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News for Supporters and Friends


One Size Doesn’t Fit All by Carrie Fogel

Broadly defined, personalized medicine is a ‘one size doesn’t fit all’ approach to medicine in which physicians use diagnostic tests combined with genetic information to determine which medical treatments will offer patients the highest chance of success while also considering what treatments may not be worth pursuing. The theory is that this type of individualized attention leads to more accurate diagnoses, earlier and more effective intervention, and more efficient drug therapies.

T Dr. Uma Duvvuri is giving trainees instructions during a surgical procedure

In This Issue Breaking Ground & Building a New Future


The Bruce and Barbara Wiegand Entrepreneurial Award 3 The Team Approach of Science for Solutions


Never Forgetting Who Got Him There – Dr. Soham Roy Establishes a Legacy Gift


Mr. Energy, Milton Fine


Solving the Puzzle of Glaucoma by Bringing the Right Pieces Together


The Violet and Joseph Soffer Memorial Lecture


he physicians and surgeons working in the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh have been using personalized approaches to the treatment of cancers of the head and neck for several years. The Department has long been the recipient of a SPORE grant from the National Institutes of Health, directed by Dr. Robert Ferris, which is aimed at improving the prevention, detection, and treatment of cancer. An Eye & Ear Foundation fund, the Marian Mosites Initiative for Personalized Medicine in Head and Neck Cancer, generously established by the Mosites Family, has provided support to the Department for nearly 5 years. Dr. Umamaheswar Duvvuri has treated patients with cancers of the head and neck for more than a decade, and is working, both in surgical innovation and basic science to offer better options to patients going through such a difficult form of cancer. One area that interests him is understanding why some patients are cured and why others develop a recurrence. “We have people with early stage cancers that should be cured with conventional treatments; surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, and most of them will be cured, but some will unfortunately perish because of their disease. We want to know what is it about these patients who do not survive after treatment? My concept is that there is something personalized about their disease that makes them different from the others. There’s something about that particular patient who couldn’t be saved that we want to study through genetics,” says Dr. Duvvuri. Dr. Duvvuri proposes to understand this by doing genomic sequencing of a cancer from a non-survivor, which may provide some clues as to the differences in the person’s genetic predisposition to recurring, incurable cancer. Dr. Duvvuri recently performed a study, in conjunction with the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle, identifying a cohort of 20 patients with early stage HPV-positive oropharyngeal cancer who were treated and cured, and 7 who were treated and were not cured. When the cancer in these 7 patients recurred, Dr. Duvvuri and the team were able to biopsy both the original and recurrent cancers and compare them to those who were cured. Continued on page 3

Breaking Ground & Building a New Future by Heather Chronis Danek


n March 14, 2019, UPMC, along with Dr. José-Alain Sahel MD, Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, broke ground for the Vision and Rehabilitation at Mercy. Projected to open in 2022, the building will be located on the UPMC Mercy Hospital campus in Uptown Pittsburgh. A crowd of over 200 including members of the Eye & Ear Foundation Board, the Department of Ophthalmology faculty and staff, UPMC leadership and the Pittsburgh community came together to celebrate this exciting milestone for vision research and clinical care. The nine story, 410,000 square foot facility is carefully designed to welcome all patients and visitors with the thoughtful placement of physical cues that will help navigate from the point of entry throughout the entire

hospital. This will be a collaborative space for clinicians, researchers, educators and industry partners. Visitors will be greeted by a clear view into the building, signaling that it is a place for healing and an incubator for medical advancements. “This facility will provide the environment for developing breakthrough therapies for blinding diseases and improve the access for all to the best management of their medical condition”, states Dr. Sahel. It will include innovative laboratory settings, imitating an apartment and a street where patients can go through simulations that teach them critical life skills, enabled by vision performance testing and vision and physical rehabilitation. Other areas include exam rooms, an optical shop, and a pharmacy. Training ramps and stairs in a healing garden on the roof terrace give patients a safe environment in which to prepare for real-life experiences.

