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October 1, 2015

Research Notes

Popular Science reveals the 2015 “Brilliant 10”

RN.Jonathan pruittPitt biologist Jonathan Pruitt  has been named one of Popular Science magazine’s Brilliant 10, honoring the brightest young minds in science and engineering.

Those on the list are networking cars, decoding the brain, preventing plagues — and, in the case of Pruitt, using spider societies to explain evolution, providing the first proof that individuals in the wild sometimes sacrifice their own genetic survival for the sake of the group, a topic of hot contention among biologists for 40 years.

Said Pruitt: “It’s a simultaneously startling and exciting experience to be listed among this year’s Brilliant 10. To know that our work has been able to pique the interest of such an audience is a dream come true. Our work on societal demise and the role this plays in evolution is very exciting to us and controversial in our discipline. I suspect people would be startled to know how much spider societies resemble our own.”

Pruitt, a faculty member in behavioral ecology in the Department of Biological Sciences in the Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences, became the first to empirically demonstrate group selection acting in the wild. His findings were published in Nature.

The notion of group selection — that members of social species exhibit individual behavioral traits that render a population more or less fit for survival — has been bandied about in evolutionary biology since Darwin. The essence of the argument against the theory is that it’s a fuzzy concept without the precision of gene-based selection.

Pruitt said that the theory of group selection argues that competition among groups should be a potent force in the evolution of animal societies, ranging from insects to humans and everything in between. While to a layperson this makes perfect sense (for instance, imagine all the ways that inter-tribal conflicts or wars among nations have influenced human society), in evolutionary biology the concept of group selection has been one of the most contentious topics in the field. Pruitt used a rare kind of animal society, a social spider, to experimentally demonstrate that the rise and fall of societies is contingent on their ability to exhibit the perfect behavioral mix.

Female social spiders exhibit one of two behavior types, either docile or aggressive. Pruitt’s work demonstrated that the ratio of docile to aggressive females is a major determinant of colony success and different environments call for different mixtures. Colonies that exhibit the wrong mixture collapse.

However, with the proper mixture, colonies flourish and quadruple in size. Never before has anyone demonstrated such dire consequences of group composition in any animal.

Pruitt also demonstrated that societies have evolved the ability to maintain their optimal mixtures. When the mixtures of societies were experimentally altered, Pruitt demonstrated that societies can remedy their ailing mixtures by individuals selectively halting their reproductive output: whichever personality type is overabundant decreases (or ceases) reproduction. Pruitt’s work further provides evidence that the mechanisms colonies use to regulate their mixtures are genetically determined. In other words, group selection caused colonies to evolve mechanisms to maintain the perfect mix.

NSF funds walking exoskeleton

Outside of science fiction, the idea of donning a bionic suit, rocketing into the sky and saving the world hasn’t quite gotten off the ground; however, two new grants totaling $500,209 in the Swanson School of Engineering make great strides in helping paraplegics walk while wearing a mechanical exoskeleton.

Nitin Sharma, mechanical engineering and materials science faculty member, will lead the research on walking exoskeletons, mechanical frames placed over parts of the human body. They work in unison with the body, like armored insect shells, to facilitate or enhance tasks such as walking and lifting heavy objects. Researchers are beginning to find applications for powered and unpowered exoskeletons in a variety of fields, including rehabilitation science, the military and general consumer technology.

Sharma will focus on optimizing the potential of two prevalent technologies used for mechanically assisted walking: functional electrical stimulation (FES), which uses low-level electrical currents to activate leg muscles, and powered exoskeletons, which use electric motors mounted on an external frame to move the wearer’s joints. The resulting hybrid aims to capitalize on the best of both systems.

Said Sharma: “We are trying to combine electrical stimulation with robotics to design a control system for a hybrid exoskeleton. It’s like a hybrid car switching between a gas engine and an electric motor depending on circumstance. The algorithms we are developing determine when to use power from FES and when to use the power from the motors on the frame.”

The first grant comes from the General and Age-Related Disabilities Engineering Division of NSF. “UNS: Optimal Adaptive Control Methods for a Hybrid Exoskeleton” will investigate a new class of control algorithms that adapt to allocate optimized control inputs to FES and electric motors during single joint movements.

