OPH Looks Back on 2023

Someone holding a tool to focus on the body of water in front of them

This year proved to be an exciting one for the Department of Ophthalmology. Looking back at 2023, we are proud of all we have accomplished. Our faculty, fellows, residents, and staff have worked extremely hard and have gone above and beyond to open our brand-new facility while maintaining day-to-day operations and keeping our patient base moving effectively and efficiently.


The UPMC Vision Institute opened in the UPMC Mercy Pavilion on May 1st. Clinical services in the pavilion include comprehensive optometry, cornea, retina, optic nerve, glaucoma, neuro-ophthalmology, genetic conditions, oculoplastic and aesthetic services, a refractive surgery program, a full-service optical shop, and a dedicated clinical trials center offering some therapies that are not available outside of Pittsburgh. Research encompasses more than 22 laboratories and six core facilities that explore the visual systems and how and why they are affected by disease in order to develop new therapeutic approaches. Most recently, our Urgent Eye Care Clinic opened, allowing patients to be treated for various acute ophthalmology emergencies. It is one of the few clinics nationwide dedicated to urgent care of eye problems and the only one in PA.


In 2023, the Department hired 10 new physicians – six optometrists, one comprehensivist, a pediatric ophthalmologist, an electrophysiologist, and a glaucoma specialist. In research, three new faculty members joined the Department. Our Department continues to grow as we are in negotiations with recruits that we hope to bring on board in 2024. On the flip side, we celebrated one of our long-time physicians who retired, Jean Harwick, MD – a staple in the Mercy community. 

Awards and Recognition

Over the past year, many of our faculty members were acknowledged for their hard work and dedication to the field of ophthalmology. Dr. Deepinder Dhaliwal was awarded the International Society of Refractive Surgery’s Founders’ Award for her extraordinary contributions to the growth and advancement of the Society and its mission; Marlene Behrmann, PhD, was awarded the 2023 Howard Crosby Warren Medal from the Society of Experimental Psychologists (SEP) for her insightful studies elucidating the neural and behavioral functioning of higher-level vision, along with its development and potential for plasticity; Debasish Sinha, PhD, received the Edward N. & Della L. Thome Memorial Foundation Award for Age-Related Macular Degeneration Research; Andrew Williams, MD, received the David Epstein Clinical-Scientist Award from the Chandler Grant Glaucoma Society, which is given in support of early physician-scientists in glaucoma; and Leah Byrne, PhD, received the 2023 University of Pittsburgh Office of Innovation Emerging Innovator Award. 

Dr. José-Alain Sahel was honored to be nominated by French President Emmanuel Macrón to the Presidential Council for Science. It is composed of 12 researchers who will advise him on scientific subjects and help in the implementation of public policies. He was also elected as a Fellow of the National Academy of Inventors and received the American Foundation for the Blind 2023 Corinne Kirchner Research Award, recognizing the influence his scholarly achievements and publications have on advancing the understanding of and advocacy for in with blindness and low vision. Additionally, Dr. Sahel received the 2023 International Prize for Translational Neuroscience of the Gertrud Reemtsma Foundation — which is administered by the Max Planck Society — for outstanding achievements in basic neurological research. Lastly, he was promoted to Commander in the National Order of Merit by the government of France. The Order honors French citizens who have made distinguished achievements in the service of others. 

While the above list is certainly not inclusive, it highlights our Department’s caliber of faculty members. 


In 2023, the Department published over 226 publications. There was a large number of publications with an impact score of nine or higher. 


In 2023, the Department received 31 new grants: $7,445.444 in NIH and other Federal grants, $2,039,556 in Industry grants, and $2,220,663 in Non-NIH and Private funding for a total of $11,685,663.


ECM Therapeutics, a clinical stage regenerative medicine company pioneering the development of Extracellular Matrix-based therapeutics for the treatment of unmet medical needs, announced a collaboration with the Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration at the Vision Institute. This collaboration will leverage a platform technology, called Matrix Bound Nanovesicles (MBV), that has recently shown potential to promote restoration of injured optic nerves, opening doors for clinical translation to treat various ocular pathologies.

We have a lot to celebrate, and we look forward to what is to come!

José-Alain Sahel, MD

José-Alain Sahel, MD
Distinguished Professor and Chairman of Ophthalmology
The Eye & Ear Foundation Endowed Chair
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
Director, UPMC Vision Institute
Emeritus Exceptional Class Professor, Sorbonne University, Paris