We have had a busy and productive time at UPMC Eye Center, the Department of Ophthalmology of the University of Pittsburgh. We have been active in research, teaching and patient care.
Our scientists have made important progress, particularly in glaucoma. Two different projects focusing on eye pressure in glaucoma have made headway. In one, Larry Kagemann, an engineer in the department, has developed a technique for mapping and measuring the channels used by fluid to get from inside the eye into the bloodstream. This non-invasive angiogram is performed using invisible light, and is completely safe, quick and painless. With further development, Kagemann’s work is likely to lead to changes in clinical practice, permitting surgical guidance for certain types of glaucoma operations and measurements that we will be able to do only with this new technology.
In a second project, Dr. Yiqin Du has isolated stem cells from the drain of the eye, the trabecular meshwork. This is the structure inside the eye just before the vessels being mapped by Kagemann. Du has shown that the cells that she discovered are indeed stem cells, important because they can be differentiated into the cells that naturally line the pathways leading from the eye. Du is working to show that she can introduced these cells into eyes with malfunctioning trabecular meshwork (damaged drains), and that the cells repair and regenerate working drainage tissue. This could normalize the eye pressure and treat the glaucoma. This sort of work has the potential to be revolutionary, given enough time and effort.
This work represents the efforts of scientists and engineers who interface with our Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration. In other work, Dr. Amy Nau is designing new studies to increase the effectiveness and accessibility of the BrainPort device, which helps those affected with vision loss gain a sense of environmental awareness. By using sensory substitution – essentially “seeing” with our tongues – and the latest advancements in smart phone technology, Dr. Nau is proposing a convenient, portable, and efficient use of the current BrainPort model. Additionally, within the Fox Center Dr. Peter Crapo is working hard on regenerative medicine, collaborating with tissue engineers and hypothesizing how to regenerate optic nerve tissue using techniques gained from research within the University of Pittsburgh’s McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.
As we continue to grow we are forging new pathways into research that we feel is critically important to the millions who suffer from diseases and disorders of the retina. We are now focusing on finding more resources for a new center for retinal research. By bringing in leading scientists from all over the world, we plan to inspire new research and create innovative solutions to help treat issues with the retina, and fill the gap in knowledge with effective therapies. There is so much new research at the Department of Ophthalmology that we look forward to continuing to update you future editions of Sight + Sound, as our physicians, scientists and researchers continue making phenomenal advances in treatments and care for our patients.
Joel S. Schuman, MD, FACS
Eye & Ear Foundation Professor and Chairman of Ophthalmology
University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine
Director, UPMC Eye Center