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National Kidney Foundation Appoints Paul M. Palevsky President of its National Board

The National Kidney Foundation (NKF) announced that nephrologist Paul M. Palevsky as the next president of its board of directors. Palevsky, a Pitt professor of medicine and chief of kidney medicine at the VA Pittsburgh Healthcare System, will serve a two-year term.

“I am honored and humbled by the opportunity to help lead the NKF and to advocate for the estimated 37 million adults in the U.S. with kidney disease and the millions more at risk,” Palevsky said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has made apparent the vulnerabilities of patients with kidney disease and has highlighted disparities in medical care, particularly among minority communities, that we must address."

Palevsky is internationally recognized as an expert in acute kidney injury and critical care nephrology and has helped lead multiple clinical trials focused on management of acute dialysis, prevention of acute kidney injury and slowing the progression of diabetic kidney disease.

The board meets three times per year and is charged with fiduciary, fundraising and governance responsibilities for NKF.

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Statistics’ Joshua Cape Awarded NSF Grant to Study Immigration and US Job Market

Joshua Cape, assistant professor of statistics in the University of Pittsburgh's Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, together with collaborators at Johns Hopkins University, has received a $550,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) for the proposal “Methods and Applications for Massive One-mode and Bipartite Social Networks.”

The NSF grant will enable Cape and his colleagues to develop new methods and modeling capabilities for large-scale network data. Using datasets from the Longitudinal Employer-Household Dynamics program at the U.S. Census Bureau, the project will examine the influence of immigration on the U.S. job market over time. The transdisciplinary research team consists of principal investigator Angelo Mele, co-principal investigators Lingxin Hao, Carey E. Priebe—all from Johns Hopkins University—and Joshua Cape.

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Pitt Researchers to Study Gender-Integrated Recruit Training in Military Settings

The Neuromuscular Research Laboratory/Warrior Human Performance Research Center at the University of Pittsburgh was recently awarded $2 million from the U.S. Marine Corps to study gender-integrated recruit training.

The multi-institutional collaborative study will analyze combinations of gender-integrated training and make recommendations for models that integrate genders to the greatest extent possible while continuing to train Marines to established standards. Specifically, the study will address the sociological and physical training effects of increased gender integration and consider training models which maintain the same level of discipline, physical fitness, attention to detail and camaraderie.

“The Academic Study of U.S. Marine Corps Gender-Integrated Recruit Training will utilize a multistage mixed-method study design and address multidisciplinary evaluation questions through both a social science and human performance lens,” said co-principal investigator Mita Lovalekar, who is an associate professor in Pitt’s Department of Sports Medicine and Nutrition in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. “Our study will also assess musculoskeletal injury patterns between male and female recruits during entry level training which will extend upon our prior work identifying the financial and medical costs for these injuries and the negative impact on military readiness.”

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Wells Competition Awards Three Healthcare Startup Teams

Three entries to the 10th annual Michael G. Wells Competition, hosted by the University of Pittsburgh’s Innovation Institute, won $5,000 prizes for their work toward healthcare innovation.

The winners included BioBulwark, a mesh implant that provides long-lasting prevention of infection superior to currently popular organic chemical coatings; Biocarpet, an endovascular device that can be shaped by heat to treat peripheral arterial disease occurring in small and complex anatomies, including lesions occurring across joints; and OPS, an endovascular device that provides oxygenated blood flow to critical abdominal organs to maintain organ health for transplant harvesting.

The competition usually awards grand prize winners $20,000, second-place winners $10,000 and third-place winners $5,000. The competition’s namesake, Michael G. Wells (pictured), said the decision to distribute prize money equally came from the judging panel determining that these teams could benefit from money and time to move their ideas along. Wells also said prize money that wasn’t given out will be awarded to teams early next year who have shown “demonstrable progress” in their respective projects.

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Web App for Surgical, Anesthetic Scheduling Wins Kuzneski Cup

ChangeOR took home the grand prize for the fifth annual Kuzneski Innovation Cup, hosted by the University of Pittsburgh’s Innovation Institute.

The project is a multi-platform web application that allows for the efficient delivery of real-time surgical and anesthetic scheduling information. The research is being led by Evan Lebovitz, an assistant professor in the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Anesthesiology and Perioperative Medicine, and Mark E. Hudson, UPMC Richard J. Kuwik Endowed Professor in the same department.

Second place was awarded to AI Smiles, an additive-manufactured denture that dramatically reduces cost, appointments and waste in dental settings. Third prize was awarded to NanoNares, a platform technology for pharmaceutical companies that develop respiratory drugs which experience high failure rates in clinical trials.

