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News for Supporters and Friends

2017 FALL EDITION

Pittsburgh and Paris – Making the World of Vision Research Closer by Heather Chronis

“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 the University of Pittsburgh with scientists from France under the able leadership of Dr. Sahel,” said Arthur S. Levine, MD, Senior Vice Chancellor for the Health Sciences at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of Medicine.

In This Issue Pittsburgh Hearing Research Center

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The “Holy Grail” of Research – Regenerating the Optic Nerve

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In Memorial: Lillian Spang Rath 4 Pittsburgh CREATES Welcomes Executive Director

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Preserving Children’s Vision in Our Community Society for Middle Ear Disease Hosts Ethiopian Scholar

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Events 7 Partnering to Advance Care

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Agreement is signed between Pitt and French research institutions at the French Embassy in Washington D.C. Seated (L to R) Dr. Sidney Wiener, Scientific Officer, International Affairs, CNRS; Dr. Arthur Levine, Pitt’s senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of Medicine; Dr. José-Alain Sahel, Professor and Chair of Ophthalmology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; Dr. Jean Chambaz, President, University Pierre et Marie Curie of the Sorbonne Universités; Dr. Yves Levy, President and CEO of Inserm. Credit: French Embassy, Washington, DC.

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n July 12th, the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine entered into a historic agreement with three worldrenowned 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). This collaboration will focus on research

and education in the fields of medicine and biomedical sciences. Gérard Araud, the U.S. Ambassador of France, graciously hosted the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, the Department of Ophthalmology, the Eye & Ear Foundation Board of Directors and supporters at the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. for the signing ceremony, followed by a champagne reception honoring the new collaboration between Pittsburgh and Paris. Continued on page 4


Pittsburgh Hearing Research Center by Paul Stabile

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r. Thanos Tzounopoulos’ goal has always been to help those who suffer from even the slightest amount of hearing loss through research and discovery. Thanos began his studies in Athens, Greece and from there he continued his work in Portland, Oregon, San Francisco, California and Chicago, Illinois before being recruited to Pittsburgh, where he now is an Endowed Professor, Vice Chair of Research in the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh and the Director of the newly formed Pittsburgh Hearing Research Center. Dr. Tzounopoulos has achieved much success in his research on tinnitus that it has opened his eyes to many other opportunities. Tinnitus is a condition that affects 10%-20% of the population in the United States. It is often characterized as a persistent ringing in the ears. Recently, Dr. Tzounopoulos was able to identify that the source of tinnitus is in

the brain and not the ear. This has helped to research ways to recognize and search for a cure for this disease. It has also shown that neurosensory research should be collaborated across the Departments. That collaboration is a large part of the vision for the Pittsburgh Hearing Research Center (PHRC). Two central goals of the PHRC are to understand how to reconnect the auditory nerve to the brain (regeneration) and to understand how the brain processes sound. But at the same time the PHRC has interests of collaboration that will help to understand other areas. For example; the center will address areas of psychiatry that deal with auditory hallucinations as well as many other auditory deficits. Researchers will create a neurological profile of what happens in the ear and correlate it to what is seen in the brain. Dr. Tzounopoulos has received funding to hire three professors for the center. One who will focus on auditory nerve regeneration,

