An award-winning podcast from the editorial offices of Pitt Med exploring matters of life, death, and well-being.

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Evolving Situation

Evolutionary biology is at the center of some of the most vexing public health challenges of our time: cancer, antibiotic resistance and disease outbreaks. Pitt's Vaughn Cooper has been studying evolution in action for more than a decade. To his amazement, he’s beginning to think it may be possible to predict evolution.  

In Dec. 2020, we sat down with Cooper to discuss how the emerging field of evolutionary medicine is helping to contain the COVID-19 pandemic.  

This episode was inspired by these stories in our magazine, Pitt Med:

Written and produced by Elaine Vitone. Our executive producer is Erica Lloyd. Music by Blue Dot Sessions.  

MINISERIES: Meet Anantha Shekhar

In this special three-part series, Pitt Medcast introduces Anantha Shekhar—Pitt’s new senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and the John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of the School of Medicine. In February 2020, we sat down with him in Pitt Studios to get to know him and hear his insights on the future of medicine and Pitt’s place in it. Then, in May, we called him to talk again, remotely, about the road ahead for Pitt in the post-COVID-19 world.  

​PART 1   |  Shekhar’s Path

Anantha Shekhar, an MD/PhD and nationally recognized educator, researcher, entrepreneur and leader in medicine, shares his story, his inspiration for pursuing medicine in the first place, and his thoughts on medicine’s most transformative developments in recent years.

​PART 2   |  The Road Ahead

In this episode, Shekhar talks of the hope and promise of the future of medicine.

​PART 3   |  Pitt in the Post-COVID-19 World

Shekhar on what it takes to be a great teacher and a great leader, and what he’s learned about supporting flourishing partnerships. And then, in a second interview recorded remotely in May 2020, he shares his thoughts on the road ahead in the time of COVID-19.

A print version of these conversations with Anantha Shekhar will appear in the Fall 2020 issue of our magazine, Pitt Med.

This miniseries was produced by Elaine Vitone with Maya Best. Our executive producer is Pitt Med magazine editor in chief, Erica Lloyd. Music by Blue Dot Sessions. News clips from NPR’s Morning Edition and All Things Considered. 

Perspective on two frightening outbreaks

BONUS EPISODE   |  Perspective on two frightening outbreaks
Sunday, April 12, 2020, is the 65th anniversary of the announcement that the killed-virus polio vaccine--developed here at the University of Pittsburgh--was safe and effective. To mark the occasion, we bring you the perspective and advice of someone who has faced two frightening disease outbreaks up close. Meet David Harding, a Pitt instructor in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences.
Interview and production by Elaine Vitone. Our executive producer is Erica Lloyd. 

Relationship Abuse

TOUGH QUESTION   |  How can the medical community help women who are experiencing intimate partner violence?  
There’s a common assumption that domestic violence must involve broken bones or bruises. But much of intimate partner violence is in the emotionally controlling behaviors and psychological abuse. In this episode, women’s health experts discuss other ways they’re learning that abuse happens. For instance, a partner might trash his girlfriend’s medications, sabotage the car before a doctor’s appointment or use substances to control her. Our guest physicians discuss new strategies that are helping to prevent women from falling through the cracks. Warning: This episode discusses sexual assault and other violence that some listeners might find troubling.  
Our guests: The University of Pittsburgh’s Judy Chang is an associate professor of obstetrics, gynecology and reproductive sciences and of medicine. Elizabeth Miller is the division director of Adolescent-Young Adult Medicine at UPMC Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh. She is also a Pitt professor of pediatrics, of public health and of clinical and translational science.  
Read the story in our magazine, Pitt Med.
Interview by Elaine Vitone. Produced by Maya Best and Elaine Vitone. Our executive producer is Erica Lloyd. Music by Blue Dot Sessions.