Locust Street view of the UPMC Vision and Rehabilitation at Mercy 2

Officials breaking ground on UPMC’s Vision and Rehabilitation at Mercy The new UPMC Vision and Rehabilitation at Mercy will also be a community partner to the Uptown neighborhood as a variety of initiatives including job training programs will be instituted with the opening of the facility in an effort to offer career opportunities for local residents.

The Bruce and Barbara Wiegand Entrepreneurial Award by Lawton Snyder


s soon as you meet Bruce and Barbara Wiegand, you immediately recognize their great passion for family and the organizations they support in the Pittsburgh community. We have been most fortunate to have had the Wiegands so involved in the Eye & Ear Foundation (EEF) for the past several years. They have given their time and resources through Bruce’s participation on the EEF’s Board of Directors, and their yearly support of the annual winter lecture series in Naples, Florida, which has now introduced hundreds directly to the Foundation. Through these experiences the Wiegands have learned how the Departments of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology are hard at work developing new therapies and technologies to advance patient care. Bruce and Barbara even took the time to visit the Institute de la Vision in Paris to learn how incredibly productive Dr. José-Alain Sahel’s teams have been in translating science to patient care, and they now have a greater appreciation of what can be accomplished here in Pittsburgh. We are most grateful to the Wiegands for their transformational support. This year will be the third year the Department of Ophthalmology names a Wiegand Research Fellow. This Fellowship supports a research scientist working on imaging to advance care for glaucoma or other blinding conditions. Most recently, Bruce and Barbara made a

generous gift to establish the Bruce and Barbara Wiegand Entrepreneurial Research Award through the Eye & Ear Foundation of Pittsburgh. “Since I joined the Board, I have believed that a vehicle should exist to provide an economic benefit to the Foundation for grants which result in commercial technologies or therapies. Adding this new dimension to selected grants potentially enhances the value of all gifts from our generous supporters,” states Bruce Wiegand. These funds will be held at the Eye & Ear Foundation and will be awarded only to faculty from the Departments of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The criteria for the award is to fund medical research in the pre-commercialization stage, where support is still required before commercialization options can be considered. The Wiegand’s intent in establishing this award is in direct response to the need expressed by both Department Chairmen, Jonas T. Johnson, MD and José-Alain Sahel, MD, to support promising projects which often fall short of funding before commercialization that would ultimately provide new therapies for patients. When this award was created, the Wiegand’s requested that the grant agreement stipulate that any project successfully commercialized would offer a financial return to the Eye & Ear Foundation to support future projects for the Departments of Ophthalmology and

Bruce and Barbara Wiegand, Paris 2018 Otolaryngology. The agreement now exists and we hope will help provide future revenue for additional research at the Eye & Ear Foundation. The Eye & Ear Foundation Board of Directors and the Departments of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology Chairmen and Faculty would like to thank Bruce and Barbara Wiegand for their extraordinary generosity, along with their passion and commitment to advancing patient care. Please call the Eye & Ear Foundation at 412864-1300 to ask about the matching support offered for donations to the Bruce and Barbara Wiegand Entrepreneurial Research Award.

Continued from page 1 This type of ‘before-and-after’ study has not been done widely before, and can provide very useful information, perhaps patterns or even a ‘signature’ of incurable cancer. This information can be used to either escalate or de-escalate treatments based on a patient’s genetic information, resulting in better outcomes and greater chance for survival. While this study has provided many useful conclusions, the reality is that a study of 27 individuals is very small. There is a need to do

more work in this area, with a larger number of participants to really identify what genetic components make someone a ‘curable’ or ‘incurable’ head and neck cancer patient. In addition to this project, Dr. Duvvuri is working to perform bioinformatic analysis with colleagues from the University of WashingtonSeattle as well as the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute (UPCI), working closely with its Director, Dr. Robert Ferris, to do more analysis of this type, but funding is needed

to continue working with other institutions to collect data from patients around the country. Dr. Duvvuri states that, “while the goals seem lofty, they are within reach. The promise of personalized medicine is for patients to have the right treatment, for the right problem, at the right time. It’s a simple idea, but difficult to accomplish.”


