancellor’s Gap Funds

Four Pitt innovation teams have been selected to receive a total of $263,000 in commercialization grants from the Chancellor’s Gap Fund to accelerate their path from the lab to the market.

The Chancellor’s Gap Fund was reauthorized in 2021 to provide critical bridge funding for research projects that have demonstrated strong commercialization potential but require key proof of concept experiments or other data or prototypes in order to attract interest from potential investors or industry partners. The fund provides grants ranging from $25,000 to $75,000, based on what is needed to advance the project through a significant milestone.

Expressions of interest for the next funding cycle will be accepted beginning in April.

Innovation teams receiving awards in the current cohort include:

PACE-RTP: Perception-Action Coupling Evaluation for Return to Play: A rapid and reliable method for measuring sport-related concussion. Principal investigator: Chris Connaboy, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. Co-investigators: Alice LaGoy, Neuromuscular Research Laboratory; Shawn Eagle, Department of Neurological Surgery.

Youbiotics: Personalized probiotics for weight management. Principal investigator: Steven Little, Swanson School of Engineering. Co-investigators: Matt Borrelli, Swanson School of Engineering; Abhinav Acharya, Arizona State University; Jonathan Krakoff, National Institutes of Health.

Reusable and self-sterilizing 3D HEPA metal filters: 3-D printed porous metal filter for use in air filtration applications in masks, room- or building-based air filtration. Principal investigator: Markus Chmielus, Swanson School of Engineering. 

LiDIA: Listening, iDentification and Instant Amplification: Device for greatly broadening the identification of hearing loss that is currently untreated. Principal investigator: Catherine Palmer, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. Co-investigators: Jeffrey Vipperman, Swanson School of Engineering; Erik Rauterkus, School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.