The University of Pittsburgh announced a collaboration with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health to help address the needs of the visually impaired through the expertise, facilities, and research of the world-class University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology.
Under the agreement, Pitt and the FDA will work together for the next five years on scientific collaborations, educational initiatives and outreach activities designed to address the epidemic of vision loss. 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.
“It’s really exciting to see this happening. This will put Pitt in a position where we can work with the FDA on the validation of new technological approaches by developing programs and protocols,” said José-Alain Sahel, MD, Pitt’s Eye and Ear Foundation Endowed Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology, an affiliated faculty member of the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine, and one of the world’s top experts in retinal diseases and vision restoration research. “There is strong expertise at Pitt that is being recognized at an international level. Patients’ voices will nurture our projects and define the successes we all want to deliver.”
“We appreciate this phenomenal opportunity to partner with the University of Pittsburgh. Developing new methods to assess visual impairment and the impact on daily activities is important to helping the FDA better characterize the consequences of vision loss, and also helping FDA to reliably assess the benefit of novel therapies and rehabilitation technologies,” said Malvina Eydelman, MD, director of the Office of Ophthalmic, Anesthesia, Respiratory, ENT and Dental Devices in the FDA’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health.
Research, facilities, expertise
This agreement allows collaboration on a variety of programs covering shared interests in ophthalmology including collaborative research, public outreach, extension activities, cooperative international initiatives, disciplinary training and exchange of scientists and staff, including sabbaticals, postdoctoral fellowships, and student internships.
It forms the basis for development of scientific collaborations, outreach and educational initiatives between the FDA and the University of Pittsburgh.
Dr. Sahel said Pitt’s expertise combined with the FDA’s regulatory and scientific expertise is intended to allow for research, such as augmented reality headsets or brain stimulation to help people with low vision “see” their surrounding environments better, can be made available sooner.
Pitt’s Department of Ophthalmology is currently developing numerous innovative programs to restore vision or address the needs of the visually impaired: cell therapies, gene therapies, optogenetics, advanced high-resolution imaging, optic nerve regeneration, prosthetic vision, and brain stimulation to restore sight, to name a few. Partnerships with other departments such as the Institute of Rehabilitation at UPMC and the Department of Occupational Therapy at the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences provide a strong environment enabling a holistic approach to patients’ needs.
The UPMC Vision and Rehabilitation Tower at UPMC Mercy, expected to be completed in 2022, will provide advanced specialty clinical care and innovative programs for visually impaired patients. Based in Pittsburgh, it also will be the home for the vision research program at Pitt and UPMC.
As founder and director of the Vision Institute in Paris, Dr. Sahel created StreetLab, a not-for-profit naturalistic platform focused on developing and evaluating new products to help people with visual impairments. His team of experts is focused on all the fields where autonomy and accessibility for visually impaired people require improvement: housing, mobility, access to services and work environment, as well as the assessment of the impact innovative therapies and technologies in daily activities. Dr. Sahel is Pitt’s liaison officer in this agreement.
Illustration: The University of Pittsburgh will collaborate with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Center for Devices and Radiological Health to address the needs of the visually impaired through the expertise, facilities, and research of the Pitt School of Medicine’s Department of Ophthalmology. Of the partnership, José-Alain Sahel, Pitt’s Eye and Ear Foundation Endowed Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology, said, “There is strong expertise at Pitt that is being recognized at an international level.” (Tim Betler/UPMC)