Polio Pioneers

What was life like before childhood vaccines? In this episode, hear from people who grew up in the shadow of a crippling disease—among them, schoolkids from the clinical trials of Jonas Salk’s killed-virus polio vaccine. Their accounts tell the story of how ordinary people helped win the struggle against one of the most crippling diseases in history.  
This Pitt Medcast was inspired by “Among My Souvenirs,” a story from the August 2005 issue of Pitt Med magazine.
Written by Elaine Vitone. Production by Janine Faust, Margaret Palko, and Elaine Vitone with additional research by Elaina Zachos and Luisa Garbowit. Executive produced by Erica Lloyd. Sound effects by freesound.org. Special thanks to Pitt alumna Cassie Nespor, curator of the Melnick Medical Museum and University Archives at Youngstown State University, for firing up their refurbished Emerson iron lung for this podcast. Archival audio from Old Time Radio Downloads and Old Radio World. Contemporary news clips by NPR’s All Things Considered. Music by Chad Crouch, Chris Zabriskie, Borrtex, Podington Bear, and the Pitt Band.  

Autism and Emotional Regulation

READ ALOUD   |  Popular accounts of autism often portray people with the condition as emotionless automatons. Yet more than a decade of work has convinced Pitt psychologist Carla Mazefsky that emotional dysregulation—which is the inability to control emotional responses—plays a key role in autism. Mazefsky specializes in kids on the far end of the autism spectrum who are prone to aggression.  
This Pitt Medcast was inspired by Carrie Arnold’s story from the Fall 2018 issue of Pitt Med magazine, which was a finalist for a 2019 Golden Quill Award from the Press Club Of Western Pennsylvania.  
Read by Elaine Vitone and Luisa Garbowit. Produced by Luisa Garbowit, Janine Faust, and Elaine Vitone. Our executive producer is Erica Lloyd. Music by Lee Rosevere, Sylvie Walder, and Poddington Bear from the Free Music Archive.

Imperfect Pitch

TOUGH QUESTION   |   How useful is a genetics report from a company like 23andMe to your health? How do we separate hype from reality as these companies ramp up direct-to-consumer ads, social media, and celebrity influence campaigns? Our guests discuss how the heavy consumer pitch can cloud medical practice, science, and understanding and the road ahead for medical education as personal genomics becomes increasingly relevant in the clinic. You don’t want to miss Pitt Medcast’s first-ever live taping—from the 2019 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in Washington, D.C.  
Our guests: Pitt’s Jeremy Berg is associate senior vice chancellor for the health sciences, former director of the National Institute of General Medical Sciences, and editor in chief of AAAS's Science family of journals. Mylynda Massart is an assistant professor of family medicine at Pitt. She practices primary care with a special interest in genetics.  

Interview by Elaine Vitone. Produced by Elaine Vitone and Luisa Garbowit. Our executive producer is Erica Lloyd. Music by Lee Rosevere, from the Free music Archive.

Labors and Losses

TOUGH QUESTION   |   Why are new mothers dying at an alarming rate in this country? We sat down with Jada Shirriel, the CEO of Healthy Start, which is charged with improving maternal and child health in Allegheny County, and three Pitt professors who’ve been appointed to Pennsylvania’s Maternal Mortality Review Committee. We wanted their perspectives on why the incidence of maternal deaths and morbidity is so bleak in this country compared to other industrialized nations and what can be done to spare families from these tragedies. 

The print version of this story appeared in the Winter 2018/19 issue of Pitt Med magazine. This episode was produced by Elizabeth Martinson, Luisa Garbowit, and Elaine Vitone with production coordination from Gavin Jenkins. Reporting by Susan Wiedel. Interview by our executive producer and Pitt Med magazine editor in chief, Erica Lloyd. Our music was by Lee Rosevere, from the Free Music Archive.

The High Resolution Life

READ ALOUD   |   In this episode, we revisited our Summer 2015 magazine story, featuring the University of Pittsburgh’s late, great Ernest Sternglass. His work made possible the first videos from the moon, and he pioneered digital radiology. His activism helped stop atomic bomb testing. His correspondence with Albert Einstein has been called one of the 20th century’s most important disregarded pieces of science. Sternglass led an extraordinary life.  

