Dr. José-Alain Sahel, Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine is one of the world’s top experts in retinal diseases. Currently, he is developing an artificial retina, as well as other regenerative therapies to treat blindness and vision impairments. He has developed several interventions— including stem cell implantation, gene therapy, innovative pharmacologic approaches and the artificial retina—for retinitis pigmentosa, age-related macular degeneration, vascular eye disease and other vision impairments that currently are untreatable. Over the past decade he has led pioneering efforts in optogenetic vision restoration, a technique in which cells in the retina are genetically modified to express light sensitive proteins. This therapeutic technique has the potential to help patients who are blind or visually impaired as a result of a genetic defect.
Karl Kandler, PhD and his team use a variety of high-resolution anatomical and physiological techniques to investigate how neuronal connections change during development and following hearing loss. In order to correctly process sound, the brain depends on precisely organized neuronal circuits. Knowing how auditory neurons in the developing brain become connected with the correct neuronal partners, and how this wiring changes, is crucial for understanding auditory dysfunction such as developmental dyslexia or central auditory processing disorders. Insight into how the brain connections change after hearing loss will provide insight into the neuronal mechanisms of tinnitus.
The Campbell Laboratory
The Campbell Lab is dedicated to diagnostic services and research for the detection of microorganisms which provoke eye diseases, monitoring emerging antibiotic resistance among bacteria responsible for eye diseases, and acting as a knowledge bank for ophthalmologists.
Joseph Furman, MD, Director of the UPMC Center for Balance Disorders, is one of the only Near Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS) for the study of human balance control. These studies are important for understanding why people become more susceptible to falls and other balance issues as they age. Falls due to loss of balance account for a large portion of hospital visits among elderly adults, so this research is especially important to the reduction of injuries in this population.
The Charles and Louella Snyder Lab for Retinal Regeneration
Jeff Gross, PhD, Director of the Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration and the E. Ronald Salvitti Chair in Ophthalmology Research, focuses his research on developing regenerative therapies to cure eye disease. Utilizing zebrafish models, due to their eyes being genetically similar to human eyes, research is conducted to determine how proteins and compounds create defects. Dr. Gross’s research is daily finding cutting edge breakthroughs to the puzzle of retinal regeneration and has positioned the Snyder Lab as an international leader in the ophthalmic research arena.
ENT Surviviorship Clinic
The ENT Survivorship Clinic takes a multidisciplinary approach to addressing the individual needs of head and neck cancer survivors. Our multidisciplinary team consists of a head and neck surgeon, speech language pathologist, dentist, physical therapist, and nurse, all of whom have specialized training in the needs of head and neck cancer patients. During a clinic visit, our team will review your medical history and assess for cancer recurrence. We will also identify and manage the effects of your cancer and its treatment, and, when necessary, make referrals for additional services, such as nutritional support. Our team will also provide you with information on healthy living, along with developing an individual treatment summary and survivorship care plan so you can live well beyond cancer.
Jim Funderburgh, PhD, Associate Director for the Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration, has developed a process by which stem cells are removed from a patient’s cornea, developed in a dish, and then re-inserted into that patient’s damaged or clouded cornea to facilitate regeneration of corneal tissue. The procedure of treating damaged corneas with one’s own stem cells is being tested in India and has seen positive results. To date, no adverse reactions have been reported and those who have undergone the procedure have improved vision and less corneal scarring within the first six months.
Catherine Palmer, PhD, Director of Audiology and Hearing Aids, is leading the HearCare project. Dr. Palmer’s research has correlated hearing loss in older people to cognitive decline and early-onset dementia. Dr. Palmer pioneered a project, implemented in UPMC senior living facilitates, to assess and treat the hearing and communication needs that seniors have both in their homes and in community spaces. Dr. Palmer has concluded that addressing these needs at a greater level has immensely improved their quality of life.
Cortical Visual Neuroprosthesis
Matt Smith, PhD, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, is leading the project of implanting a chip into a subject’s visual cortex, once vision has been lost, and transmitting images through a camera to the ship to determine if the brain can “see” an image without eyesight. Funding for this project will help Dr. Smith accelerate his research so this innovation can be utilized by the Department of Defense to help those who have lost their eyesight in combat.
The Marian Mosites Initiative for Personalized Head and Neck Cancer
Robert Ferris, MD, Chief of the Division of Head and Neck Surgery, is investigating why one’s immune system allowed a particular cancer to form and how this information can be used to form a highly specific and targeted approach to treatment. Dr. Ferris is a national leader in finding links in patients between HPV and head and neck cancers which has resulted in a greater long term survival rate.
Guerilla Eye Service
Evan (Jake) Waxman, MD, Director of UPMC Mercy Eye Center, founded the Guerilla Eye Service to provide free eye exams to the underserved in Western Pennsylvania. GES is staffed by students, residents, and faculty, who currently serve nearly 1000 patients a year in 11 locations. Currently, GES is seeking to expand its level of effectiveness by hiring a dedicated Patient Adherence Coordinator to facilitate visits and provide ophthalmic treatment to even more people who are at risk by assessing individual needs and ensuring that barriers to care are eliminated.
