From left: Left: Joel S. Schuman, Eye & Ear Foundation Professor and Chairman, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; James G. Fujimoto, professor, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Carmen A. Puliafito, dean of the Keck School of Medicine; Maria Leonor Beleza, president of the Champalimaud Foundation; Anibal Cavaco Silva, president of Portugal; Eric A. Swanson, director, NinePoint Medical Inc.; David Huang, Weeks Professor of Ophthalmic Research, Oregon Health & Science University (formerly of the Doheny Eye Institute at USC); and David R. Williams, William G. Allyn Chair of Medical Optics and director of the Center for Visual Science at the University of Rochester.
HSC Weekly 2012-09-21
Keck School dean honored for OCT development
Keck School of Medicine of USC Dean Carmen A. Puliafito, has received the 2012 António Champalimaud Vision Award for the invention and development of optical coherence tomography (OCT), imaging technology that has revolutionized the practice of ophthalmology by dramatically improving the ability of clinicians to diagnose and treat such blinding diseases as macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.
Puliafito received the award Friday, Sept. 14, in Lisbon, Portugal, during a ceremony held at the Champalimaud Foundation, one of the world’s largest international scientific institutions.
He will share half of the award’s 1 million euro ($1.26 million) prize with research team members James G. Fujimoto, professor, Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, Massachusetts Institute of Technology; David Huang, Weeks Professor of Ophthalmic Research, Oregon Health & Science University (formerly of the Doheny Eye Institute at USC); Joel S. Schuman, Eye & Ear Foundation Professor and Chairman, Department of Ophthalmology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; and Eric A. Swanson, director, NinePoint Medical Inc., Cambridge, Mass.
The other half of the prize will be shared by researchers led by David R. Williams, William G. Allyn Chair of Medical Optics and director of the Center for Visual Science at the University of Rochester. Williams’ team was honored for its development of adaptive optics (AO), an imaging technology that enables clinicians to examine retinal microstructures and improve vision by correcting minute aberrations of the eye.
“Both discoveries offer non-invasive methods to obtain high-resolution images of the retina that have drastically changed ophthalmic practice and hold great potential to advance both new research and clinical care,” a Champalimaud Foundation release stated.
The foundation noted the “multidisciplinary development” of OCT and said both OCT and AO had “transformed eye care and medicine worldwide.”
“OCT is a case study in the power of collaboration between engineering and medicine in the development of new technologies that can dramatically improve patient care,” said Puliafito, May S. and John Hooval Dean’s Chair in Medicine and professor of ophthalmology and health management at the Doheny Eye Institute. “I am deeply honored to receive the award and proud to have been at the forefront of such an important contribution to the field of vision medicine.”
Established by the Lisbon-based Champalimaud Foundation in 2006, the Vision Award is conferred in odd-numbered years for practical accomplishments in preventing blindness, particularly in developing countries, and in even-numbered years for outstanding scientific research in the field of vision science.
Recipients are selected by a jury of distinguished scientists, including two Nobel laureates, and key public figures from around the world.
“The António Champalimaud Vision Award is a magnificent testament to Dr. Puliafito’s pioneering achievements in medical research,” said USC President C. L. Max Nikias. “Dr. Puliafito is certainly an inspiration for our USC and global scientific communities. His work and the work of his colleagues in vision science have brought the promise of greater vision health to countless people around the world.”
Puliafito, Fujimoto, Huang, Schuman and Swanson were recognized for a body of work that began more than two decades ago when the researchers sought to harness the imaging capabilities of OCT and develop it into a practical clinical tool. OCT devices work similar to an ultrasound but use infrared light waves to measure parts of the eye. The high resolution of OCT images allows clinicians to better see the layers and smallest details of the inside of the eye, and detect and treat eye diseases before they progress.
Working together initially at MIT, the research team published the invention of OCT in the journal Science in November 1991. By the mid-1990s, they developed the first OCT instrument for clinical ophthalmology. OCT has since come to be widely recognized as one of the most important diagnostic advances in the history of ophthalmology.
“I can think of no other clinical development in the last half century that has had as important and large an impact on the practice of ophthalmology as has this technology,” wrote Morton F. Goldberg, director emeritus of the Wilmer Ophthalmological Institute at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, in nominating papers for the award.
The Champalimaud jury considered the totality of the team’s work, including a dozen research accomplishments related to OCT’s development. The investigators were the first, for example, to describe the application of OCT in the management of blinding macular diseases, such as macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. They used OCT to develop a novel and widely accepted approach for the detection and management of glaucoma and its progression. Their contributions individually and collectively established an entirely new field of vision research.
Puliafito was recently reappointed to a second term as dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC, a position he has held since 2007. From 2001 to 2007, he served as chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine. Prior to his work at Bascom Palmer, he served as founding director of the New England Eye Center and chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at Tufts University. Puliafito started his career at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Harvard Medical School, where he was the founder of the Laser Research Laboratory and associate professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School until 1991.
A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Puliafito is a cum laude graduate of Harvard College and a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Medical School. He also earned an M.B.A. from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Puliafito’s ophthalmic research has earned him awards including the Richard and Hinda Rosenthal Award in the Visual Sciences, J. Donald M. Gass Award of the Macula Society, Innovators Award of the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, and Life Achievement Honor Award from the American Academy of Ophthalmology. For his work on OCT, he was awarded (along with James Fujimoto and Eric Swanson) the 2002 Rank Prize—the world’s most prestigious award in optoelectronics.
Groundbreaking technology stemmed from novel collaboration
In 1981, Carmen A. Puliafito—then a young graduate of Harvard Medical School and an ophthalmology resident at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary—became interested in developing a research program that studied laser interactions in the eye. This led to interdisciplinary collaboration resulting in optical coherence tomography (OCT), a technology that would revolutionize the way blinding diseases are diagnosed and treated around the world.
Q: How did this team come together?
A: I reached out to scientists at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and that formed one of the themes of my career—building multidisciplinary teams of scientists. I was introduced to Jim Fujimoto, who at that time was a graduate student at MIT, and we took advantage of the tremendous technology base available in the Boston metropolitan area. Jim discovered Eric Swanson, a scientist working in satellite communications at MIT Lincoln Laboratories in Bedford, Mass. The successful realization of OCT relied on the use of sophisticated optical technology, which, in the early 1990s, was not easily acquired. We had a group of clinicians working with laser physicists and engineers at a defense laboratory to create what we hoped would be a practical clinical device. In that sense, this was a pioneering event.
At the time we were looking at optical techniques for measuring eye structures. One of the M.D./Ph.D students at MIT was David Huang, who played an instrumental role in the concept of using computed tomography to create b-scan images of OCT.
We also worked very closely with scientists at the Wellman Laboratory for Photomedicine at the Massachusetts General Hospital.
Q: What impact did the invention have on the practice of ophthalmology?
A: OCT moved from the electronics laboratory to clinical evaluation in a matter of three years. We were then able to make significant discoveries regarding the pathogenesis, evolution and treatment of macular disease. That was my major contribution to the program.
Q: What lessons can be learned from the development of OCT?
A: It’s important to encourage young investigators to do laboratory projects early in their careers. It’s important to promote an environment that stimulates collaboration between scientists and engineers with very different skills. It’s important to have a strong clinical translational impulse, even with discovery research, because without the clinical connectedness, OCT would never have been developed.
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