The Civil, Mechanical and Manufacturing Innovation Division of the NSF is funding “Coordinating Electrical Stimulation and Motor Assist in a Hybrid Neuroprosthesis Using Control Strategies Inspired by Human Motor Control.” In this study, Sharma will research control algorithms to determine an optimal synergy between FES-induced multijoint movements and movements aided by a powered exoskeleton.

Both projects will examine the efficiency of exoskeleton technology for manufacturers hoping to develop new hybrid models that take advantage of FES technology, powered frames and robotics.

“Current exoskeleton research is using devices completely powered by electric motors,” said Sharma. “They have huge battery packs and can only provide a maximum of about an hour of continuous walking. With FES, you are using a person’s own muscles to make that person walk. FES also has been shown clinically to improve cardiovascular fitness, increase muscle strength and prevent atrophy.”

Sharma also heads the Neuromuscular Control and Robotics Laboratory, where researchers also are developing similar structures for upper limb stimulation. These devices may benefit rehabilitation and therapy services by performing repeated or extended tasks — often consuming several hours — for physical therapists. Researchers may be able to apply an algorithm similar to the one balancing external power and electrical stimulation in walking exoskeletons to devices that help patients recovering from a stroke relearn skills lost to brain damage.

Astronomers exploring dark energy

Two hundred physicists and astronomers, including Jeffrey Newman and Andrew Zentner of the Department of Physics and Astronomy in the Dietrich school, are one step closer to a deeper understanding of dark energy, the unknown phenomenon causing the expansion of the universe to accelerate rather than slow down because of gravity.

Astronomers at the University have been working on developing a new project known as DESI, the Dark Energy Spectroscopic Instrument. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has approved the project’s scientific scope, schedule and funding profile, enabling work on DESI to begin.

Newman and colleagues have developed new techniques for selecting which galaxies DESI should observe in order to map out the underlying structure of dark matter most efficiently. This work focuses on finding a class of objects known as luminous red galaxies, which are among the oldest and most massive galaxies in the universe. These galaxies are found only in the most massive concentrations of matter, serving as visible signposts of where dark matter can be found. Meanwhile, Zentner is working on improving the theoretical underpinnings and developing new methods for the measurements DESI will make.

Said Newman: “DESI will enable a revolutionary step forward in our ability to solve some of the greatest problems in physics today.”

Fundamentally, DESI will help reveal how dark energy and gravity have competed over time to shape the universe. DESI will make a three-dimensional map of more than 30 million galaxies and quasars, using them to trace the underlying distribution of dark matter and to chart the largest structures in the universe. With DESI’s precision measurements of how the pattern of matter clustering has expanded over time, scientists can probe the nature of dark energy in detail. Simultaneously, DESI will determine how efficiently gravity attracts galaxies into higher-density regions of the universe, which provides a strong test of whether Einstein’s general theory of relativity is accurate on cosmic scales.

These measurements will be made using a new, state-of-the-art instrument mounted on the 4-meter Nicholas U. Mayall Telescope at Kitt Peak National Observatory near Tucson, Arizona. DESI will use robotically positioned fiber optics to gather light from nearly 5,000 objects at a time, allowing it to rapidly map out the universe as it appeared up to 12 billion years in the past (more than 85 percent of the way back to the Big Bang).

Key to DESI’s present and future success is its scientific collaboration, incorporating 31 universities and 18 governmental and private institutions in the United States and other countries. DOE and NSF soon will begin joint support for Mayall Telescope operations, preparatory work and installation of the DESI instrument, paving the way for DESI to begin taking data by 2019.

Work on the DESI project is supported by the DOE Office of Science and Office of High Energy Physics.

How do mammals localize odors?

bloodhoundResearchers in the School of Medicine and the Department of Mathematics in the Dietrich school are part of a multicenter team that has been awarded a $6.4 million, three-year federal grant to figure out how animals localize the smell of mates, food and other significant scents.

As part of its efforts under the federal BRAIN initiative, the NSF is providing more than $15 million for 17 scientists collaborating in three multi-institutional projects designed to explore the sense of smell. Nathan Urban, neurobiology faculty member in medicine and associate director of the University of Pittsburgh Brain Institute, is co-principal investigator of the Pitt arm of the effort.

Said Urban: “We don’t really understand how the nose and brain enable a bloodhound to track a missing person, or rats to find landmines in Angola. If we could understand how the olfactory system accomplishes this task, it could lead us to strategies to create artificial chemical detection systems. It also could be a model for understanding other sensory systems and the integration of multiple sensory cues.”