Pediatric Otolaryngology & Middle Ear Disease
Charles Bluestone, MD established the Society for Middle Ear Disease (SMED) to raise awareness of middle ear disease, such as otitis media. SMED is working to fund a number of exciting initiatives, including an international fellowship to visit the University of Pittsburgh and study treatment of Otitis Media. This is especially important, because many areas of the world are vastly underserved in ear, nose, and throat care and children who suffer from otitis media are at a much higher risk of sustaining permanent damage to their ears.
Initiative to Cure Glaucoma
Nils Loewen, MD, Director of Glaucoma and Cataract Service, has launched a three-pronged initiative with the ultimate goal of curing glaucoma. The Initiative to Cure Glaucoma within the Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration is an innovative research project engaging several of the top clinicians and researchers at the University of Pittsburgh. In conjunction with Dr. Yiqin Du’s trabecular meshwork research (the tissue responsible for regulating eye pressure that malfunctions causing glaucoma) that has effectively cured glaucoma in mice, Dr. Loewen aims to 1) use stem cells to regenerate the trabecular meshwork, 2) advance upon those findings by using viral vectors to more accurately deliver stem cells to the appropriate areas, and 3) investigate minimally invasive surgical procedures to restore affected trabecular meshwork tissue. Increased support for Dr. Loewen and Dr. Du’s research will rapidly accelerated their progress of conquering one of the most common and debilitating eye disorders.
Uma Duvvuri, MD, Director of the Robotic Surgery Center at UPMC, is leading an effort to educate and train surgeons in the use of robotic surgical devices. Dr. Duvvuri’s plan, which has been covered in the national media, is to develop and innovate new procedures utilizing robotic devices, all in an effort to reduce morbidities and resulting trauma, typically associated with head and neck cancer tumor removal. Robotic Surgery and Skull Based Surgery are working in tandem to develop a state of the art training facility.
Led by Kanwal (Ken) Nischal, MD, Director of Pediatric Ophthalmology, the Department hopes to expand their Virtual Vision Enhancement Center (VEC). The objective for this center is to serve as a central hub of expertise and resources within Allegheny County for blind and low-vision children. Currently, the VEC is looking to expand programs that focus on sports and recreation, as well as life-skills and independent living. In addition, the VEC seeks to partner with other service organizations in Pittsburgh to expand vision screenings for young children, and to launch a communication platform for service providers, physicians, teachers, and parents.
Skull Base Surgery
Carl Snyderman, MD, Co-Director for the Skull Base Surgery Center at UPMC, plans to create an integrated surgical training center that would serve as a robotic surgical instrument testing and training facility. With the goal of a less traumatic surgical experience for the patients, Dr. Snyderman would train surgeons in less invasive endoscopic nasal approaches at this facility, originally pioneered at the Eye and Ear Institute. This first in class training center would include an educational, telementoring program that would allow surgical students worldwide to learn cutting edge surgical techniques.
Sensory Substitution Advancements
As you may already know, the brainport is an incredible new device that helps those affected with blindness or loss of vision with a new sense, through their tongue, that helps them gain a basic environmental awareness. The device, however groundbreaking it is, as it stands, is in much need for improvement. Our next projects with it include making the device wireless, to increase ease and acceptability by patients, transforming it into a Intra-oral cavity device (similar to a retainer) in order to ease subject use of it while also talking to eating, and to design a new set of established program protocols to teach patients how to use the device, much like training them to use a cane or seeing eye dog. This training program would involve use of the internet as a means of communicating remotely, so subjects could, essentially, learn in the safety and comfort of their own homes.
Thanos Tzounopoulos, PhD, Assistant Professor of Otolaryngology, discovered the source of the tinnitus – the chronic ringing sound suffered by millions of individuals worldwide. The ringing is actually a malfunctioning cellular impulse in the auditory section of the brain. Dr. Tzounopoulos has identified a chemical change responsible for tinnitus. Subsequently, collaboration with the Center for Drug Discovery at the University of Pittsburgh, an agent has been fabricated which has been effective in prevention and relief of the phantom sound. Currently, plans are underway for the necessary testing to make this agent available to trials in humans.
Optic Nerve Regeneration
Michael Stekette, PhD, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, hopes to regenerate parts of, or the entire, optic nerve in an effort to reconnect the eye to the brain. Currently, he has developed a wrap derived from extracellular matrix (essentially the skeletons of a group of cells) that may facilitate the regrowth of optic nerve tissue. With new funding to the Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration through the Eye & Ear Foundation, this group of researchers will now accelerate their efforts to regenerate the optic nerve.
The University of Pittsburgh Voice Center, under the direction of Clark A. Rosen, MD, is one of the few specialized centers that focuses specifically on conditions that affect one’s Voice. Dr. Rosen and his team specialize in treating diseases affecting ones vocal chords, conversation and speech therapy, and damage prevention exercises for vocalists.