“It's always impressive that things you thought were impossible are actually possible."
José-Alain Sahel, MD, fell in love with the science of vision many years ago. Although sight may seem simple, it's a complex process involving not just the eyes but the brain.
"Vision is part of everything we do all the time, so it's taken for granted," says Dr. Sahel, director, UPMC Vision Institute. "When you work on it, you're constantly impressed, actually beyond words, about the complexity and the beauty of the visual system."
"I believe that vision is one of the most beautiful gifts we get in life."
Some people may not recognize the beauty of vision until they lose it. And Dr. Sahel has made helping people with vision problems his life's work.
Over the years, Dr. Sahel has helped to develop many techniques to restore vision in people with vision impairments.
"It's always impressive that things you thought were impossible are actually possible," Dr. Sahel says. "Achieving this is uplifting, and it's always a good surprise. It's an amazing surprise."
The UPMC Vision Institute strives every day to make the impossible possible by helping people retain or regain their sight. By doing so, patients can have a measure of independence.
“When patients lose vision, it's similar to living in a different country," Dr. Sahel says. "It's like crossing the border and getting into a country where you don't speak the language. You don't understand what happening. And you have to get acclimated to that. And this is a process people losing vision have to go through."
"When you restore some level of vision, it's learning again, but it's not the initial language you are speaking. It's learning a different way to interact with the world."
In 2023, the UPMC Vision Institute moved into the UPMC Mercy Pavilion in Pittsburgh. It brings together clinicians and researchers under one roof. That allows for better collaboration and a better integration of the latest research breakthroughs into patient care.
"In this building, we have clinicians and scientists that are all learning together, exchanging together, and trying to build together, form their own questions, new answers, and new solutions," Dr. Sahel says.
Vision research is never over, Dr. Sahel says. With each breakthrough comes another question to answer and another pathway to pursue. He focuses his own research on developing treatments for currently untreatable conditions.
Dr. Sahel says the UPMC Vision Institute's goal is to advance the future of medicine and to provide better answers for people with vision impairments.
“My hope is that patients are going to come here because they are going to trust that we want to find the best treatment for them," Dr. Sahel says. "That we have the right answers, the right tools, and if we don't have them yet, that we are going to work very hard to find a solution for them. We have to deserve the trust they are investing in us."
At UPMC, Life Changing Medicine means building a brighter future.