The Team Approach of Science for Solutions by Carrie Fogel


ince its establishment, the Eye & Ear Foundation has had the support of its Board of Directors who have been instrumental in the success of the Foundation’s mission to advance care through funding research in the Departments of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology. Part of the Foundation’s mission to support research compels our Board, the physicians we work with and the Foundation staff to educate the public about issues such as vision loss, hearing loss, and other conditions that many experience. We are always looking for ways to meet new people to share important information that may help them pay attention to their own wellbeing and stay current on topics in healthcare. There is always the question, one that many of our supporters have, that asks ‘what more can we do?’ Both Department Chairmen, Dr. Jonas T. Johnson and Dr. José-Alain Sahel, have evolved the way that they prioritize areas of research, by encouraging those working in complementary areas of science and particular disease states to come together to share resources and create a stronger, more connected team. The hope is that by forming these teams around the diseases and conditions that are most common,

Dr. Vishal Jhanji, Dr. Jim Funderburgh, and Dr. Deep Dhaliwal 4

we can engage and mobilize members of the community around common goals and solutions. Taskforces in each Department will organize and develop over the coming months, but there are two teams that have already made great progress in coming together to form ideas and to engage community members. Team 1: Cornea The Department of Ophthalmology has, for many years, produced robust, high-quality research aiming to solve the problems related to vision loss in the front of the eye, the cornea. Because of our well-established program, the Cornea Taskforce is one of the first that has organized all those working in these areas of science around common goals. Leading the taskforce are surgeon and Eye & Ear Foundation Board member, Deepinder Dhaliwal, MD, LAc. and James Funderburgh, PhD, Professor of Cell Biology & Physiology. Dr. Dhaliwal has been the Director of UPMC Eye Center’s Cornea and Refractive Surgery Services for several years, and her clinical expertise is widely recognized and respected. Dr. Funderburgh is an expert in stem cell research who has received a great amount of federal support for his work in using stem cells to treat corneal blindness.

Dr. Yiqin Du

The taskforce also includes Vishal Jhanji, MD, and Yiqin Du, MD, PhD. While all have been in collaboration, some even for many years, this new ‘team’ structure allows for communication on the progress of certain research projects and for clinicians, who see patients every day with all types of problems, to bring the problems that they see in the clinic directly to the researchers who may be able to work towards a solution. Dr. Funderburgh has proven, through his innovative approach to remediating corneal blindness, that the corneal stromal stem cells that he and Dr. Du have worked together to create are capable of truly astounding results. This revolutionary method for using one’s own stem cells located in the cornea to clear corneal scarring and remedy corneal blindness has been successful in trials conducted in India. With donor support, we hope to have this therapy in clinical trials in the United States very soon. Their success in using stem cells this way has led to a new collaboration in research with Dr. Vishal Jhanji, one of the more recent clinician additions to our faculty, who is a corneal specialist with an interest in keratoconus. Keratoconus occurs when the corneal tissue becomes thin and bulging; a loss of collagen prevents the cornea from retaining its intended shape. Drs. Du, Funderburgh, and Jhanji hypothesize that if they place stem cells from a normal cornea onto a cornea with keratoconus, the affected cornea will regrow normal corneal tissue. This hypothesis has been successful in a mouse model, and the team is preparing to begin studies on larger animals in the near future. In order to assist with moving these research projects into trial and through approval processes such as those with the FDA, the team has concluded that the need is important enough to hire a Research Coordinator. The Coordinator will allow our scientists and clinicians to continue their work while having the support of a person who is making sure that projects are proceeding as planned and continue to increase in number.

