Through the Looking Glass - University of Pittsburgh Summer 2021 Alumni Newsletter

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Message from the Chairman


s we come to the end of another academic year, I can’t help but look back and reflect on the year that we’ve had. In 2020 our department, along with the rest of the world, faced unprecedented challenges while battling the COVID-19 pandemic. Our clinics slowed, our research paused or shut down, and our residents and fellows trained under conditions they never could’ve imagined when coming to Pittsburgh. As we slowly return to a sense of normalcy within our department, we are once again excited to celebrate the accomplishments of our residents, fellows, faculty, and alumni over the past year. In this issue you’ll get to meet our graduating residents and outgoing fellows. These young doctors represent the next generation of scientists and clinicians and we’re thrilled to welcome them to our outstanding group of alumni. We also highlight accomplishments within our department, recognizing award winners and scholarship recipients. Sadly, we also say goodbye to one of our own, as we celebrate the life of Dr. Dan Vittone, a resident alum of the department who passed away earlier this year. Our partnership with the Eye & Ear Foundation continues to build a solid foundation for our department José-Alain Sahel, MD to be a world leader in vision research and treatment. The Foundation recently announced their New Horizons for Care Campaign, an ambitious initiative to help our department be a world leader in vision research and patient care. Additionally, recognizing our desire and responsibility to provide access to quality vision care for all patients, the Foundation recently established a Community Outreach Committee to help us understand our role in the community and to build upon established programs such as the Guerilla Eye Service. This issue’s alumni spotlight highlights the career of Dr. Richard Bowers, a University of Pittsburgh resident alumni and member of the Community Outreach Committee. We look forward to the upcoming year and hope to continue working with our alumni and showing the world of the progress taking place within the University of Pittsburgh Department of Ophthalmology. Best, José-Alain Sahel, MD Distinguished Professor and Chairman, Department of Ophthalmology Eye & Ear Foundation Endowed Chair, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine Exceptional Class Professor, Sorbonne University, Paris

In This Issue Message from the Chairman


For the First Time, Optogenetic Therapy Partially Restores Patient’s Vision


Eye & Ear Foundation Announces Ambitious Campaign


Graduating Residents


In Rememberance


Departing Fellows


Department Awards


Ophthalmology Alumni Spotlight


Webinar Information

Back Cover

Eye & Ear Foundation Announces Ambitious Campaign The Eye & Ear Foundation has announced their New Horizons for Care Campaign. The Eye & Ear Foundation (EEF) is a public, non-profit organization that supports the Departments of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. Its mission is to advance cutting-edge academic and research efforts with the ultimate goal of enhancing patient care. EEF launched the $80 Million Campaign in 2016 and has reached over its halfway point, $52 Million. According to the Eye & Ear Foundation CEO Lawton Snyder, the New Horizons for Care Campaign responds to the community’s needs to address the increasing number of people affected by age-related conditions such as macular degeneration, glaucoma, and hearing loss. As the two academic research Departments are growing, “We saw an opportunity for Pittsburgh to be a world leader in finding new ways to advance care, first in our backyard, and ultimately the rest of the world. By raising and distributing philanthropic dollars to the Departments of Ophthalmology and Otolaryngology, the Foundation encourages individuals,

foundations, and businesses to support enhancing and advancing care for people with diseases and disorders of the eye, ear, nose, throat, head, and neck,” says Snyder. The Foundation intends to complete its Campaign by the end of 2023. Ophthalmology’s goals, A New Vision for Pittsburgh and Beyond, were inspired by the arrival of Department Chairman José-Alain Sahel, MD, to Pittsburgh in 2016. Vision degeneration affects nearly everyone in one form or another as they age, and the number of individuals with visual impairments is expected to triple by 2050. His teams work on nearly every aspect of blindness, from common conditions such as glaucoma and macular degeneration to regenerative therapies and engineering artificial retinas and the hardware and software that feeds them information. Attraction and Retention of Prominent Faculty and Junior Faculty We have the recognition and attractive environment to recruit top faculty worldwide at both the senior and junior levels. There is a need to establish chairs for the senior faculty

that would attract such talent. Additionally, there are incredibly talented faculty already within the Department that need chairs to secure their position and commitment. Translational Medicine in Major Public Health Issues The Department of Ophthalmology wants to develop a more robust program in the diseases that pose the most significant public health risk of blindness, specifically: diabetic retinopathy, myopia, retinal degenerations, and glaucoma. Not only will this address the greatest needs for individuals nationwide, but it will enhance Dr. Sahel’s focus on patients, particularly the underserved. We would need to attract two translational scientists who could work in clinical and retina research and another translational scientist in glaucoma care and research. To learn more details about the Eye & Ear Foundation campaign, visit, or call the Foundation office at 412-864-1300, or request information from campaign@