another to focus on psychophysics (objective measurements of auditory performance – quantify sound perception) and a clinician scientist. “We can help each other in different areas by bringing together audiologists, otolaryngologists, psychiatrists, neuropsychiatrists and auditory cognitive neuroscientists who try to understand better and hopefully categorizing to find different types of things correlated with different neural activity and multiple auditory deficits,” stated Dr. Tzounopoulos By integrating the basic research with the clinical research throughout all aspects of neurosensory research, one can then facilitate the dialogue between the focuses and then identify the synergy and challenges. A strong example would be audition and vision. According to Dr. Tzounopoulos, when people lose their optic nerve, it’s the same type of process as to when someone loses their auditory nerve. It is comparable in that the sensory system responds in a similar way to damage, adaptation and recovery. Collaboration with ophthalmology in neurosensory research is a highlighted focus for the PHRC due to some similarities in the functions of nerve response in the eye and the ear and the common research goals for regeneration in both. Another aspect of Dr. Tzounopoulos’ vision is the physical existence of the hearing center. The goal would be for it to be housed in one building so that doctors, patients, scientists, researchers, donors and all involved have full exposure to the Pittsburgh Hearing Research Center. The Pittsburgh Hearing Research Center, PHRC, consists of a dedicated group of scientists, physicians and staff working on basic and clinical aspects of hearing and sound perception, in both health and disease. Please visit www.phrc.pitt.edu for more details on the Pittsburgh Hearing Research Center.

Dr. Thanos Tzounopoulos 2


Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration International Conference: The “Holy Grail” of Research – Regenerating the Optic Nerve by Carrie Fogel

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very summer since its establishment in 2009, the Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration hosts an international conference in Pittsburgh, where experts in areas of vision restoration science convene to collaborate and discuss research advances. However, this past July, the conference took place at the French Embassy in Washington DC, to build upon the impressive international presence that has always characterized this event, but to also commemorate the newly formed collaboration with the University of Pittsburgh and with the French Institutions: University Pierre et Marie Curie of the Sorbonne Universités, the Institut National de la Santé et de la Recherche Médicale (Inserm), and the Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS). It also provided the opportunity and welcomed some new and prominent guests to the table, including retinal physiology expert John Dowling and Director of the National Eye Institute, Paul Sieving. Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology, Dr. José-Alain Sahel, and Dr. Jeff Gross, Director of the Fox Center and Vice Chair for Research within the Department, knew the value of having a yearly conference with the focus on vision restoration, but recognized an opportunity to make the gathering even more productive by limiting

Speakers Dinner International Conference

the scope to one area of vision restoration, and bringing experts from multiple disciplines to present their work and find ways to share information and to leave the workshop with concrete plans to move forward in their efforts to achieve their goals. The topic Drs. Sahel and Gross chose was optic nerve regeneration. As Dr. Gross explains, ‘optic nerve regeneration is essentially the holy grail of regeneration; even if a person has functional ganglion cells or a healthy retina, without a functional optic nerve they will never be able to see.’ In general, nerve regeneration is an area of science that remains elusive and ties into some of the most devastating conditions humans face when nerves are damaged, such as spinal cord injury and paralysis, and making progress in understanding how to repair optic nerve damage could have important implications for all types of damage to the central nervous system. Dr. Gross explains that he, along with Dr. Sahel, “wanted to find a variety of people with expertise in many complimentary disciplines, so we could compare our findings and then build on our collective knowledge as a group. There are some animals that can regenerate nerves quite well, so we invited scientists working with these types of animals to try and answer these questions.”

As Dr. Gross explains, ‘optic nerve regeneration is essentially the holy grail of regeneration; even if a person has functional ganglion cells or a healthy retina, without a functional optic nerve they will never be able to see.’ The meeting was organized in a manner that provided each scientist with the opportunity to not only present their findings, but to also host a longer discussion forum than typically allowed at scientific meetings. The feedback from some of the invited speakers and guests found this structure to be valuable, as a more limited focus could make way for deep conversations relative to important issues in regeneration. As a result, several collaborative projects have found roots across the different academic institutions and the group was able to coalesce around a group of three key barriers to optic nerve regeneration: neuroprotection, saving healthy cells and preventing them from succumbing to disease; axon regeneration, understanding how better to create signal-carrying cells in order to promote visual activity in the nervous system; and controlling inflammation, which results from acute trauma and can either help or hurt regeneration depending on the intensity. Establishing these key barriers to regeneration and identifying what work needs to be done allowed Dr. Gross and the rest of the scientists to return to their own laboratories with specific action items to pursue this year, and hopefully to return whenever the group reconvenes. Drs. Sahel and Gross look forward to holding more meetings using this small-format style in the future, focusing on these barriers and other, and identifying new ways to collaborate across the world in pursuit of vision restoration. 3


