OHSU Casey Eye Institute inventor earns international award for advances in eye imaging

09/18/12  Portland, Ore.

A physician-scientist and noted inventor at Oregon Health & Science University Casey Eye Institute (CEI) is one of six scientists in the world to receive the largest scientific and humanitarian prize in the field of vision research, the António Champalimaud Vision Award.

David Huang, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of ophthalmology at OHSU Casey Eye Institute, was honored for co-inventing an imaging tool called optical coherence tomography (OCT) that has revolutionized the field of ophthalmology. Huang received the award at a ceremony in Lisbon, Portugal.

“OCT is the most commonly used eye imaging test in the management of the leading causes of blindness today: macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. I am proud to be a key contributor to the technology that is preserving vision for people around the world,” Huang said.

OCT was first developed in 1990 at Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Harvard Medical School when James Fujimoto, Ph.D., professor of electrical engineering and computer science, asked Huang to build an interferometer to measure the thickness of the cornea and retina. Low-coherence interference methodology is the basis of high-depth resolution of OCT.

During the experiment, it became clear to Huang that OCT had potential far greater than just measuring thickness. He surmised, and later demonstrated, that OCT could create 3-D cross-sectional images of the eye, enabling clinicians and scientists to view the many layers of its microstructure. Today OCT is recognized as the most important diagnostic advance in the history of ophthalmology since the invention of the ophthalmoscope in the 1850s.

The original Science article on OCT, first published in 1991, compared its superior high resolution, noninvasive aspects with “performing histology without taking tissue any out of the body.” The paper since has been cited in more than more than 5,000 journal articles.

Huang and his colleagues at OHSU CEI continue to revolutionize the diagnosis and monitoring of retinal diseases. A recent innovation in OCT angiography and blood flow measurement makes possible the measuring of retinal and optic nerve function in glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and other important diseases.

“Seeing the blood flow in many layers of the retina is incredibly important because the most important causes of blindness in the world are due to abnormal blood circulation,” Huang said.

Huang’s current research at OHSU CEI also expands the clinical use of OCT in glaucoma and anterior eye surgery.

The 2012 Champalimaud Vision Award is shared by: Fujimoto; Huang; Carmen Puliafito, M.D., M.B.A., dean and professor of ophthalmology, Keck School of Medicine, University of Southern California; Joel Schuman, M.D., Eye and Ear Foundation Professor and Chairman of Ophthalmology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine; Eric Swanson, M.S., Massachusetts Institute of Technology; and David Williams, University of Rochester Institute of Optics, Center for Visual Science.

About OHSU

Oregon Health & Science University is a nationally prominent research university and Oregon's only public academic health center. It serves patients throughout the region with a Level 1 trauma center and nationally recognized Doernbecher Children's Hospital. OHSU operates dental, medical, nursing and pharmacy schools that rank high both in research funding and in fulfilling the university's social mission. OHSU's Knight Cancer Institute helped pioneer personalized medicine through a discovery that identified how to shut down cells that enable cancer to grow without harming healthy ones. Research through the OHSU Brain Institute ranks fourth in the country for National Institutes of Health funding in the neurosciences. OHSU's Casey Eye Institute is ranked second in NIH funding for eye research and is a global leader in ophthalmic imaging, and in clinical trials related to eye disease.