Localizing where a smell is coming from is a very difficult problem to solve because it requires sampling odors at a distance from the source in turbulent air.

Thus the team includes experts in mathematics, the physics of airflow, neuroscience and evolutionary biology to build models that quantify odors and develop algorithms of how they distribute in the environment, as well as to measure how animals and their brains react when exposed to odor plumes.

Said co-principal investigator Bard Ermentrout, faculty member in mathematics: “We can localize sound in part because of differences between what the right and left ears hear. Perhaps animals can orient by smell because of concentration differences picked up by each nostril, as well as incredibly rapid detection of increasing or decreasing intensities of odors. We intend to design mathematical models to examine these strategies.”

The researchers said such models could potentially be useful for national security and law enforcement through improved methods for the detection of explosives, olfactory robots to replace trained animals and advances in robotic control. They also could lead to the development of technologies that interfere with the ability of flying insects, such as disease-carrying mosquitos and crop pests, to locate their odor target.

In humans, about one in five cases of anosmia — the inability to smell properly — develop after an upper respiratory tract infection.

“Anosmia can be a complication of neurodegenerative disorders including Alzheimer’s disease and Parkinson’s disease,” Urban noted. “In the future, we want to connect the dots and figure out why brain diseases can have these consequences.”

The project’s other principal investigators are from the University of Colorado, the University of California-Berkeley, Weill Cornell Medical College, New York University Medical Center and the John Pierce Laboratory.

HIV cure, better therapies studied

A husband-wife team researching a cure for HIV/AIDS at the Center for Vaccine Research (CVR) received $6.3 million total in two grants from the National Institutes of Health (NIH).

The grants are the latest in the team’s successful run garnering NIH support for their HIV research, now totaling $23 million since they came to Pitt six years ago.

Said Ronald Montelaro, microbiology and molecular genetics faculty member in the School of Medicine and co-director of Pitt’s CVR: “These grants further cement the critical role our researchers will continue to play in developing a cure.”

Ivona Pandrea, molecular virology and microbiology faculty member, is principal investigator on a $3 million grant to look at the relation between accelerated aging characteristics linked to HIV infection and the non-AIDS comorbidities, or coexisting conditions, associated with this process.

She will investigate the relation between hypercoagulation — which is excessive blood clotting strongly associated with death in HIV-infected patients on antiretroviral therapy — and accelerated aging, testing therapies to tackle both these processes.

Understanding and controlling comorbidities associated with HIV, particularly in patients receiving antiretroviral treatments, are among the most important priorities of current AIDS research.

People with HIV who take medication can live for decades without progressing to AIDS, but they are far more likely than their peers without HIV to have cardiovascular, lung, kidney and liver diseases as well as osteoporosis, and to experience accelerated aging — where their bodies more closely resemble those of someone years or decades older.

“Modern medicine has made incredible strides in helping people with HIV to live nearly normal lifespans,” said Pandrea. “However, until we can develop a cure, we need to improve the quality of life and health for people on HIV medications.”

Cristian Apetrei, microbiology and molecular genetics faculty member, is principal investigator on a $3.3 million grant to look at the cellular reservoirs for HIV in the body in order to find ways to reactivate the virus from these reservoirs and help the immune system clear reactivated virus.

Current HIV medications control HIV by making it difficult for the virus to replicate, but if patients stop taking the drugs, the virus harbored in these reservoirs can bounce back quickly.

There have been a few high-profile cases where it appeared that people had been cured of HIV. One was a Mississippi baby who later was discovered to still have the virus, and another was a Berlin man who had many medical interventions, including stem cell transplants, and now does not have the virus.

“His case is being thoroughly studied,” said Apetrei. “But we do not know for sure which of his treatments worked, or why. My research will carefully deconstruct various treatments that could be responsible for a cure to find out if there is one that could be replicated.”

Children with mental disabilities missing benefits

Many low-income children with mental disorders who are eligible for federal benefits may not be receiving them, according to a new report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine that was co-authored by Amy Houtrow, faculty member in physical medicine and rehabilitation and pediatrics at the School of Medicine, who served on the committee that wrote the report.

The findings of “Mental Disorders and Disabilities Among Low-Income Children” also noted that the number of children who do receive assistance has been rising in accordance with overall mental health trends and rising poverty rates.

