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Pitt Teams With FDA To Develop Therapies That Could One Day Restore Vision To Blind People

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) -- The University of Pittsburgh is collaborating with the Food and Drug Administration to help people with impaired vision.

"They were looking for a place to partner with all the expertise. In our department, we have a strong focus on the visual restoration and vision impairment," says Dr. José-Alain Sahel, Pitt's Eye and Ear Foundation Endowed Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology. "When we discussed more with the FDA, they realized there is a huge potential."

The research will identify patient needs, difficulties and expectations while developing methods and measurements for assessing visual impairment.

Pitt's Department of Ophthalmology has been developing cell therapies and gene therapies, optic nerve regeneration, prosthetic vision, and brain stimulation to restore sight.

"We are really fighting blindness from many angles," says Dr. Sahel. "We try to protect what is remaining in the retina, reactivate what is sleeping, replace what is lost with prosthetic cells, cell therapy, regenerate the optic nerve for people who have lost the optic nerve, or go directly to the brain to stimulate the brain when you've lost the rest of the system."

The FDA will help with its existing collection of information about patient-reported outcomes.

"What happens when you drive? What happens when you go to work? What happens when you go to school? And when you get older, what are the difficulties?" Dr. Sahel says. "You need to work with the patients to find what is useful and what is not useful."

They will also work with innovators at Carnegie Mellon University.

"With all the technology available, that could be integrated into a smartphone but also headsets," says Dr. Sahel.

Other departments will be helping, too — such as occupational therapy and rehabilitation services — because patients will need time and practice to get used to the new technologies.

"You need to teach people how to see again," Dr. Sahel said. "Sometimes, impairment, visual impairment, is not just visual. There is also hearing impairment. There is balance impairment."

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