Presented annually, the award recognizes contributions to overall vision research and to the alleviation of visual impairments. Fujimoto, Swanson and their co-award winners were honored at a ceremony Friday evening, Sept. 14, in Lisbon, Portugal. The awards were presented by the president of Portugal.
Fujimoto '79, SM '81, MEng '81, PhD '84 and Swanson SM '84 along with their collaborators, were recognized for the invention of optical coherence tomography (OCT). OCT plays a key role in the diagnosis and treatment of the most important blinding diseases of the industrialized world: macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. Currently, it is estimated that more than 40 million OCT diagnostic procedures are performed worldwide annually.
Fujimoto’s collaborators and co-honorees are Carmen A. Puliafito, MD, dean and professor of ophthalmology at the Keck School of Medicine at USC; David Huang, MD, the Weeks Professor of Ophthalmic Research at Oregon Health and Science University; and Joel S. Schuman, MD, the Eye & Ear Foundation Professor and Chairman in the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine. The Champalimaud Vision Award is also being shared with a group led by David Williams, a professor of optics, ophthalmology, biomedical engineering and brain and cognitive sciences at the University of Rochester, for its development of adaptive optics imaging in ophthalmology.
The invention of OCT had its genesis in research that began in the 1980s, conducted at MIT, Lincoln Laboratory and Harvard Medical School. OCT produces high-resolution, cross-sectional and three-dimensional images by measuring the echo time delay of light. It can provide comprehensive information on retinal pathology that cannot be obtained by any other technique. OCT technology has many other applications ranging from intravascular and endoscopic imaging to fundamental research. The team went on to form a startup company and transferred OCT technology to industry, resulting in the first OCT instrument for clinical ophthalmology in the mid-1990s.
“Partnership between academics and industry was critical for the development of OCT and is a powerful approach for translating new scientific discoveries into real world clinical practice.,” Fujimoto says. “Clinical researchers on our team as well as other clinicians at leading international medical centers worked with the early OCT technology, exploring new clinical applications and blazing a trail that the broader clinical community could follow. This interdisciplinary approach was key to the success of this technology.”
In subsequent decades, the investigators would open a new chapter in the history of successful basic and clinical translational science in the field of vision research. Not only did they invent this revolutionary technology, they were the first to describe its application in the diagnosis and management of human ocular disease. Their work is an exemplary case study of how interdisciplinary research can have a significant impact on society. In the early 1990s, when the first paper heralding OCT was published in Science, interdisciplinary work, especially between engineering and medicine, was not as common a practice as it is today. Indeed, OCT has transformed the practice of ophthalmology and plays a major role in pharmacotherapy of retinal disease such as macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, since it is the most useful tool to assess therapeutic response. OCT is also used in the detection and management of glaucoma. OCT’s ability to measure the response to treatment is important to drug discovery because it can shorten development time, making new drugs available to patients sooner.
"Optical coherence tomography has become a gold standard for the diagnosis and treatment of debilitating eye pathologies worldwide. We at the Research Laboratory of Electronics join the millions of patients whose eye diseases have been treated using OCT in congratulating Professor Fujimoto and Mr. Swanson for their seminal contributions. OCT has been an inspiring example of how groundbreaking scientific research can lead to transformational products that benefit society" said RLE Director and Professor Yoel Fink.