Said Houtrow: “Federal assistance programs for children with mental disabilities are being under-utilized when they could help cover the costs to improve the health and well-being of the child and family. It appears that more kids could benefit from available funding, and the medical community could help eligible families become aware of the benefits and how to apply.”

For the report, the committee examined the Social Security Administration’s supplemental security income (SSI) program, which provides benefits to low-income people with disabilities.

The percentage of poor children who received federal disability benefits for at least one of 10 major mental disorders increased only slightly, from 1.88 percent in 2004 to 2.09 percent in 2013, the report said.

While 20-50 percent of potentially SSI-eligible kids with autism spectrum disorders received benefits, just 4 percent of potentially SSI-eligible kids with oppositional defiant disorder or conduct disorder and 3 percent of those with mood disorders received benefits — depending on their state of residence.

“We also found that the percentage of American children living in impoverished households has increased, particularly during the economic recession from 2008 to 2010,” said Houtrow, who also is chief of the Division of Pediatric Rehabilitation Medicine at Children’s Hospital.

“Further, the proportion of children who have disabilities has increased every decade since the 1960s. This means that more children should qualify for federal benefits.”

Improving lives of people with HIV/AIDS

A center in the Graduate School of Public Health was awarded a four-year, $10.7 million grant from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Health Resources and Services Administration, Bureau of HIV/AIDS, to continue its work preventing the spread of HIV and improving care to people infected with the virus.

The MidAtlantic AIDS Education & Training Center (AETC) serves health professionals in Pennsylvania, West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Washington, D.C., and has been headquartered here since 1988.

Said principal investigator Linda Frank, faculty member in infectious diseases and microbiology: “Though great strides have been made in antiretroviral drug therapies that improve clinical outcomes, HIV/AIDS is still a significant public health issue. Health professionals must make HIV testing routine to reduce disparities in access to prevention and treatment and thus reduce stigma associated with the disease. The center educates and provides consultation and technical assistance to individual clinicians, agencies, clinics and programs to increase capacity within the region to provide prompt care to people who need it.”

The center provides on-site and distance-based interventions for health professionals and targets physicians, nurses, nurse practitioners, advanced practice nurses, physician assistants, dentists, pharmacists, social workers and other members of the treatment team.

“We give clinicians the knowledge and skills to offer and conduct HIV testing and provide proper treatment for not only the infection itself, but also for other co-occurring disorders and issues, such as hepatitis, sexually transmitted infections, substance use, psychological issues and homelessness,” said Frank.

The training also helps clinicians and team members to develop skills to support people with HIV and those at risk for infection.

The Pitt center is one of eight AETC programs established around the country.

$10.9 million funds head and neck cancer research

Pitt researchers have received renewal of their head and neck cancer research through the National Cancer Institute’s (NCI) competitive specialized program of research excellence (SPORE). The five-year, $10.9 million grant includes a new project to study differentiated thyroid cancer, a malignancy whose incidence is rising at the fastest rate of all cancers worldwide.

The award is one of four grants awarded to Pitt through SPORE, which requires the assembly of a team of scientists and clinicians to translate critical findings from the laboratory to the clinic and the community. The other University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) SPORE grants are in melanoma, lung and ovarian cancers.

The head and neck SPORE consists of four study projects, headed by co-principal investigator Robert L. Ferris. He is vice chair and chief of the Division of Head and Neck Surgery for the departments of otolaryngology, immunology and radiation oncology.
Ferris also is associate director for translational research and co-leader of the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute’s cancer immunology program. Three of the four projects focus on head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), a frequently lethal cancer with few Food and Drug Administration-approved drugs available for treatment.

Said Ferris: “Building on our past research, we are excited to continue our work into novel treatments to attack cancer-promoting proteins that have been resistant to drug intervention and an exciting immunotherapy strategy to counteract inhibitory immune cells in HNSCC. We’ve also added a new project looking at chemoprevention to reverse oral cancer development, which is a promising area of study.”

The thyroid cancer project will focus on using next-generation sequencing to reduce unnecessary surgeries for those with less aggressive tumors, while identifying individuals with more aggressive disease who need additional therapy.

Collaborating with Ferris is a faculty member at the University of California-San Francisco.

Hookah use increasing, more study needed

Nearly 1 in 5 recently surveyed high school seniors report having smoked tobacco from a hookah in the past year, and more than a third of them reported smoking hookahs often enough to be considered regular users, an analysis led by the Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health (CRMTH) revealed.