Written by Michael Fitzgerald. Produced by Elizabeth Martinson with Elaine Vitone. Our executive producer is Erica Lloyd. Sound effects courtesy of NASA and freesound.org. And special thanks to Pittsburgh’s own Skyler Brimmeier, a.k.a Sleep Movies, for our music. Image by NASA.

When Fred Met Margaret

READ ALOUD   |   In this episode, we revisited and remixed our Winter 2014 magazine story featuring the University of Pittsburgh’s Margaret McFarland, Fred Rogers’s little known mentor who played a big role in shaping him and his show behind the scenes.

This episode won the Press Club of Western Pennsylvania's Golden Quill Award for audio journalism. 

Written by Sally Ann Flecker. Produced by Elaine Vitone. Our interns for the episode were Jessica Boddy and Ali Greenholt. Our executive producer is Erica Lloyd. Sound effects courtesy of freesound.org. Special thanks to the Fred Rogers Company and also to The Beagle Brothers, Pittsburgh’s own country and eastern band, for our music. Photo by Jim Judkis.  

Inside the World of OCD

READ ALOUD   |   Every day, Hilary Zurbuch grappled with a nagging fear that if she didn’t look just right, something bad would happen. Zurbuch lives with obsessive compulsive disorder, a tug-of-war between intrusive, often fearful thoughts and repetitive rituals she’s devised to control them. Although the reasons for OCD are unknown, psychiatrist and researcher Susanne Ahmari at the University of Pittsburgh is using clinical observations and new neuroscience tools to extricate a deeper understanding of the disorder.

This Pitt Medcast was inspired by Cara Masset’s award-winning cover story from the Fall 2015 issue of Pitt Med magazine.

Read by Elaina Zachos and produced by Elaina Zachos, with Elaine Vitone. Our executive producer is Erica Lloyd. Sound effects courtesy of freesound.org and CosmicEmbers. Special thanks to Brenna Evans, the Medfield High School Orchestra, and Cara Masset herself for acting as our musical neurons. Blød Maud provided this episode’s theme music.

How the Nose Knows

NARRATIVE   |   A multi-institutional team uses blind scent-tracing tests and other experiments to better understand how animals are able to localize odors. Pitt’s Nathan Urban and Bard Ermentrout are part of this olfaction faction. They’re hoping the investigation will inform new technologies; it may even provide insight into neurological disorders like Alzheimer’s, autism, and Parkinson’s.

This Pitt Medcast was inspired by a story from the Summer 2016 issue of Pitt Med magazine.

Written and read by Elaine Vitone. Produced by Elaina Zachos with Elaine Vitone. Our executive producer is Erica Lloyd. Sound effects by freesound.org and djfroyd. Special thanks to The Garment District for our music.

Let's Talk About Sex

READ ALOUD   |   “My doctors all knew about it. ... Strangers, like people who just happened to be in the office when I was there, knew more about me than I did.”

In this episode, the first in our new Read Aloud series, we delve into biology that isn’t binary, and the challenges it brings. This Pitt Medcast was adapted from our Spring 2015 magazine story about the family of Pitt med alumni Arlene and Mark Baratz, who went to medical school and trained at Pitt in the 1980s.

Written by Micaela Corn with Erica Lloyd. Read by Micaela Corn. Produced by Elaine Vitone and Micaela Corn. Our executive producer is Erica Lloyd. Special thanks to Hovland for our music.


NARRATIVE   |   Corneal blindness affects millions worldwide. To date, the only treatment available is a corneal transplant. But potential new cures are coming from unexpected places—including wisdom teeth!

A husband-and-wife team at the University of Pittsburgh has been working toward the dream of regrowing new corneal tissue for years—that’s Jim Funderburgh, a professor of ophthalmology, and Martha Funderburgh, a research assistant in his lab and a corneal transplant recipient herself.

Working with Sayan Basu, a physician-scientist in Hyderabad, India, and Fatima Syed-Picard, a Pitt postdoc-turned NIH award recipient, the Funderburghs are now developing ways to repair corneal damage—and even prevent corneal scarring from happening in the first place. It turns out that adult stem cells taken from our own eyes and teeth are capable of regenerating this tissue so vital to our focusing power.