In Remembrance Dr. Daniel Vittone, 59, passed away suddenly in his home in Ligonier Sunday, May 23, 2021. Dr. Vittone completed his residency in Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh Eye & Ear from 1989-1992. In 1992, he returned to Latrobe to join his father in practicing ophthalmology at Vittone Eye Surgical Associates. A pioneer in refractive eye surgery, he traveled to Shanghai, China, to study keratotomy and Lasik surgery before it was performed in the United States. He performed more than 10,000 Lasik procedures and an equal number of cataract surgical procedures. Dan was an avid amateur golfer who captured almost a dozen club championships. He was a passionate Notre Dame sports fan, a wine enthusiast and enjoyed traveling the world. Above all, his greatest loves were his three children and his German shepherd. Dan would often be seen taking his large dogs for long walks in the countryside. He will be greatly missed by family, friends, patients, and his ophthalmology colleagues.


Department Awards Andrew Keverline Memorial Award Gideon Nkrumah, a first-year resident in the department of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, has been awarded this year’s Andrew Keverline Memorial Award. Gideon was born and raised in Ghana, West Africa where he received most of his education. During medical school, he committed himself to giving back to underserved communities through volunteer efforts at free clinics. He served on the board of the Guerilla Eye Service, which provides free eyecare to the uninsured in Pittsburgh. He also helped facilitate a collaboration between Brothers Eyecare Group in Ghana and Project Theia in Pittsburgh, which has yielded two mission trips to Ghana to help bridge the gap in ophthalmologic advancements between the two countries especially in the area of oculoplastic and ocular trauma. The Andrew Keverline Memorial Award is named in honor of Dr. Andrew Keverline, a graduate of the Department of Ophthalmology residency program and the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. In 2007 Dr. Keverline was killed in a snowmobile accident near his hometown of Warren, PA. He was uniformly admired by his peers, patients and the faculty and his loss was felt deeply throughout the community. Andy’s father Paul, also a graduate of Pitt Med and a respected and valuable member of the clinical faculty for many years, was killed in a plane crash in 2002. The award is annually given to a University of Pittsburgh medical student who plans a career in ophthalmology and best exemplifies the traits admired in Dr. Keverline.

Dorothy Christie Scott Academic Mission Award Sabrina Mukhtar, MD, Chief Resident in the Department of Ophthalmology, received this year’s Dorothy Christie Scott Academic Mission Award in Ophthalmology. Dr. Mukhtar was born in Las Vegas, Nevada and grew up in several countries including Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand. She received a BA in Public Health from the University of California, Berkeley and her medical degree at Virginia Commonwealth University. Before starting residency, she completed a Masters in Public Health from the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Mukhtar will be staying at the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC for a cornea fellowship. This award, which is named after Dr. Dorothy Scott, was endowed by Dr. Scott’s late husband Glenwood in honor of his wife’s many years of providing vision care to the community. Dr. Scott, who passed away in 2002, made annual treks to the British West Indies throughout her career to provide treatment to residents who otherwise wouldn’t have access to vision care. Because of this dedication to the community, this award is given to a University of Pittsburgh Ophthalmology resident who has shown the same dedication to providing care for underserved populations.


Department Awards (continued) Martha Wandrisco Neff Research Award in Macular Degeneration Daniel Lee and Phillip Harding have been awarded this year’s Martha Wandrisco Neff Research Award in Macular Degeneration. This award was established in 2016 in honor of Martha Wandrisco Neff, a mathematics major who graduated from the University of Pittsburgh School of Arts & Sciences in 1942. It was established by her brother Thomas A. Wandrisco.

Daniel Lee is a third-year bioengineering PhD student in Dr. Ethan Rossi’s lab in the Department of Ophthalmology. His current research focuses on developing novel techniques to image retinal cells that are known to be biomarkers for age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Using the adaptive optics scanning laser ophthalmoscope in Dr. Rossi’s lab, Daniel is developing novel methods to clearly image the rod photoreceptors and retinal pigmented epithelial cells to enable routing imaging of these cells.