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Pitt Students Qualify for International Chem-E-Car Competition

Preparing for a race without knowing how far you have to go is a difficult test of skill. It’s even more demanding when you have to compete virtually.

A team of Pitt students met that challenge in October when their model car—propelled by a chemical mix of their own creation—finished fourth in the regional leg of the Chem-E-Car Competition, qualifying them for the international finals on Nov. 15.

The annual Chem-E-Car Competition, sponsored by AIChE, the global association of chemical engineers, requires student teams to create a small car with chemical propulsion and stopping mechanisms that allow it to travel a specified distance and carry a payload (0-500 mL of water).

This is the second year in a row that the team has qualified for the international competition, finishing 12th overall and winning the Chem-E-Car poster competition last year.

“I’m so proud of what the team has accomplished, especially under such challenging conditions,” said Taryn Bayles, vice chair of undergraduate education and professor of chemical and petroleum engineering at Pitt. “Their hard work paid off, and I look forward to seeing them succeed again at the international competition.”  

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Joel Philistin Named New Financial Wellness Program Director

The Office of Admissions and Financial Aid (OAFA) and Student Affairs have jointly named Joel Philistin their financial wellness program director. Philistin started in the newly created position in September.

“Financial wellness represents being equipped with the knowledge, skills and resources to make informed financial decisions. The financial decisions that college students make today can impact them well beyond graduation. Our program goal is to give our students the tools to build a strong financial foundation for now and after graduation.” said Philistin.

Philistin came to Pitt from the College of the Mainland, where he served as a financial literacy educator and financial aid advisor from 2018 to 2020. There, he relaunched the college’s financial literacy program with an emphasis on classroom workshops and increasing financial aid applications; over two years, the number of students who applied for financial aid at the college increased by 3%.

Philistin also worked at Houston Community College where he helped develop an award-winning student loan debt series and launched several initiatives, including a food scholarship program and Hurricane Harvey emergency grant. Prior to his work in higher education, Philistin worked in the banking industry, first as a teller and then assistant branch manager, before earning a master’s degree in public administration with a focus on non-profit management.

Randall McCready, executive director of financial aid in OAFA, hopes the new position will engage students to learn more about their finances especially during a time of great economic uncertainty.

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Pitt HR Reports Success from Annual Disability Mentoring Day

The University of Pittsburgh Office of Human Resources reported success from its annual Disability Mentoring Day, which took place at Beaver Area High School in mid-October.

In the annual event, the office partners with other University areas to provide mentoring to local high school students with disabilities. It focuses primarily on items like resume writing and interviewing. While the office hosts the event on campus each year, with visits to Panther Central and Pitt Police, this year’s event was held virtually.

Participants included 29 employers and more than 700 total students. They came from the city of Pittsburgh, the counties of Allegheny, Washington and Westmoreland, and 40 school districts.

“Our Pittsburgh region has always shown remarkable participation in this event, which has—and continues to get—high marks,” said Tom Armstrong, recruiter for veterans and individuals with disabilities in Pitt’s Office of Human Resources.

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Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center Receives NSF Grant for Nerve Cell Research

The Pittsburgh Supercomputing Center, a joint research effort by the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University, recently received a $750,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, which will continue a lab-computer collaboration that accurately simulates communications between nerve cells and muscle cells. Stephen Meriney, professor of neuroscience in Pitt’s Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, is a principal investigator of the project.

The project has immediate applications in treating a type of neurological disease called Lambert-Eaton Myasthenic Syndrome (LEMS). It also offers fundamental insights into how nerve cells communicate with muscle cells in health and disease. LEMS is a neurological disease in which a person’s immune system attacks calcium channels, leading to a weaker communication between nerve and muscle, which causes weaker muscle contractions and an inability of patients to move and function normally.

In earlier work, scientists at the center and Pitt simulated the role of the calcium channels of the nerve-cell membrane in communication between nerve and muscle cells in frogs and mice. The work faithfully reproduced the nerve-to-muscle signaling differences seen in those species.

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Ann E. Cudd Delivers Presidential Address to Law, Social Philosophy Organization

Provost and Senior Vice Chancellor Ann E. Cudd delivered the presidential address at the October 2020 biannual conference of the American Section of the International Association for Philosophy of Law and Social Philosophy (AMINTAPHIL). The meeting, which focused on the topic of “Education, Inclusion and Justice,” gathered scholars from around the world for three days of intensive discussions.

AMINTAPHIL membership includes philosophers, legal theorists, political scientists and economists with interests in probing issues about justice, society, the economy and democracy.

Cudd’s address was titled “After the Apocalypse: The Future of Higher Education.”