Dr. Thanos Tzounopolous, with the talented members of his laboratory that conducts research in auditory neuroscience. Team 2: Pittsburgh Hearing Research Center The Pittsburgh Hearing Research Center (PHRC) was the first project around which a taskforce was formed. This early organization is credited to Board Members Michele McKenney and Charles Cohen, who felt that the work of the PHRC was in need of outside attention from the community, and could benefit immediately from a focused group of people sharing their work with interested parties. The PHRC is a multidisciplinary team of clinicians and basic scientists trying to understand how hearing and sound perception work at the mechanistic level. The PHRC was founded by Thanos Tzounopoulos, PhD, Endowed Professor and Vice Chair of Research of Otolaryngology. The PHRC studies normal auditory processing and hearing loss, with the goal of understanding better hearing loss related problems. Dr. Tzounopoulos and his team have made progress in understanding tinnitus, which is a consequence of hearing loss; between 2011 and 2018, they completed the ‘discovery phase’ for new drugs, which was funded through support from the Department of

Defense. While working on this new drug that has the potential to prevent and reverse tinnitus, The PHRC concurrently seeks to understand the ways in which types of hearing loss and tinnitus are differentiated in people. The team plans to develop a new method of classifying people and their hearing loss and tinnitus in a much more mechanistic and neuroscience-based way than has ever been used. The PHRC understands that basic scientists working in auditory neuroscience need to work hand in hand with the clinicians who see patients to make a difference in people’s overall health. At the first taskforce meeting, members learned that no other University in the country has a center with this connected structure or this level of expertise. With the joint leadership of Catherine Palmer, PhD, Director of Audiology Services for UPMC and the Audiology program in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences, we have the advantage of having a clinic completely connected with a research center, which is key to accomplishing the goal of helping patients. Because of our connection with the hospitals, Dr. Tzounopoulos and others have

recruited many members of the PHRC from multiple departments of the University of Pittsburgh and Carnegie Mellon University. More recently, two new faculty members, Drs Ross Williamson and Michele Insanally, have been recruited from other Universities because they recognize the value of this type of center. The first meetings of the PHRC taskforce have prompted the formation of a list of priorities that our community-based members can share with interested parties, which include implementing a greater number of clinical trials and opportunities for scientists to directly interface with patients experiencing hearing loss and tinnitus. The overarching goal of the PHRC and its taskforce is to help patients better manage their hearing loss and tinnitus, and to eventually find permanent solutions, not just treatments, to these devastating conditions. Taskforces are being developed to focus on other disease states and conditions in both Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology. Highlights of their work and progress will be featured in future issues of Sight + Sound. 5

Never Forgetting Who Got Him There – Dr. Soham Roy Establishes a Legacy Gift by Heather Chronis Danek


hen Soham Roy, MD, FACS, FAAP, came in 2000, to train as a fellow in the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, he knew that he was being prepared to become not only a great head and neck surgeon but also an amazing leader in his field. Now, as Professor and Vice Chairman, Department of Otorhinolaryngology and Chief of Pediatric Otolaryngology - Head and Neck Surgery and Assistant Dean, Admissions and Student Affairs, at University of Texas Medical School at Houston and Children’s Memorial Hermann Hospital, he relies daily on the training he received under Eugene Myers, MD, Emeritus Chair, and Jonas Johnson, MD, Chairman of the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. “I would not be where I am today if it had not been for my training in Pittsburgh,” says Dr. Roy.

“As I look forward to the second half of my career, I started to think about the legacy I wanted to leave behind after I move on from this life. The University of Pittsburgh Department of Otolaryngology continues to play a major role in my life and my career development. As such, it was fundamentally important to me that I recognize the Department of Otolaryngology in my trust and estate.” - Dr. Soham Roy 6