This Pitt Medcast was inspired by a story from the Spring 2015 issue of Pitt Med magazine. 

Interviewing, reporting, editing, and production by Elaine Vitone. Our executive producer is Erica Lloyd. Special thanks to Corey Layman, a.k.a. Developer, for our music. Science image reprinted with permission from the American Association for the Advancement of Science. 


NARRATIVE   |   Pain and itch have an interesting relationship. If you are bitten by a mosquito, you can ease the itch by scratching your skin. And if you take a dose of a powerful painkiller like morphine, you're likely to itch. The interrelatedness of these two experiences has made deciphering their neurobiology a real puzzler.  

In this multilayered soundscape, Sarah Ross, a PhD assistant professor of neurobiology at the University of Pittsburgh, discusses her recent breakthroughs with this head scratcher. The team is now beginning to trace the circuit for itch, the least understood of our somatic senses.

This Pitt Medcast was inspired by "Scratching the Surface," a story from the Summer 2013 issue of Pitt Med magazine. Interviewing, reporting, editing, and production by Elaine Vitone. Our executive producer is Erica Lloyd. Special thanks to Pittsburgh's own Will Simmons for the music.


NARRATIVE   |   As recently as 20 years ago, tinnitus—a ringing, buzzing, hissing, or other noise that afflicts people who’ve been exposed to loud sounds—was thought to be an affliction of the ear, but imaging studies eventually proved its source is in the brain. Recently, University of Pittsburgh investigator Thanos Tzounopoulos, an expert in brain plasticity, uncovered the molecular mechanisms of this long-misunderstood condition, now the most common service-associated disability for veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan: When hearing is lost, the central nervous system tries to adapt and maintain a certain level of activity, filling the void with these phantom sounds.

This Pitt Medcast was inspired by "Static," a feature story from the Winter 2011 issue of Pitt Med magazine.

Interviewing, reporting, editing, and production by Elaine Vitone. Our executive producer is Erica Lloyd. Special thanks to the Pittsburgh-based band Onodrim for the music.


SLIDESHOW: Second Lives

Nontraditional med students at the University of Pittsburgh share "past life" experiences. (Interviews recorded in Spring 2014.)

This Pitt Medcast was inspired by "Second Lives," a feature story from the Summer 2014 issue of Pitt Med magazine.

Interviewing, reporting, editing, and production by Elaine Vitone. Our executive producer is Erica Lloyd. Photography by Cami Mesa.


SLIDESHOW: What Makes Genius Happen? 

During the University of Pittsburgh's Science2011, we pulled aside Pitt's Jeremy Berg and Harvard's George Whitesides, plied them with a couple of beers (courtesy of Pitt's N. John Cooper, dean of the Kenneth P. Dietrich School of Arts and Sciences), and asked for their perspectives on what makes genius happen.

To read more about how genius works, and what happens when it does, see our Winter 2011/12 Cover Story, "Genius."

Whitesides is the Woodford L. and Ann A. Flowers University Professor at Harvard University. The chemist by training is known for his astonishing breadth of inquiry and ability to contribute to many fields, including nanotechnology, microfabrication, and microfluidics.

Berg is Pitt's associate senior vice chancellor for science strategy and planning and visiting professor of computational and systems biology. He's highly regarded for his work in molecular recognition processes and for his scientific leadership. Until earlier this year, he directed the National Institute of General Medical Sciences.

This interview was conducted for Pitt Med by Joe Miksch. 


SLIDESHOW: Duvvuri on da Vinci

An interview with Pitt's Uma Duvvuri about a throat tumorectomy performed as a robotic-assisted laser-surgical procedure rather than a conventional procedure.

This interview was conducted by Joe Miksch. Produced by Elaine Vitone and Joe Miksch.
Our executive producer is Erica Lloyd.

These richly produced narratives (our Read Alouds and other stories) and probing discussions (our Tough Questions series) air regularly on the National Science Foundation’s international stream, Science360 Radio. Pitt Medcast has also been featured on several NPR member stations. Our Itch episode was handpicked by Public Radio Exchange’s highly curated storytelling channel/app, PRX Remix.