Gabriel Spitzer

Health & Science Reporter / Sound Effect Host / Assistant News Director

Gabriel Spitzer covers health and science at KPLU, after a year covering youth and education. He joined KPLU after years covering science, health and the environment at WBEZ in Chicago. There, he created the award-winning mini-show, Clever Apes. Having also lived in Alaska and California, Gabriel feels he’s been closing in on Seattle for some time, and has finally landed on the bullseye.

Gabriel received his Master's of Journalism at the University of California, Berkeley, and his degree in English at Cornell University. He’s been honored with the Kavli Science Journalism Prize from the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and won awards from the Association of Health Care Journalists, the National Association of Black Journalists and Public Radio News Directors, Inc. He lives in West Seattle with his wife Ashley and their two sons, Ezra and Oliver.

Gabriel’s most memorable KPLU moment was: “In just my second week here, I found myself covering the unfolding story of a mass shooting and citywide manhunt. It was a tragic and chaotic day, when the public badly needed someone to sort the facts from the rumors. It made me proud of our profession.”

Ways To Connect

Damian Dovarganes / AP Photo

More than one in five Washington adults are at high risk of falling prey to online scams, according to new research funded by the AARP.

Few would be surprised to hear that clicking on pop-up ads or opening emails from unfamiliar sources increases your risk of getting ripped off. But the AARP report, based on a survey of more than 11,000 adults nationwide, also identified some less obvious risk factors.

Washington’s health insurance exchange has ramped up its customer-service call center in anticipation of a big surge in enrollments this month. But callers should still hunker down for a long wait.

The Spokane-based call center got an average of more than 40,000 calls a day in January, but managed to answer just 15 percent of them. Of the rest, the vast majority got a message telling them to give up and call back later, while others hung up due to wait times that averaged 40 minutes or more.

University of Washington

A University of Washington research team has developed technology that could let people control devices with hand gestures. And the sensor doesn’t use battery power; it pulls electricity out of thin air.

Technology to read hand gestures already exists in devices like Microsoft’s Kinect. But most of it uses cameras or beams, which make it expensive and hungry for electricity.

Gabriel Spitzer

Officials overseeing Harborview Medical Center in Seattle have told staff by email they will not be closing or relocating the hospital’s clinics.

The fates of at least three primary care clinics on the main Harborview campus had been up in the air. Officials with UW Medicine, which runs the hospital, had said all along no decisions had been made. But staffers said they’d been told the clinics could close or move as early as this summer.

Ted S. Warren / AP Photo

Family members of murder victims gathered in Olympia Wednesday to express anguish over Gov. Jay Inslee’s decision to halt the state’s death penalty.

They testified before lawmakers considering curbs on the governor’s authority to grant reprieves. They told of their daughters and sisters, a mother, an aunt all taken cruelly from them. And they expressed outrage that they should be forced to pay, as taxpayers, for the killers to live.

Justin Steyer / KPLU

It's hard to imagine a more devastating diagnosis than ALS, also called Lou Gehrig's disease. For most people, it means their nervous system is going to deteriorate until their body is completely immobile. That also means they'll lose their ability to speak.

So Carl Moore of Kent worked with a speech pathologist to record his own voice to use later, when he can no longer talk on his own.

vissago / Flickr

Two nutrient supplements once thought to protect against cancer may actually increase the risk of prostate cancer, according to a study led by researchers at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center.

The randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study looked at 4,856 men taking large doses of vitamin E and selenium, either alone or together, or a placebo.

Charla Bear / KPLU

After years of flat rates, obesity among adolescents significantly dropped in King County between 2010 and 2012. Public health authorities credit prevention efforts at school.

A handful of school districts in the county made a special effort to push fitness. Some had students track their own nutrition, others invested in top-notch physical education programs or healthier lunch options. Federal stimulus money paid for the Communities Putting Prevention to Work programs.