In Memorial

Lillian Spang Rath by Heather Chronis and Lawton Snyder

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he Eye & Ear Foundation lost a dear friend and devoted supporter on June 5, 2017, when Lillian Spang Rath passed away at the age of 97. A resident of Butler, Pennsylvania, and Palm Beach, Florida, Mrs. Rath was a dynamic individual who loved golf, flower arranging, painting, art, travel, and the breeding and racing of Quarter Horses. She was an active member of the Ichiyo School of Ikebana, but even more than these hobbies, Lillian loved her family and friends.

Lillian Spang Rath

“I first met Lillian on a flight home from California. I was stuck in a middle seat, but it didn’t matter after a few minutes of talking to Lillian. She was delightful and soon invited my wife and me to a buckwheat pancake breakfast in Butler. Of course, we went because no one was better company than Lillian,” says Lawton Snyder, Executive Director of the Eye & Ear Foundation. Mrs. Rath quickly became not only a friend to the Snyders, but also to the Eye & Ear Foundation.

Mrs. Rath had a natural interest in the Eye & Ear Foundation, as her daughter-in-law, Diana Mrvos Rath (Diana Mrvos, MD), had completed her residency and fellowship in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh and subsequently developed a large practice in Pittsburgh. Dr. Mrvos, now a member of the Board of Directors for the Eye & Ear Foundation, said, “ Lillian believed deeply that giving back to the community was both a privilege and a duty, and she was especially committed to philanthropy in the medical community. She loved meeting with physicians and professors to hear about their latest research and was thrilled to be able to see the direct results from her gifts.” The Eye & Ear Foundation is honored by Lillian Spang Rath’s support and thankful for her friendship.

Continued from page 1 The agreement highlights an important partnership between the University of Pittsburgh and the French institutions that was made possible by the recent recruitment of José-Alain Sahel, MD, one of the world’s top experts in retinal diseases, as the Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, Director of the UPMC Eye Center, and the Eye & Ear Foundation Endowed Chair of Ophthalmology. Dr. 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 Pierreet-Marie-Curie of the Sorbonne Universités, a top ranked medical school and the largest scientific and medical complex in France. “This agreement will further strengthen the robust scientific and educational partnerships

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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. Our main goal is to work together in vision restoration,” explained Dr. Sahel. The Eye & Ear Foundation is the support organization for the research efforts of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. This historic collaboration provides a unique opportunity for the Eye & Ear Foundation to fundraise globally and support research locally due to the groundbreaking research endeavors in Ophthalmology. Here in Pittsburgh, we will be able to mirror what has been achieved in Paris and perhaps even do it better,” states Dr. Sahel.

“ 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. Our main goal is to work together in vision restoration,” explained Dr. Sahel.


Pittsburgh CREATES Welcomes Executive Director by Heather Chronis

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ittsburgh CREATES (Collaborative for Research, Education and Technology Enhancement for Surgery) welcomed Max Fedor as its first Executive Director in September. Most recently the Program Director of the Coulter Translational Research Partners II Program in the Department of Bioengineering at the Swanson School of Engineering, Mr. Fedor brings to CREATES a successful track record of engaging investors and corporations at the University of Pittsburgh. The Coulter Program is a campus-wide effort to identify, select, fund, and mentor translational biomedical research projects and promote commercialization at the University. This translational research is accomplished by clinician-bioengineer teams that address unmet clinical needs through innovative medical technologies. Mr. Fedor remains enthusiastic about the Coulter Program, as a foundation for translational research at the University, and will assist in transitioning responsibilities to a new Program Director. Fedor’s successful leadership of Coulter provides a map for CREATES as it grows both its innovation and educational components. Mr. Fedor has over 25 years of experience as a business leader and entrepreneur, with a focus on technology commercialization, general management and operations.