The findings, published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine, add to evidence that hookah use among adolescents is increasing in both prevalence and frequency. They also suggest that it is important to add hookahs to tobacco surveillance and intervention efforts.

Said lead author Brian A. Primack, director of CRMTH and assistant vice chancellor for health and society in the Schools of the Health Sciences: “Hookah smoking does not seem to be just a fad; it seems to be a practice that is increasing steadily over time nationwide. And, among hookah smokers, it’s not just something they do once and that’s it. A substantial and increasing proportion of people, particularly adolescents, seems to be smoking hookahs with enough regularity to create a significant public health concern.”

Primack points out that, despite indications that hookah use is increasing, the long-term surveillance efforts necessary to target interventions have not kept pace. For example, the 2015 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance Survey for U.S. high school students asks about smokeless tobacco, cigars and electronic cigarettes. However, it does not ask about hookah tobacco use.

Hookahs, also known as waterpipes or narghiles, are devices that allow users to smoke tobacco. Users are exposed to many of the same toxicants in cigarettes — including tar, nicotine, carbon monoxide and polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons. While it is hard to quantify relative exposures because there is so much variability, comparisons suggest that an hour-long hookah smoking session exposes the user to about 20-40 times the tar of a single cigarette. Consistent with this, preliminary reports associate hookah use with cancer, cardiovascular disease, decreased pulmonary function and nicotine dependence.

Primack and his team analyzed data collected through the University of Michigan’s Monitoring the Future study, which obtains a nationally representative sample of students attending public and private schools in the 48 contiguous U.S states.

They focused on the 8,737 high school seniors who were asked between 2010 and 2013 about hookah smoking.

When asked how many times they’d smoked tobacco from a hookah in the past 12 months, 19 percent replied that they had at least once.

Of those, 38 percent reported smoking tobacco from a hookah at least six times in the past year, an amount that the researchers defined as “sustained use” because it indicated use beyond isolated events and corresponded to tar inhalation equivalent to smoking at least one pack of cigarettes per month.

Sustained hookah smokers were more likely to be male and Caucasian and to live in single-parent households. Compared to their peers, they were more likely to have poorer grades, more truancy and more active social lives.

Among those who reported hookah use at least once in the past year, 54 percent reported that they were not current cigarette smokers.

“While traditional cigarette smoking is decreasing, use of other forms of nicotine and tobacco is increasing,” said Primack.

“If we want to counteract this potentially problematic trend, tobacco prevention and intervention efforts must also address hookah use, and we must continue to collect data specific to hookah use.”

Other Pitt researchers on the project were senior author John Wallace, Jaime Sidani, Daniel Rosen, Ariel Shensa and A. Everette James. A colleague from the University of Michigan also contributed to the work.

The research was funded by the National Institute on Drug Abuse and NCI.

Additive manufacturing = stronger materials

Engineering faculty are leading a national research effort to use additive manufacturing in developing stronger coatings for materials used in harsh environments, such as the super heated interior of a gas turbine.

Minking Chyu, who is the Leighton and Mary Orr Chair and Professor of Engineering in the Swanson school, will head a cooperative effort funded with $798,594 from the Department of Energy’s National Energy Technology Laboratory (NETL) and $216,896 from Pitt.

One of only nine projects selected nationwide, this project plans to improve thermal protection for materials exposed to intense heat in modern and future gas turbines.

Chyu will make use of an oxide dispersion strengthened (ODS) coating layer with embedded cooling channels within or beneath the ODS layer to achieve a process called near-wall cooling. The project will employ additive manufacturing (AM) processes, a more accurate way to describe the professional production technique commonly referred to as “3-D printing.”

Apart from significant cost reduction in raw materials, AM offers enormous design freedom and an innovative approach compared to conventional techniques, which imposed certain limitations in having the ODS layer on top of the turbine components.

Said Chyu: “Even though ODS has many superb properties for protecting substrate material from oxidation and deteriorated strength in a very high temperature environment, it is very hard for traditional machining or cutting. Therefore, this technology would not be realizable” without AM.

Chyu also is the associate dean for international initiatives in the Swanson school and dean of Sichuan University-Pittsburgh Institute (SCUPI) in Chengdu, China.

Long EMS shifts lead to on-the-job injuries

professional paramedics giving unconscious young woman first aid

Emergency medical services (EMS) personnel who work 12- 24-hour shifts may be at significant risk for fatigue that could lead to occupational injury, according to research led by the School of Medicine.