Phillip Harding is a 3rd year Bioengineering PhD student in Dr. Morgan Fedorchak’s lab in the Department of Ophthalmology. His current research is focused on developing a novel treatment method for patients with Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD). The system Phillip is developing leverages polymer and material science to be able to deliver medicines to the back of their eye through topical administration.

For the First Time, Optogenetic Therapy Partially Restores Patient’s Vision From the Pitt Newswire Optogenetic therapy, or manipulating proteins and cells with light, is an advanced technology developed in the early 2000s that drove major discoveries about the inner workings of our brains. Yet, while actively researched in experimental animals, functional improvement using this method was never reported in humans—until now. In a paper published today in Nature Medicine, scientists from Paris, Pittsburgh and Basel, Switzerland, reported the firstever case of partial vision recovery in a blind patient after optogenetic therapy. The pioneering study describes the first time a patient has achieved partial functional recovery in any neurodegenerative disease by using optogenetic tools. “I hope it will be a major breakthrough,” said first and corresponding author, JoséAlain Sahel, chair of ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh, director of the UPMC Eye Center and professor at Sorbonne University in France. “This paper is a culmination of more than 12 years of work, and I am very pleased to have contributed to this effort with Botond Roska in Basel and all my colleagues at Institut de la Vision in Paris.” The paper describes the progress of a patient in Paris who 40 years ago was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa—a progressive neurodegenerative disease that destroys light-sensitive cells in the retina and leads to complete blindness. Retinitis pigmentosa is caused by mutations in more than 71 different genes—so developing gene therapies to replace a few proteins to repair broken cellular machinery is challenging and not very effective.


“The eye is a very complex system that allows our vision to adapt to different levels of light,” said Sahel. “But complex systems are very fragile—so when vision disappears, there are few treatments left aside from using prosthetics or reactivating remaining cells in the retina.”

So, the researchers approached the problem from a completely different angle—rather than fixing mutated genes one-by-one in cells that respond to light by activating nerve cells in the retina, they decided to activate the nerve cells directly. That is where optogenetic tools come in. For this study, researchers injected the worse-seeing eye of a patient with an adenovirus-associated vector that carried genetic information encoding a light-sensing protein called channelrhodopsin protein ChrimsonR. Channelrhodopsin proteins, which are found in glowing algae in nature, respond to light by changing their shape and allowing the flow of ions in and out of the cells. The flow of ions activates the cells and, in the case of neurons experimentally engineered to express channelrhodopsins, causes them to fire and transmit the signal through nerve endings to the brain. For this study, researchers chose ChrimsonR protein for its preference for activation by amber-colored light, which is safer and causes less pupil constriction than bluespectrum light, like that from computer screens. The construct targeted ganglion cells of the retina—neurons that collect signals from cones and rods and transfer them through the optic nerve to the brain, where that information is processed to be perceived as a visible image. To activate the ganglion cells this way, the scientists had to come up with a way to transform the light that bounces off objects in our environment to a single wavelength in the amber spectrum. To do that, researchers used special goggles equipped with a camera that detects changes in light intensity pixel by pixel as distinct events. The transformed image from the camera is then projected as discrete light pulses onto the retina in real time, like a movie projector onto a theater screen.

The results were remarkable. After a period of adjusting and learning how to use the technology, the patient was able to locate, identify and count different objects using the treated eye while wearing the goggles. The patient could not visually detect any objects before the injection or without the goggles after the injection. “Adjusting to using the glasses takes time,” said Sahel. “Initially, the patient didn’t find the glasses very useful, but after a few months, he started to see the white stripes on a crosswalk and after several training sessions was able to recognize other objects, big and small.” The researchers are hoping to start testing the technology in more people in Paris, Pittsburgh and London as soon as COVID-19 restrictions are lifted.


Graduating Residents Sabrina Mukhtar, MD – Chief Resident Dr. Sabrina Mukhtar was born in Las Vegas, Nevada and grew up in several countries including Indonesia, Singapore, Taiwan and Thailand. She received a BA in Public Health from the University of California, Berkeley and her medical degree at Virginia Commonwealth University. Before starting residency, she completed a Masters in Public Health from the University of Pittsburgh. Dr. Mukhtar will be staying at the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC for a cornea fellowship.