WSDOT

The prospect of taking the State Route 99 tunneling machine known as Bertha offline for as much as half a year is not good news for the company operating it. But one Seattle tunneling expert says it could be worse.

“It’s really a problem with the machine itself. I think it’s something that can be repaired,” said the University of Washington’s Joseph Wartman. “And I think in a couple of years when the tunnel is open, people will have forgotten about this.”

AP Photo

Marijuana businesses in Washington may soon be able to open a bank account. The Obama administration on Friday issued new guidance to banks regarding drug proceeds.

The three-page memo by the Department of Justice signals that banks that do business with licensed, above-board marijuana businesses likely won’t face prosecution.

Seattle Tunnel Partners

Washington transportation officials and the private contractor operating the tunneling machine known as Bertha disagree on what’s holding up progress on the Highway 99 tunnel project. Neither had definitive answers, but appearing together Tuesday at a news conference, it became clear they’re leaning toward conflicting theories.

James Hall Photography

Advocates plan to rally in Olympia Tuesday in what’s become an annual push for immigrant and refugee rights.

More than a dozen groups plans to make some noise on the Capitol steps and meet with lawmakers on several key issues: restoring previously-cut funds to food aid and job training, and investing in better English-language learner services in public schools.

WSDOT

Remember that big steel pipe — eight inches wide, part of an old well?

The Washington State Department of Transportation never actually accused that pipe of blocking Bertha, but it was definitely a prime suspect.

But on Friday, WSDOT said the pipe isn’t, and never was, the problem.

Justin Steyer / KPLU

The 12th Man showed up in full force for the Seattle Seahawks’ victory parade on Wednesday. Seattle police estimated some 700,000 people braved the cold to line the streets and cheer for the Super Bowl champions. 

"I think it just gives us a sense of pride. It's given everyone something to rally around and be excited about. It's just brought joy to so many people here," said Lesli Burns, a fan.

ADMX Collaboration

Think of the immense amount of stuff in the cosmos: stars, planets, interstellar dust and clusters of galaxies. Now consider this: all that stuff is probably only about one-sixth of the matter in the universe.

The rest is thought to be a mysterious invisible substance called dark matter — something scientists have been hunting for decades. Now an unexpected turn of events has put a low-key research team in Seattle right at the center of the dark matter search.

AP Photo

The federal subsidies are what’s supposed to make Obamacare work; people who wouldn’t be able to afford a decent health plan get help to offset the cost.

But nearly a thousand people who bought plans on Washington’s exchange have learned they’ll be on the hook for the full premium this month.  

About 950 people who were supposed to get retroactive coverage won’t have their promised subsidies discounted from their January bill. They’ll still get the money, but they’ll have to wait until they do their taxes in 2015.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

Seattle’s Harborview Medical Center is considering big changes in the way it delivers primary care, with clinics serving thousands of patients hanging in the balance. And frustrated staffers are pleading with hospital brass to explain what’s going on.

Harborview may be best known as the region’s trauma center, but it runs a handful of primary care clinics at its First Hill campus, offering services such as obstetrics, pediatrics and family medicine.

Courtesy of Seattle Children's Hospital

Seattle Children’s Hospital is notifying about 100 patients who could be at risk of serious infection due to improperly-cleaned medical instruments.

Hospital officials say the risk is small, but substantial enough to warrant letters and phone calls to patients who had colonoscopies using a tool called an auxiliary channel scope. Unlike standard scopes, these instruments have an extra tube that needs to be cleaned between uses.

Associated Press

Washington’s Attorney General buoyed local governments looking to block pot businesses with a legal opinion issued Thursday. His argument cites the intentions of those who wrote the state’s the pot law, but the initiative’s primary author said he got it wrong.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Glitches that kept tens of thousands of Medicaid recipients from re-enrolling this fall continued to trip people up in December, though the state agency that runs Medicaid said the problems are being fixed.

King County Metro Transit's Facebook Page

King County is through waiting on Olympia.

The county is moving forward with its own measure to avoid major service cuts to Metro Transit, King County Executive Dow Constantine said on Tuesday.