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Changfeng Tai Receives $10.5 Million DARPA Award

Changfeng Tai, associate professor of urology and pharmacology in the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, was awarded $10.5 million from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) to develop a medical device that would help people who suffered spinal cord injuries.

Through the five-year award, Tai and his team will develop a fully implantable, wirelessly controlled and chargeable stimulator to restore three visceral functions including bladder, bowel and sexual functions for people with spinal cord injuries. Restoring these visceral functions remains a top priority for functional recovery in people with spinal cord injuries, and can dramatically improve the quality of life and prevent potential kidney failure caused by bladder-sphincter dyssynergia. The device would act similarly to how a pacemaker helps the heart pump blood, except it would be inserted under the skin in the lower back.

“This award is significant in the progress of this device,” said Tai. “The hope is that this will one day ease the burden that people with disabilities related to spinal cord injuries face every day, including military veterans. We will work with our collaborators to build a system that will allow for human clinical trial use.”

DARPA is a research and development agency of the United States Department of Defense responsible for the development of emerging technologies for use by the military. The award is part of DARPA’s BG+ program.

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Amanda Godley Recognized with Award for Teacher Development

Amanda Godley, vice provost for graduate studies, received the 2020 Richard A. Meade Award from the National Council of Teachers of English for “outstanding research in English and language arts teacher development.”

The award recognizes published, research-based work that promotes English language arts teacher development at any educational level. It was established in 1988 in honor of the late Richard Meade for his contributions to research in the teaching and training of composition and teacher preparation.

Godley, also a professor in the Department of Teaching, Learning and Leading in the School of Education, received the award for “Critical Language Pedagogy: Interrogating Language, Power and Dialects in Teacher Education,” a book she co-authored with Jeff Reaser of the University of North Carolina on how teachers develop critical perspectives on teaching about language and dialects. Their research was funded by the Spencer Foundation.

“This is a big honor for Jeff and me, particularly since it was important to us that our project not only contributed to research on teacher learning but also provided a practical resource for English teachers and teacher educators,” said Godley.

Godley is a former high school English teacher. Her research focuses on secondary literacy instruction, including critical language pedagogy, peer review of writing and developing apps to improve classroom discussions. Her research has been published in various journals, including Research in the Teaching of English and Reading Research Quarterly.

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Lillian Chong Chosen for Open Science Fellows Program

Lillian Chong, an associate professor in the Department of Chemistry in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, has been chosen as one of five members of the 2020 Silicon Therapeutics Open Science Fellows Program. The program was created in 2017 to advance the open science movement within the drug discovery industry and support investigators committed to the open science movement through their contributions to open source software. Chong’s research involves the development and application of molecular simulation approaches to model a variety of biophysical processes.

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Critical Care Physician-Researchers Assume JAMA Editorial Roles

One of the world’s most prestigious academic medical journals announced that it is strengthening its editorial team with expertise from UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine.

Derek Angus, chief health care innovation officer at UPMC and professor and chair of the Department of Critical Care Medicine at Pitt, will become a senior editor at the Journal of the American Medical Association.

Christopher Seymour, UPMC intensivist and director of the Translational and Clinical Science Program at the Clinical Research, Investigation and Systems Modeling of Acute Illness Center in Pitt’s School of Medicine, will take Angus’ place as associate editor at JAMA, focused on critical care medicine.

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Public Health's Steven Albert is Next Gerontological Society of America's Innovation in Aging Editor

The Gerontological Society of America (GSA)—the nation’s largest interdisciplinary organization devoted to the field of aging—has named Steven M. Albert, chair of the University of Pittsburgh Graduate School of Public Health’s Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences, as the next editor-in-chief of the journal Innovation in Aging, effective January 2021.

“We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Albert as editor-in-chief. He has a stellar career in aging research and has profound leadership and management skills that will be essential in this role,” said Ishan C. Williams, the chair of GSA’s Program, Publications and Products Committee. 

Innovation in Aging is an online open access journal. It contains conceptually sound, methodologically rigorous research studies that describe innovative theories, research methods, interventions, evaluations and policies relevant to aging and the life course.

“In its four years as an online journal, Innovation in Aging has already made its mark as a place for cutting-edge research,” Albert said. “It attracts high-quality research that cuts across the disparate fields of gerontology.”

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Engineering Researchers Receive NSF Award

The University of Pittsburgh's Nathan Youngblood and Feng Xiong, assistant professors of electrical and computer engineering, have received $380,000 from the National Science Foundation to study phase-change materials and overcome the challenges inherent in the technology, which is promising for new applications like high-speed computing and advanced optical storage.

