UPMC doctors combat military injuries

By Gretchen Andersen

More soldiers will get injured as the United States enters its second decade of war in the… More soldiers will get injured as the United States enters its second decade of war in the Middle East, so medical doctors at Pitt are researching ways to reduce and treat military injuries.

“They deserve the best type of science we can get them,” said Dr. Scott Lephart, who outlined Pitt’s contributions to military research last night as part of the University’s Alumni Lecture Series.

The University of Pittsburgh Alumni Association and Alumni Relations for the Pitt Schools of the Health Sciences presented the series, called “Strength Through Partnership: Our Military and Beyond.”

Organizers said the series brings in about six lectures a year. Last night’s lecture was the kick-off for this year.

Red, white and blue tables adorned the grand ballroom in Soldiers & Sailors Memorial Hall — patriotic decor that largely suited the lecture. Pat Carver, executive director of Alumni Relations for the Schools of Health Sciences, said this was the first time the Alumni Lecture series reached out to the “military contingent.”

Soldiers & Sailors staff served cocktails and hors d’oeuvres as the 100-plus attendees found their seats. Alumni, students, faculty and military personnel attended the lecture.

Dr. Amy Nau, director of optometry and low-vision services at the Eye Center of UPMC, presented the first lecture in the series, called “Seeing Without Eyes; Sensory Substitution for the Blind.”

Nau spoke of the cutting-edge BrainPort Vision device “that enables the perception of visual information using the tongue and camera system as a paired substitute for the eyes,” according to UPMC’s website.

Nau said soldiers who participated in a recent study called the BrainPort comfortable and said they were able to use the device to get around in their environment. The device looks like a pair of thick sunglasses linked to a small television set.

A camera in the glasses translates visual images to a small metal plate the wearer holds against their tongue. The metal plate then translates data from the camera and stimulates nerves in the tongue, which the brain can interpret as visual images.

The device is still in its infancy but represents 20 years of work, Nau said.

The second lecture, “The Department of Defense Injury Prevention and Human Performance Research Programs,” was presented by Lephart, director at UPMC’s Neuromuscular Research Laboratory.

“You are probably thinking, ‘What in the world are a group of sports medicine experts doing with the [Department of Defense]?” Lephart said.

Lephart serves as a professor and chair of the Department of Sports Medicine and Nutrition in the School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences. His lecture focused on his research in rehabilitation science and how it could help prevent injuries in the military.

Lephart said elite athletes and elite soldiers have similar needs, and his team created a training regimen that focused on preventing noncombat-related injuries like sprained ankles and knees.

Brigadier General Roy Uptegraff III and Command Chief Master Sgt. Victor Guerra attended the lecture. Guerra said the research is “really thinking outside the box.”

Uptegraff, who said he has been to Brooke Army Medical Center — a hospital for wounded soldiers — called the research “amazing.”

“We are the ones that get the bad news,” Uptegraff said. “Scott is right. They get hurt doing the job. Anything that we can learn from the community can certainly help us.”