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Explorations in Science and Technology

Pitt Vision Research Restores Sight


In 2004, Corporal Mike Jernigan lost both his eyes in a roadside blast in Iraq. Pitt ophthalmologists are helping him and others to see again—via their tongues.

Researchers restore vision using the BrainPort Vision Device. Patients call it the “lollipop” because a square attachment applies gentle electrical stimulation to patients’ tongues based on input from special glasses. Users liken the sensation to champagne bubbles drawing pictures on their tongues.

The device research is conducted at the Louis J. Fox Center for Vision Restoration, a partnership between Pitt and UPMC. Another partnership exists between Pitt’s Department of Ophthalmology and UPMC Eye Center.

Soldiers aren’t the only patients Pitt is helping to see. When a patient with leukemia seemed to develop glaucoma though he wasn’t a likely candidate for the disease, ophthalmology department chair Joel Schuman wondered why. Schuman's curiosity led him to discover the first molecular marker for glaucoma, allowing detection of the disease even before symptoms appear.

As its name implies, Pitt’s mobile Guerrilla Eye Services Clinic travels to where it's most needed, and sets up quickly. Led by ophthalmology residency director Evan “Jake” Waxman, students working for the clinic bring free care to patients, including the homeless, who otherwise couldn't afford to see ophthalmologists.