CREATES provides both a platform and a physical center for surgeons to collaborate on cutting edge innovation and surgical education. To perform minimally invasive surgery with the greatest expertise, surgeons need state of the art equipment.

Max Fedor, Executive Director of Pittsburgh CREATES. Prior to Coulter, he was President and CEO of BIOSAFE, Inc., a Pittsburgh-based manufacturer of patented antimicrobial polymers, which he transitioned to a strategic investor in 2013 & 2014. In addition, he served as Executive-in-Residence at the Pittsburgh Life Sciences Greenhouse, managing a portfolio of companies, while mentoring their leadership teams and directors.  Mr. Fedor has also held CEO and other senior level positions in a number of early stage companies, where he successfully developed and launched new medical technology products, raised investment capital and formed partnerships with industry leaders, such as Bayer, J&J and Alstom. Mr. Fedor earned a bachelor’s degree in Engineering and Applied Sciences from Harvard College and an MBA from the Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business. “I am excited to have the opportunity to lead CREATES as a fundamentally new way to extend our world renowned expertise in advanced surgical technologies and

know-how to industry partners.” “The new Collaborative builds upon the University’s outstanding presence in medical innovation, toward improving patient care and outcomes. It is also well-aligned with the University’s strategic goals to significantly extend our reach and impact on communities, worldwide.”, stated Mr. Fedor CREATES provides both a platform and a physical center for surgeons to collaborate on cutting edge innovation and surgical education. To perform minimally invasive surgery with the greatest expertise, surgeons need state of the art equipment. In the surgical innovation component of CREATES, companies that manufacture surgical equipment will have the ability to have their products tested and receive feedback on potential changes from the surgeons of various specialties. Mr. Fedor’s extensive experience in the technology sector provides CREATES with a leader that has a unique business perspective on future possibilities for collaboration.

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Society for Middle Ear Disease Hosts Ethiopian Scholar by Robyn K. Coggins, Senior Editor, Pittwire

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n an effort to address the need for routine care and treatment of ear diseases around the world, the nonprofit Society for Middle Ear Disease (SMED) in partnership with the Eye & Ear Foundation, hosted its firstever Visiting Scholar in August. SMED was founded by Dr. Charles D. Bluestone, Distinguished Professor of Otolaryngology at University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Alene Meshesha is an ear, nose and throat (ENT) surgeon at St Paul’s Hospital Millennium Medical College in Ethiopia, where he is one of just 28 ENTs in the country of 100 million people. (For comparison, UPMC alone is home to 30 ENTs.) Since almost no child makes it to adulthood without some kind of ear disease, and the consequences of a lack of treatment include, hearing loss and even death, it’s especially important to train more healthcare professionals in the prevention and management of common ear infections, such as otitis media. The goal of the Visiting Scholar program was to enhance Dr. Meshesha’s skills and know-how so he can then share what he learned with the three ENTs at his home hospital and beyond. During his three weeks in Pittsburgh, Dr. Meshesha attended a temporal bone course at the Eye & Ear Institute, observed surgeries with Drs. Dennis Kitsko and David Chi at Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC, and accompanied Drs. Barry Hirsch and Andrew McCall in the outpatient clinic and operating room. Dr. Meshesha says he was impressed by the Pittsburgh doctors’ engagement with their patients, citing in particular their compassionate care. “They don’t treat only the pathology; they treat the patient as a whole,” Alene says. “The patients here are very fortunate.”