Lillian To, MD Dr. To was born and raised in San Jose, CA. She attended Stanford University for an undergraduate degree in bioengineering and stayed for a master’s in biology before moving to Pittsburgh to complete medical school at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. She completed a one-year internship at Baylor Medical Center in Houston, TX before returning to Pittsburgh for her ophthalmology residency. Dr. To will be moving onto the University of Texas, Houston where she will complete a one-year glaucoma fellowship.

Shelley Mo, MD Dr. Shelley Mo graduated summa cum laude from Northwestern University with a B.A. in Biology and Mathematics and completed her M.D. at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai. Prior to starting her ophthalmology training at UPMC, she completed a preliminary year in Internal Medicine at Mount Sinai St. Luke’s-West. Dr. Shelley will be staying at the University of Pittsburgh and UPMC for a glaucoma fellowship.

Andrew Tran, MD Dr. Tran will be moving on to a glaucoma fellowship at UT Southwestern in Dallas.

Jamie Odden, MD Dr. Odden grew up in Fargo, ND. She completed her undergraduate degree at Concordia College in Moorhead, MN and her medical degree at the University of North Dakota.

Jared Weed, MD Dr. Weed grew up in Towanda, Pennsylvania. He attended Brigham Young University where he graduated magna cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in neuroscience and a minor in music and a master’s degree in neuroscience. He attended medical school at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine where he researched white matter pathways in the brainstem using diffusion MRI and fiber tractography. Dr. Weed will be joining North Park Ophthalmology in the North Hills area of Pittsburgh as a comprehensive ophthalmologist.

Dr. Odden will be attending a 2-year accredited fellowship in surgical retina at Associated Retina Consultants in Phoenix, AZ.


Graduating Residents (continued)


Ophthalmology Alumni Spotlight

Departing Fellows

Richard Bowers, MD Resident, 1987-1990 City: Sewickley, PA


Hamza Pasha

Laura Palazzolo

Sarah Ullah

Emily Hughes

Wife of 30 years Miriam J. Rader, a community volunteer. Leah M. Rader Bowers, PhD (in Physical Chemistry presently doing a post-Doctoral Fellowship at Princeton University), Eve Mandisa Rader Bowers, M.D. (Pitt Med Class of 2021, presently doing an ENT residency at University of Miami), and Levi J. Rader Bowers (4th year Med student at U of Pitt).


Jamila Hiasat

Boris Rosin

Erika Massicotte

Susannah Brown

Parting Words “This year I grew so much as an ophthalmologist and a surgeon. My attendings together helped me to refine the skills that I learned in residency. Even in one short year, I was able to actively engage in research and resident education. I always felt like I was part of the team. I am taking away so much knowledge and also an increased confidence in my practice.” – Laura Palazollo “My fellowship has been a great learning experience in all aspects. I valued and appreciated the continuous guidance and nonstop support. The amount of knowledge and experience I have accumulated during the past two years is priceless. Every single person I worked with was approachable, respectful, helpful and appreciative. My training experience exceeded my expectations and I’m thankful for all the faculty who continuously helped me.” – Jamila Hiasat “I am profoundly grateful to receive a varied and thorough educational experience. I have expanded my surgical and medical repertoire, learning many new techniques. Perhaps the most important lesson was to look at a patient as an individual, taking the time to explore the pathophysiology and personal aspects of the disease pertaining to the individual prior to deciding on treatment, either surgical or medical. I will always cherish my experience here at UPMC Eye Center and carry the gratitude to my mentors in my heart, wherever life takes me.” – Boris Rosin “I had a wonderful time in Pittsburgh. I wouldn’t change anything to my fellowship. I will cherish all the memories and miss you all.” – Erika Massicotte


Most of my non-clinical hours are divided between two activities: being a Trustee at The College of Wooster where I chair the Faculty Relations Committee and serve on the Racial Equity Task Force of the Board of Trustees. The second is “Full Contact Gardening” which involves lots of digging, the use of a hand powered winch, concrete work, dropping trees with a hand saw, mowing 3.1 acres and trimming over 200 feet of bushes…basically what everybody else pays others to do, but I don’t have to go to the gym.

Training: I graduated from The College of Wooster in 1982 and then graduated from Hahnemann University College of Medicine (now Drexel Med) in 1986 and completed a transitional internship at Montefiore Hospital in Pittsburgh in 1987. I completed residency at Eye and Ear Institute in Pittsburgh in 1990 and then did a fellowship in Cornea and Anterior Segment Surgery at the University of Minnesota with Dr. Richard Lindstrom.

