News Release 

Pitt receives $6 million to develop hub for vision restoration research

University of Pittsburgh

PITTSBURGH, July 16, 2019 - 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.

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.

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About the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

As one of the nation's leading academic centers for biomedical research, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine integrates advanced technology with basic science across a broad range of disciplines in a continuous quest to harness the power of new knowledge and improve the human condition. Driven mainly by the School of Medicine and its affiliates, Pitt has ranked among the top 10 recipients of funding from the National Institutes of Health since 1998. In rankings recently released by the National Science Foundation, Pitt ranked fifth among all American universities in total federal science and engineering research and development support.

Likewise, the School of Medicine is equally committed to advancing the quality and strength of its medical and graduate education programs, for which it is recognized as an innovative leader, and to training highly skilled, compassionate clinicians and creative scientists well-equipped to engage in world-class research. The School of Medicine is the academic partner of UPMC, which has collaborated with the University to raise the standard of medical excellence in Pittsburgh and to position health care as a driving force behind the region's economy. For more information about the School of Medicine, see http://www.medschool.pitt.edu.

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Contact: Arvind Suresh
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Contact: Gloria Kreps
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