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Members of the Board of the Society for Middle Ear Disease, along with Faculty from the Department of Otolaryngology hosted a farewell dinner in honor of Dr. Alene. In the Operating Room, Dr. Meshesha appreciated observing the standardization of training and processes. Because resources and specialists are so scarce in Ethiopia, staff in operating rooms there are often learning as they go. He says smoothing out procedures is something he aspires toward in his own operating room. Dr. Meshesha says he’s wanted to be a doctor since he was a child. As a young boy, he experienced first hand Ethiopia’s devastating drought, famine and the political turmoil from 1983 to 1985 and, as a result, has always wanted to help people in need. After entering a training service in 10th grade and passing his national examinations, Dr. Meshesha completed medical training at the University of Gondar, Ethiopia’s oldest medical school. His practice today by necessity encompasses a little bit of everything—from addressing the otolaryngology needs of children to adults, from ear infections to brain surgery. To help ease the burden of ear disease in Ethiopia, Dr. Meshesha says increasing the number of trained ENTs in the country is “just the tip of the iceberg.” Specialists are scarce, particularly in rural areas, since general medical needs are so immediate. There is currently no national survey or means to get a baseline of the actual

burden of ear diseases, though his personal experience suggests the prevalence is quite high. Often, hospitals lack resources to conduct basic examinations. As such, hospitals rely on visiting doctors to fly in much-needed supplies. “There are so many treatable conditions,” he says. The trick is building capacity to treat them in the context of a turbulent climate. Dr. Meshesha is confident, however, that he can take the Pittsburgh physicians’ careful attention toward patients back to Addis Ababa and model that patient-first attitude immediately. “The rest”—getting supplies, establishing protocols, training more staff—“will take time,” he says. For now, he’s excited to return home to his wife, a pharmacist, and his children after a quick stop in Washington D.C. Based on the success of Dr. Meshesha’s visit, SMED and the Eye & Ear Foundation are looking forward to continuing these efforts. The two groups joined forces in 2016 to increase awareness of ear diseases and to educate healthcare professionals around the world about issues related to hearing and the ear. Some of the costs for Dr. Meshesha’s visit were also funded by a campaign through Engage Pitt—a crowdfunding site specifically for projects at the University of Pittsburgh.


Louis J. Fox – 2017 Recipient of the Big Pi Award Mark Loevner, Annie Sahel, José-Alain Sahel, MD, and Catherine Loevner.

Art of Vision

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n May 25th, Catherine and Mark Loevner opened their Squirrel Hill home for a cocktail party welcoming José-Alain, MD and Annie Sahel to Pittsburgh. The Loevners’ art filled living room was the inspiration for the “Art of Vision”, a salon style format much like the grand salons of Paris. Dr. Sahel spoke to the 75 guests about how changes in artist’s eyesight changed their individual styles of painting over time. Many of the guests, including members of the EEF Board of Directors, were both lovers of Impressionism, in addition to being supporters of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh, thus providing an enthusiastic discussion among all involved. “This is the last public event I plan to do in my home and I most certainly saved the best event for last. It was a true honor to introduce Dr. and Mrs. Sahel to many of their new neighbors in the East End. Most importantly, Mark and I are ecstatic to have begun a wonderful friendship with the Sahels,” says Catherine Loevner.

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he Pi Lambda Phi Fraternity awarded the Big Pi award to Eye & Ear Foundation Board Member Louis J. Fox, on August 5, 2017 during their national convention in Pittsburgh. The Big Pi Award is awarded to alumni Brothers who are held in high esteem by virtue of outstanding accomplishment, thereby, bringing honor to the Brother and Pi Lambda Phi fraternity. It is the “lifetime achievement award” for Pi Lam and the Big Pi Chapter has become a “who’s who” of well-regarded and famous Pi Lam alumni including, athletes Rafer Johnson and Sandy Koufax, Senators Herbert Kohl and Benjamin Cardin, and the founders of modern musical theater, Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein. Mr. Fox’s devotion to philanthropy is exemplified by his critical support of the Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration of UPMC and the University of Pittsburgh, the first national, comprehensive, multi-disciplinary research and clinical program dedicated to ocular regenerative medicine.

