Age-Related Macular Degeneration|Retina

S+S, Spring 2024, p. 4

Diseases and disorders of the retinal are major contributors to blindness. Age related macular degeneration falls into this category, and is the leading cause of blindness, affecting 1 in 10 Americans ages 50 and older. When Dr. Sahel arrived, increasing the Department’s research focus on the retina was a primary objective.

Thanks to the campaign, Dr. Sahel was able to recruit several key researchers. Ethan Rossi, PhD, was the first one to join the Department from the University of Rochester. He is an expert in deep imaging of the eye, which allows for retina diseases to be identified much earlier than previously possible. Only six devices in the world house a rare kind of imaging technology called laser doppler holography. Three are in Paris and two are in other parts of France. Dr. Rossi’s lab has the only one in the U.S. and the only one outside of France. This technology makes it possible to see functional activity in the retina with high precision. Dr. Rossi said the technology has a lot of potential applications beyond what they have been starting to view.

Leah Byrne, PhD, came to the University of Pittsburgh from UC Berkeley. She utilizes CRISPR to act as a “trojan horse,” inputting genetic information into diseased retinas. The hope is to find different techniques to help cure AMD/retina. Dr. Byrne launched the Pittsburgh Gene Therapy Bootcamp, aimed at graduate students and postdocs looking to gain experience in the field of gene therapy. She received the 2023 University of Pittsburgh Office of Innovation Emerging Innovator Award.

Debasish Sinha, PhD, joined the Department from Johns Hopkins University as the Jennifer Salvitti Davis, MD Chair in Ophthalmology Research. He brought his entire lab with him when he came to Pittsburgh. His work has been identified by pharmacology companies as viable molecules to bring to market. In 2021, he received the Wiegand Entrepreneurial Research Award for his research project that is a unique pharmacological approach targeting inflammation in the early stages of AMD. In 2023, Dr. Sinha received the Edward N. & Della L. Thome Memorial Foundation Award for Age-Related Macular Degeneration Research.

John Ash, PhD, was recruited from the University of Florida as the Director of Research and is the E. Ronald Salvitti Chair in Ophthalmology Research. Dr. Ash was hired to replace Dr. Jeff Gross, who was already building the Department’s reputation for excellence in research. Dr. Ash’s work is also focused on retinal regeneration research, with a strong emphasis on translational research. It is safe to say, thanks to the New Horizon’s for Care Campaign, Dr. Sahel has assembled one of the strongest retinal research teams in the country.