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University of Pittsburgh Receives $6 Million for Vision Restoration Research

The University of Pittsburgh received a $6 million grant from the Richard King Mellon Foundation to support the development of a cortical vision research program in the Pitt School of Medicine Department of Ophthalmology.

The program will aim to understand how the eye and the brain work together to help us see the world, and use that knowledge to develop new ways to restore vision using various technologies such as brain computer interfaces and novel genetic technologies. 

“The RK Mellon Foundation’s investment is a resounding vote of confidence in a world-renowned talent—Dr. José-Alain Sahel—and his team’s groundbreaking efforts to preserve and restore the gift of sight for millions of people across the world,” says Pitt Chancellor Patrick Gallagher. “I am deeply grateful for the Foundation’s support and excited to watch this next chapter in vision research and care unfold right here in Pittsburgh.” 

“As the world’s population continues to grow and age, the number of individuals with visual impairments is expected to triple by the year 2050, and Pittsburgh, with its aging population, will be highly affected by this epidemic of vision loss,” said José-Alain Sahel, M.D., director of the UPMC Eye Center, and Eye and Ear Foundation chair of ophthalmology, Pitt School of Medicine. “We have established world class vision research and clinical care in Pittsburgh, and the cortical vision program will bring together the brightest minds to develop therapies that will directly benefit the people in our communities and around the world.”

Since 2016, Pitt and UPMC’s ophthalmology efforts have expanded significantly, adding 15 new clinical and research faculty. The vision research program also has established extensive collaborations with Carnegie Mellon University and an international partnership between the University of Pittsburgh and leading institutions such as the Institut de la Vision in Paris where Sahel serves as the director. 

In March, UPMC broke ground on UPMC Vision and Rehabilitation at UPMC Mercy, which when completed, will provide advanced specialty clinical care to treat complex ocular diseases and innovative programs for the visually impaired, and be the home of the vision research program at Pitt and UPMC. 

“This significant gift from the Richard King Mellon Foundation supports our continued efforts to make Pittsburgh a leader in vision care, and we are excited to partner with Dr. Sahel to take us toward that goal,” said Lawton Snyder, CEO of the Eye and Ear Foundation of Pittsburgh.

The new cortical vision program will have three major areas of focus—understanding the biological mechanisms of vision from the eye to the brain, developing new vision restoration therapies using cutting-edge technologies such as brain computer interfaces and optogenetics to directly stimulate the brain, and implementing vision rehabilitation programs following these restorative therapies to enhance their benefit and improve quality of life. The grant will help support the recruitment of new faculty who will establish and run research laboratories in pursuit of these goals.

Pitt School of Medicine Signs Collaborative Agreement with World-Renowned French Research Institutions

The University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine has entered into an agreement with three world-renowned French research institutions, the University Pierre et Marie Curie of the Sorbonne Universités in Paris, the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (Inserm); and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS), to focus on collaborative research and education in the fields of medicine and biomedical sciences.

The agreement will enable researchers of all four institutions to cooperate on fundamental research, development of novel therapeutics, and clinical trials, with an initial focus on ophthalmology, vision and neuroscience. Along with joint research, the agreement also emphasizes exchange of academic personnel, joint academic conferences, and exchange of scientific, educational and scholarly materials.

The agreement, signed at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C., highlights an important partnership between Pitt and the French institutions that was spurred by the recent recruitment of José-Alain Sahel, M.D., one of the world’s top experts in retinal diseases, as the chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at Pitt’s School of Medicine, director of the UPMC Eye Center, and the Eye and Ear Foundation Chair of Ophthalmology. Sahel retained his connections to Paris as the founder and director of the Institut de la Vision in Paris and as a professor at the Université Pierre-et-Marie-Curie of the Sorbonne Universités (which co-incidentally also is referred to by the acronym UPMC), a top ranked medical school and the largest scientific and medical complex in France.

Inserm, the French National Institute of Health and Medical Research, is the only public research institution solely focused on human health and medical research in France and a leading medical research agency worldwide; and CNRS, the French National Center for Scientific Research is the largest governmental research organization in France and the largest fundamental science agency in Europe.

“This agreement will further strengthen the robust scientific and educational partnerships between Pittsburgh and Paris, bringing to bear our outstanding intellectual capacities to address some of the most significant diseases that lead to blindness and vision impairment through basic and translational research,” said Sahel

“Taking on an immense challenge like the quest to cure blindness requires that we not only have bold ideas, but also the brightest minds to work on them. The University of Pittsburgh is proud to be a part of this international partnership that will bring together the world-class scientific community at Pitt with researchers from France under the able leadership of Dr. Sahel,” said Arthur S. Levine, M.D., Pitt’s senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of Medicine.

UPMC Eye Center

The mission of the UPMC Eye Center, a recognized leader in the diagnosis and treatment of eye diseases and disorders, is to improve patients’ quality of life through vision preservation and restoration.

We personalize and individualize care for each patient, and our care is always patient-focused.

Commitment to Research and Education

As members of the University of Pittsburgh Department of Ophthalmology, UPMC Eye Center physicians are also leaders in research and education, and are extensively trained in the use of state-of-the-art ophthalmic technologies and procedures.

We have an outstanding teaching program and train six residents and five clinical fellows each year who then pursue clinical, research, and clinician-scientist careers.

We train numerous graduate and postdoctoral students and research fellows from the U.S. and abroad. The UPMC Eye Center is at the forefront of continuing medical education, and provides both ongoing and specialized educational opportunities for established, community-based physicians.