As Dr. Roy began to make financial plans for the future, he remembered fondly not only his training with Drs. Myers and Johnson but also Charles Bluestone, MD, Margaretha Casselbrandt, MD, Grant Gillman, MD, Ellis Arjmand, MD, and Robert Yellon, MD, among many others, all who helped him become the surgeon that he is today. “As I look forward to the second half of my career, I started to think about the legacy I wanted to leave behind after I move on from this life. The University of Pittsburgh Department of Otolaryngology continues to play a major role in my life and my career development. As such, it was fundamentally important to me that I recognize the Department of Otolaryngology in my trust and estate. Even 17 years after I completed my training, I remain indebted to many people in the Department and continue to rely on mentorship from my former UPMC teachers. Many of my career accomplishments and aspirations are inextricably linked to the values that were instilled in me during my time at UPMC. I hope that my legacy gift will in some way give thanks back to many of my friends and mentors from UPMC who have continued to inspire and guide me almost 20 years later,” states Dr. Roy. “We stay in close contact to offer counseling as should be the case in helping graduates of our program in the development of the careers and Soham Roy’s career is the very essence of what the faculty in the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh strives to produce. Dr. Roy has succeeded in providing excellent patient care, research, and education. He continues to build his career while currently enrolled in an MBA program at Carnegie Mellon University. As the Assistant Dean, he adds another element which broadens his career and will help him to achieve his goal of becoming a department chair, and ultimately, dean of a medical school,” according to Dr. Eugene N. Myers.

Soham Roy, MD, FACS, FAAP Estate gifts to the Eye & Ear Foundation enable an individual to support the Departments of Otolaryngology or Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Gifts may be directed to a specific research project or area of interest within the Department. Having an ongoing discussion with the Eye & Ear Foundation, in turn, allows a planned giving donor to update their estate plans and continue to carve out how their funds can be utilized in the best and most personal way possible. The Eye & Ear Foundation is thankful to Dr. Roy and all of their planned giving donors for inclusion in their estate plans. The Eye & Ear Foundation is a non- profit 501 (C)(3) organization created solely to support the educational and research efforts of the Departments of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh.

Mr. Energy, Milton Fine by Lawton Snyder


his past March, we had to say goodbye to a legendary Pittsburgh businessman, philanthropist, and a very good friend to the Eye & Ear Foundation, Mr. Milton Fine. The best word I could use to describe Milton is energy. Whenever I would visit Milton and Sheila, I looked forward to the warm welcome, interesting conversation, and I always left feeling the positive energy that Milton had a way of injecting into the room. I even noticed this during my most recent visit in February, which would sadly turn out to be my last visit with Milton. Milton applied this energy in his business life to earn an international reputation as one of the hospitality industry’s outstanding leaders and used it to impact the Pittsburgh community in so many positive ways. Milton was very engaged as a volunteer and philanthropist

in Pittsburgh’s cultural life and the Jewish community. Throughout the years, Milton and Sheila have also supported many projects at Eye & Ear Foundation, both independently and through the Fine Foundation. Although Milton’s devotion was to the arts and other causes, he fully supported Sheila’s passion for the health sciences. Sheila as a former member of the Eye & Ear Foundation Board of Directors, has stayed very interested in the work of the Foundation. Even still, we could always count on Milton to enthusiastically participate in the discussions on health topics at every opportunity. The Fines have been long-time friends of Eugene N. Myers, MD, Distinguished Professor and Emeritus Chair and Jonas Johnson, MD, Distinguished Service Professor and Chairman, both in the Department of Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh. Milton and Sheila also extended

Milton and Sheila Fine a warm welcome to José-Alain Sahel, MD, Professor and Chairman, in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh, and his family when they relocated from Paris. Even though Milton’s legacy will live on in Pittsburgh and the Eye & Ear Foundation, it does not make it any easier to say goodbye to someone who impacted this world and the people who knew him so profoundly. On behalf of everyone at the Eye & Ear Foundation we extend our most heartfelt sympathies to Sheila and the Fine Family for their loss.