“We waited and we waited, and now time is up,” Constantine said. “We are out of time for a statewide bill that includes a local transportation solution. It is time to move forward.”

istockphoto.com

Scientists have long known that brain training can help older adults stay sharp, but a new study co-authored by a Seattle scientist shows those benefits also have remarkable staying power.

The advantages from just a little bit of training — about 10 total hours — can last at least a full decade, according to a large national study called the Advanced Cognitive Training for Independent and Vital Elderly, or ACTIVE study. 

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

A diverse group of people have signed up for private health insurance on Washington's state-run exchange, but officials say they still need more young people on board. 

As of Jan. 2, some 71,205 people had enrolled in private plans on Washington's health insurance exchange, a good deal less than the goal of 130,000. But Exchange CEO Richard Onizuka said it’s still on the low end of the expected range.

AP Photo

Fifty years ago this weekend, the U.S. surgeon general released a landmark report blaming smoking for a number of health risks.

A new study co-authored by Seattle researchers says the campaign against smoking has saved about eight million lives since. That’s more than the population of Washington state, or put another way, it’s like preventing about five full Metro buses from driving off a cliff every day for 50 years.

WSDOT

A steel pipe that the state Department of Transportation itself had installed back in 2002 sits in the way of Bertha underneath Seattle, WSDOT said on Friday, and it may be the cause of the weeks-long work stoppage.

An inspection on Jan. 2 “showed an 8-inch-diameter steel pipe protruding through one of the many openings in the cutterhead,” WSDOT said, adding the agency had installed the pipe, a well casing, in the wake of the 2001 Nisqually quake to better understand groundwater flow. 

Paula Wissel / KPLU

Pierce County law enforcement officials say they’ve cracked a cold case murder that happened more than 20 years ago, and the investigation has ensnared a high-profile Tacoma marijuana activist.

Michael Schaef is a self-styled cannabis consultant who’s run medical marijuana dispensaries and co-founded a Tacoma “vape bar” that operated, until it was shut down, in a gray area of Washington’s pot law.

Matthew Purdy / Flickr

The National Football League is paying for a Seattle scientist to study head injuries in student athletes, testing a solution to the problem of how to diagnose and measure concussions.

With all the focus on sports and head trauma lately, it may come as a surprise that medicine actually doesn’t have great ways to measure common brain injuries. They don’t usually show up on brain scans, even though we know they can cause serious and lasting neurological problems.

Elaine Thompson / AP Photo

Seattle’s incoming mayor has convened a task force to study boosting the city’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, and he has asked incoming socialist city council member Kshama Sawant to join.

Mayor-Elect Ed Murray said he believes it is a necessary step toward tackling economic inequality, but he also insists he is not prejudicing the outcome of the committee. In addition to Sawant, his 23-member task force includes business interests, organized labor and community groups.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

Editor's Note: This is the second installment of a two-part series. Learn how scorpion vemon led local researchers to the brink of discovery of a new class of drugs in Part 1.

Consider the chemical elegance of a potato. Or a petunia. Or a horseshoe crab.

Somewhere in each of those organisms is a special little protein uniquely equipped to do what medicines do: barge in on biological processes and mess with them. With a little tweaking, it’s possible they could be trained to, say, keep cancer cells from spreading.

A few years ago, Dr. Jim Olson and his team at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center had figured out how to make those proteins by the thousands, but they hadn’t yet figured out how to pay for it.

Gabriel Spitzer / KPLU

The Deathstalker scorpion is about the size of your palm. It’s yellow and surly, its venom a seething cocktail of neurotoxins.

And somewhere in that poison soup is a very special little molecule, called chlorotoxin, designed to penetrate a prey animal’s brain. That effect happens to come in very handy: while it’s in there, it sticks to cancer cells while slipping right by healthy ones.

Jim Olson, a pediatric oncologist at Seattle Children’s Hospital and a researcher at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, put that toxin to work.

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