Ophthalmology Researchers Host Students from Hillman Academy Program

September 29, 2023

Yuanyuan Chen, PhD, assistant professor in the Department of Ophthalmology, and her colleagues hosted six students from the UPMC Hillman Cancer Center Academy this summer to further their understanding of ophthalmology and scientific research. The Hillman Academy is a highly competitive program for high school and undergraduate students from diverse backgrounds that aims to encourage and prepare students for careers in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics and support diversity in the biomedical workforce. Established at UPMC Hillman Cancer Center, the program extends beyond the discipline of oncology into other areas, including ophthalmology.

Dr. Chen and her colleagues began participating in the program in 2021 and this year mentored five students from the Pittsburgh area and one from Abu Dabi; two students participated in the program last year and returned for further mentoring. The students engaged in a range of activities, including lectures on basic eye anatomy, diseases, and surgeries to the role of the Eye and Ear Foundation of Pittsburgh in the generation of critical funding for ophthalmology research and an introduction to the UPMC Mercy Pavilion, the new home of the UPMC Vision Institute. Participants also took part in hands-on lab courses in which they explored cell culturing, histological staining and imaging, and dissection. Each student delivered an oral presentation on the final day of the program to summarize what they learned.


“Our past students have told us how much this program has stimulated their interest in pursuing higher education in the STEM area,” says Dr. Chen, whose research centers on rhodopsin-associated retinitis pigmentosa, a type of inherited retinal dystrophy caused by a gene mutation that leads to vision loss. “We are so grateful to our department chair, Dr. José-Alain Sahel, and to the Eye and Ear Foundation of Pittsburgh, which funds our portion of the Hillman Academy program.”