Louis J. Fox

Peggy Williams, Carole Kamin, Linda Melada of the LHAS presenting Dr. José-Alain Sahel (middle) a check in support of his research with Dr. Arthur Levine, Senior Vice Chancellor for Health Sciences. Photo credit: Mainline Photography.

Eyes on the Future Pittsburgh to Paris

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adies Hospital Aid Society (LHAS) honored José-Alain Sahel, MD, Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh during their annual Gala held on September 7th at the Carnegie Music Hall Foyer. The evening’s theme, Eyes on the Future – Pittsburgh to Paris, highlighted Dr. Sahel’s journey from Paris to Pittsburgh and the global collaboration that the University of Pittsburgh and the Sorbonne have begun in 2017. A record crowd of 260 attended the event that included Parisian food, can-can dancers and classical French guitar music. LHAS presented Dr. Sahel and the Department of Ophthalmology with a check for $125,000 in support of research. “My wife Annie and I were so honored by the LHAS Gala. We had a magnificent evening surrounded by friends and colleagues all while benefiting the Department of Ophthalmology. LHAS, for over 100 years, has advanced healthcare in Pittsburgh and it has been an absolute pleasure working them with this past year,” states Dr. Sahel.

Ask the Experts

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he Eye & Ear Foundation held two ‘Ask the Experts’ style events this year, which have long been favorites of our friends and supporters, as people have the opportunity to hear about the latest and most exciting research being done by our esteemed faculty.

Alain Sahel to introduce some of his most promising researchers and clinicians to a new audience. Our speakers discussed not only their particular fields of interest, but allowed our guests insight into why the scientists chose their specialty and their desire to serve people suffering from blinding disorders.

In May, Eye & Ear Foundation Board of Director, Vi Soffer hosted the 8th annual Joseph Soffer Memorial Lecture, which allowed Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology, Dr. José-

Just a few months later in September, we were fortunate to hold another Ask the Experts event, hosted by friends of the Eye & Ear Foundation, Marian and Steven Mosites.

This lecture focused on Personalized Medicine and Survivorship Care for Head and Neck cancer. Speakers Dr. Robert Ferris, Director of the Hillman Cancer Center and Dr. Jonas Johnson, Chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology, shared with guests how taking a patient-centered approach to cancer treatment and post-treatment care is the way of the future to ensure positive outcomes and fewer life-altering side effects. 7


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Partnering to Advance Care by Lawton Snyder

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t the July 12 Signing Ceremony in Washington DC, President Jean Chambaz, Université Pierre-et-Marie-Curie of the Sorbonne Universités, invited members of the Eye & Ear Foundation Board to visit Paris for an up-close look at the Institut de la Vision. Three members of the EEF Board, Mr. George Fechter, Mr. Chuck Brodbeck, Mr. Bruce Wiegand, and an EEF major donor, Dr. E. Ronald Salvitti, traveled at their own expense to Paris for a two-day tour and reception hosted by President Chambaz. After tours of the state of the art functional assessment facility called “the StreetLab” and the clinical research facilities where over 60 clinical trials are ongoing, the consensus is that the research being conducted by our partner institution in Paris, under the direction of University of Pittsburgh Chairman of Ophthalmology, Dr. José-Alain Sahel is remarkable. 

Members of the Eye & Ear Foundation Board of Directors meet the Paris group. The group was particularly impressed with two new devices, which are currently being reviewed by the FDA for patients with degenerative retinal conditions, such as macular degeneration. Once these devices are approved, Pittsburgh will be the first site in the United States for a clinical trial. In every generation, Pitt/UPMC has rose to leadership. In the 1950’s, the Salk vaccine was our gift to the world. A generation later our transplant technology involved

world leadership. What was obvious to our group is that we are entering a new era in research and treatments, which will greatly benefit patients in Pittsburgh and around the world. The 350 vision researchers in Paris, combined with the investment by the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC to match the efforts in Pittsburgh, will make this venture the most important academic undertaking to advance the care for every form of vision impairment in history.

EEF Sight + Sound Fall 2017