The findings, published online in the journal Occupational & Environmental Medicine, found that shift length is associated with occupational injury.

Said lead author Matthew Weaver, who conducted the research while employed in the Department of Emergency Medicine: “The nature of the EMS clinician’s job requires physical strength to lift and move patients, cognitive capacity and temperament to deliver medical care in uniquely stressful and uncontrolled situations, and often requires operating a motor vehicle.

“There are many factors that may impact safety,” he added. “Our study identifies a preventable exposure — extended shift length — associated with injury, warranting trials to test potential interventions, such as periodic assessments of worker fatigue during shifts or adjusting work hours to accommodate on-shift rest periods.”

Weaver and his colleagues examined three years of occupational safety and illness records of nearly a million work shifts for 4,382 EMS employees across the country. The risk of an occupational injury or illness increased as shifts got longer.

Compared with shifts of less than 12 hours, shifts of 12 hours or more increased risk of an injury by 50 percent after controlling for other relevant factors, such as employer, night vs. day shift, employment status and how often the EMS crew previously had worked together.

Shifts of 16-24 hours more than doubled the risk of on-the-job injury compared to eight-hour shifts.

Since they performed an observational study that analyzed existing records, the researchers caution that no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect. Injuries to patients were not collected as part of this study.

“There is little evidence in this area to guide scheduling practices,” said Weaver.

“Future research should involve a wide variety of EMS agencies in different settings to determine how to structure staffing to deliver care in a safe and effective manner.”

Additional study authors were Thomas J. Songer and Anthony Fabio, both of public health, along with researchers at the Carolinas HealthCare System Medical Center and the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine.

The research was supported by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health.

Test identifies cancerous thyroid nodules

A next-generation sequencing test is predicting which thyroid nodules are cancerous and require surgical removal, reducing the need for multiple invasive diagnostic procedures, according to researchers at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI) and School of Medicine. Their findings were published in Thyroid.

In up to 80 percent of cases, examination of cells collected with a fine needle from a suspicious lump in the thyroid, a gland in the front of the neck, typically can tell a pathologist whether it is benign or malignant, said lead investigator Yuri Nikiforov, faculty member in pathology and director of the Division of Molecular and Genomic Pathology.

Added Nikiforov: “However, in 20 percent of cases, the result is indeterminate, meaning we can’t say for certain whether the nodule is cancerous. That means the patient might have a repeat needle biopsy, or will go to the operating room to have the affected thyroid lobe removed for further assessment. If it turns out to be cancer, the patient has to have yet another surgery to have the rest of the thyroid taken out.”

Three-quarters of such diagnostic surgeries are performed on what turn out to be benign nodules. Such patients could have avoided surgery if physicians had been confident without surgical excision that the nodules were very likely to be harmless.

In the new study, the researchers used the latest version of the test they developed, called ThyroSeq v2.1, to look for more than 300 cancer-associated mutations in 56 genes using cells obtained from fine-needle aspiration biopsies in more than 440 patients. Of that group, 96 patients had established diagnoses through surgery, allowing the team to assess ThyroSeq’s predictive power. The team found the test was able to correctly classify 20 out of 22 cancers with high precision and accuracy.

Most importantly, when the test was negative, the residual risk of cancer in those nodules was so low that surgical excision was not needed.

“We finally have a test that offers high accuracy in predicting whether a nodule is cancerous or if it is benign,” Nikiforov said.

Said co-author Sally E. Carty, faculty member and chief of endocrine surgery in medicine, and co-director of the UPMC/UPCI Multidisciplinary Thyroid Center, which has been offering the test since 2014: “This molecular testing panel holds great promise for streamlining and eliminating unnecessary surgery, not just here, but nationwide.”

The test also is available to and used by thyroid clinics around the country.

“Thyroid cancer now is the fifth most common cancer diagnosed in women, and it is one of the few cancers that continues to increase in incidence,” Carty noted.

“It’s important to get to the diagnosis quickly and correctly.”

The team included other researchers from Pitt and UPCI.

The research was supported by UPCI, UPMC and the Richard A. & Leslie A. Snow Fund for Thyroid Cancer Research.

—Compiled by Marty Levine


The University Times Research Notes column reports on funding awarded to Pitt researchers as well as findings arising from University research.

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