Read more about their work

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NSF Grant Funds Michael Madison's Collaborative Efforts to Build Research Coordination Network

Michael Madison, professor of law at the University of Pittsburgh, is co-leading a novel research collaborative called The Governing Knowledge Commons Project, which received a National Science Foundation award to support their efforts to build a research coordination network. 

The other co-principal investigators are Brett Frischmann, the Charles Widger Endowed University Professor in Law, Business and Economics, at Villanova University's Charles Widger School of Law; and Katherine Jo Strandburg, the Alfred B. Engelberg Professor of Law at New York University's School of Law.

This NSF-funded project will extend existing research, supporting a new network designed to build a research community to advance the work systematically and scientifically. 

This network, funded by a $350,000 grant, will assemble researchers from around the world and from law, the social and behavioral sciences, computer science, and engineering, allowing them to coordinate, integrate and communicate research across multiple disciplinary and organizational boundaries.

The project, which will take place over three years, will facilitate a series of focused working conferences, each organized around a specific subject matter, as well as a capstone convergence conference bringing the entire network and its research together.

“It’s an exciting time for knowledge commons research. IP law focuses on exclusive property rights. We’re focused on the power of collaboration. I’m thrilled by the recognition by the NSF and what these resources offer to the future of the field and to the future of technology policy,” said Madison.

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PhD Student Robin Zwier Honored by American Association of University Women

The American Association of University Women (AAUW) awarded one of its 2020-21 fellowships and grants to Robin Zwier, a scholar at the University of Pittsburgh pursuing a PhD in rhetoric. Recipients will pursue academic work and lead innovative community projects to empower women and girls.

Since 1888, AAUW has awarded more than $115 million in fellowships, grants and awards to 13,000 recipients from more than 105 countries. For the 2020–21 academic year, AAUW awarded a total of $3.5 million through seven fellowships and grants programs to more than 200 scholars and community projects and programs promoting education and equity for women and girls.

Educational funding is especially important given that women are disproportionately burdened by student debt. And their ability to pay off that debt is hampered by a lifelong pay gap that affects women in nearly every profession. The pay gap widens over time and has consequences on all aspect of a woman’s financial life, from paying for an education to saving for a comfortable retirement. AAUW’s awards help to alleviate the burden of student debt so women can focus on developing their skills and experience. 

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Social Work’s Darren Whitfield Receives National Institute of Mental Health Grant

University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work Assistant Professor Darren Whitfield received a $443,533 grant from the National Institute of Mental Health to investigate the relationship between psychosocial factors (depressive symptomatology, substance use, social support, perceived HIV risk) and adherence and persistence to HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) among young Black gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM).  

Young Black MSM continue to experience a disproportionate rate of HIV infections in the United States. HIV PrEP is a biomedical prevention intervention shown to reduce risk of HIV infection; however, studies suggest young Black MSM are less likely to be prescribed PrEP and have significantly lower levels of adherence to PrEP compared to white MSM. PrEP use among young Black MSM is estimated at between 3%-20%. In addition to concerns with adherence, persistence on PrEP among young Black MSM is low, with discontinuation rates ranging between 17% to 22% within six months of starting PrEP.

This study will examine the factors associated with long-term adherence to PrEP in young Black MSM in Atlanta, a city with a large concentration of young Black MSM impacted by HIV. The study is a collaboration between the University of Pittsburgh School of Social Work and Emory University Rollins School of Public Health. 

“Currently there is an explosion of activity in the development of PrEP products. This study is important because irrespective of the administration of PrEP, adherence will always be the determining factor for maintaining HIV-negative. Ultimately, the goal of this study is to determine intervention opportunities which will increase adherence and persistence and lead to a decrease in HIV infections among young Black MSM,” said Whitfield.

The co-principal investigator of this study is Jeb Jones at Emory University Rollins School of Public Health and the co-investigator for the study is Patrick Sullivan at Emory University Rollins School of Public Health. Further collaborators in the study include Positive Impact Health Centers, NAESM Inc. and the Fulton County Board of Health.  

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Research Ties Andean Drought To Greenland Warming During Last Glacial Period

A paper published by Arielle Woods, a PhD student in the Department of Geology and Environmental Science in the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, has tied abrupt warming in Greenland ice cores to changes in tropical South American climate during the last glacial cycle. “Andean Drought and Glacial Retreat Tied to Greenland Warming During the Last Glacial Period,” examines sediment records from a lake in the Peruvian Andes to document how climate change has impacted drought conditions and glacial retreat.

Woods, who is lead author on the paper, worked with Mark Abbott, a professor in the Department of Geology and Environmental Science, postdoctoral associate Sophie Lehmann, and Pitt alum Nicholas Weidhaas, in addition to national and international collaborators, to complete the work. The paper was published in Nature Communications on Oct. 12.