Most important thing to you about having attended Pitt for Ophthalmology: My time at Pitt provided me with a wellrounded education in Ophthalmology that prepared me for my career.

Career: 30 Years. I started in private practice in 1991 at the Sewickley Eye Group which was a solid practice started by Dr. Irwin Terner in 1955. My partner Dr. Ivan Baumwell and I grew it to 4 offices, over 40 employees including 5 optometrists with over 31,00 patient visits a year. We have brought in specialists in retina, uveitis, glaucoma, and oculoplastics. I continue to do mostly cataract surgery but have done Cornea Transplants, DSEK, RK, PRK, L ASIK and ALK surgery over the years. I love doing cataract surgery partially because the patients’ lifestyles are improved and those who can afford multifocal lenses are some of the happiest and most appreciative patients I have ever had. I also love doing cataract surgery because it is fun… an efficient case is like creating a sculpture inside the most delicate organ God created. Growing and running a private practice has also brought me great pleasure (most days). Empowering people and getting out of their way seems to work best. Everyday there is a puzzle to be solved efficiently. With the recognition that diversity, equity and inclusion within our team leads to better outcomes for our patients we continue to grow and thrive in a competitive marketplace.

What made you stay involved with the Department of Ophthalmology and the Eye & Ear Foundation: Community physicians have always been encouraged by the department to be involved in the program and I have enjoyed teaching residents. Our family has supported the Foundation because they support the department faculty and resident research. Recently I have been invited to be a member of the Community Outreach Committee of the EEF Board of Directors. I’m looking forward to working

Richard Bowers, MD

with this group to ensure that Pitt plays a role in providing access to quality vision care to all patients in need here in our Pittsburgh community.

How has the campus/ Department changed since your time at Pitt? It is much more organized in its pedagogical practice and has deeper strengths in all the subspecialties and is clearly becoming a world recognized leader in vision restoration.

Career Memory: Recently a local community group asked if I could see a person who did not have documents to be in this country and therefore was unable to access healthcare coverage. He had Count Fingers vision and dense white cataracts in both eyes. Working with our hospital system and social service agencies I was blessed to be able to do his pro bono cataract surgery. With excellent results he was able to obtain work to support himself. This case reminded me of our family trips to Honduras, Sierra Leone and Kenya to do cataract surgery for those who could not access this care otherwise.


We Want To Hear From You!


ith the release of our new alumni newslet ter, Through the Looking Glass, we want to keep in touch with our alumni. Please share exciting personal or professional news with fellow alumni in future editions of our newsletter. Have you recently changed jobs? Got married? Published some exciting research? Welcomed a new member into your family? We want to know about it! To update your contact information or to share personal and professional news, please visit http://ophthalmology.pitt. edu/alumni/alumni-verificationform

Webinar Information


he Eye & Ear Foundation, in conjunction with the Departments of Otolaryngology and Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh, has launched a new biweekly webinar series entitled “Sights and Soundbites.” The webinars are presented by department faculty members and highlight their current research initiatives and treatment strategies. These webinars have proven to be an accessible and interactive way to stay connected with patients, donors, faculty, and alumni. If you would like to register to receive webinar invites, please visit webinars. To view past webinars, please click on the links below: •

Cataracts: The Latest Developments in Treatment

Cochlear Implants: Candidacy and New Developments

Integrating Interventions in Cortical Visual Impairment

What’s New in Balance and Dizziness at Pitt and UPMC?

More than Meets the Eye: Genetic Counseling in Ophthalmology

Nasal Obstruction and Chronic Rhinosinusitis

Tackling the Eye Disease and Pain of Shingles

Towards Personalized Care for Head & Neck Cancer: Current State and Future Directions

Keratoconus | kéras (Greek, Cornea), cónus (Latin, Cone): Current and Future Advancements in Treatment

Please consider a donation to the Eye & Ear Foundation to fund our research and academic efforts.

MAKE A GIFT If you no longer wish to receive our newsletter, please submit requests to our mailing address, or email 203 Lothrop Street Suite 251 EEI Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213 412.864.1300 O 412.864.1305 F

University of Pittsburgh Department of Ophtahlmology Eye & Ear Institute, Suite 820 203 Lothrop Street Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania 15213 412.864.3283

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 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 or 412-864-1300.

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