Solving the Puzzle of Glaucoma by Bringing the Right Pieces Together by Heather Chronis Danek


he Initiative to Cure Glaucoma, funded by many generous donors and established in 2015, will continue despite Dr. Nils Loewen’s return to his home country of Germany. Ian Conner, MD, PhD, will now serve as the clinical leader for the Initiative to Cure Glaucoma, with Ian Sigal, PhD, as the scientific lead. The team also includes José-Alain Sahel, MD, Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology, and Jeffrey

Initiative to Cure Glaucoma team: Dr. José-Alain Sahel, Dr. Jeffrey Gross, Dr. Takaaki Kuwajima, Dr. Ethan Rossi, Dr. Ian Sigal, Dr. Yiqin Du, and Dr. Ian Conner. Missing from photo: Dr. Morgan Fedorchak

Gross, PhD, Vice Chairman of Research for the Department of Ophthalmology. Yiqin Du, MD, PhD, will continue using stem cells to remodel the trabecular meshwork. Morgan Fedorchak, PhD, will also continue work with her drug delivery system, SoliDrop, which allows for the pressure lowering eye drops to be inserted into the eye once a month rather than multiple times a day. Glaucoma is characterized by the degeneration of optic nerve, which is followed by retinal ganglion death, resulting in vision loss. This next phase of the Initiative to Cure Glaucoma will involve branching out into a new and exciting research avenue with Dr. Sigal and Ethan Rossi, PhD, who use advanced imaging technologies to model the back of the eye, including the structure and function of the retina and optic nerve head. This research is part of an effort to develop novel techniques to treat glaucoma. The research of Takaaki

Kuwajima, PhD will utilize an innovative in vitro screen to identify drugs that stimulate axon regeneration after optic nerve injury. One very common class of drugs, cholesterol lowering statins, have been shown to function as axon growth-enhancing reagents, with some clinical papers indicating that statins delay the progression of glaucoma in patients. The team will work to determine the most efficacious statins to use to help delay glaucoma. According the Dr. Conner, “The ongoing research here in Pittsburgh represents the full spectrum of glaucoma investigation. Our laboratories focused on trabecular meshwork biology and optic nerve structure and function are fundamental to developing new treatments for this blinding disease. At the same time, we are already developing transformative technologies for medication delivery and new therapeutic targets that seek to immediately improve the efficiency of treatments, and the lives of our patients.”





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If you no longer wish to receive our newsletter, please submit requests to our mailing address, or email optout@eyeandear.org The official registration and financial information of the Eye & Ear Foundation may be obtained from the Pennsylvania Department of State by calling toll free, within Pennsylvania, 1-800-732-0999. Registration does not imply endorsement. The Eye & Ear Foundation of Pittsburgh is a nonprofit 501 (C)(3) organization. Our mission is to support the research and academic efforts of the Departments of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh. Donations to support our research initiatives can be made online at eyeandear.org or by returning the enclosed envelope. For more information on the Foundation, our research, or the articles in this newsletter, please contact Katherine Troy, Director of Operations, at katherine@eyeandear.org or 412-864-1300.

The 2019 Violet and Joseph Soffer Memorial Lecture by Heather Chronis Danek


n May 15th, the Violet and Joseph Soffer Memorial Lecture took place at Rodef Shalom Congregation. This is the first Soffer Lecture to honor the memory of both Violet and Joseph Soffer, long time supporters of the Department of Ophthalmology and the Eye & Ear Foundation. Mr. and Mrs. Soffer’s

son, James Lee Soffer, hosted the evening that included a robust crowd of nearly 70 guests, all of whom were very engaged in the ophthalmic discussion led by José-Alain Sahel, MD, Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology, and returning moderator Morgan Fedorchak, PhD, inventor of SoliDrop (refer to the article on page 7). First

time Soffer Lecture participants Colin Prensky, MD, and Anthony St. Leger, PhD, joined Jeffrey Gross, PhD, Vice Chairman of Research for Ophthalmology, on the panel for the evening’s group discussion which included information on the aging eye, clinical updates and breakthroughs in research.

Dr. & Mrs. Sahel visit with good friends, John & Geri Boccella and Mia Boccella-Hartle

Dr. Jeff Gross with long-time supporter Nancy McDonald

Lawney Snyder, Dr. José-Alain Sahel, James Soffer (host), and Dr. Arthur Levine

Profile for Eye & Ear Foundation of Pittsburgh

EEF Sight + Sound: Spring 2019  

EEF Sight + Sound: Spring 2019