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NEI grantees receive Lasker Award for imaging discovery

September 21, 2023

The Lasker Foundation cited a trio of scientists, who with NEI funding, developed optical coherence tomography (OCT), one of the most widely used technologies for imaging the eye.

James Fujimoto, David Huang, and Eric Swanson

2023 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award winners James G. Fujimoto, David Huang, and Eric A. Swanson. 

The 2023 Lasker-DeBakey Clinical Medical Research Award honors James G. Fujimoto, David Huang, and Eric A. Swanson. OCT has revolutionized ophthalmology, enabling rapid detection of diseases that impair vision, including major causes of blindness: diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, and macular degeneration.

Animation explaining optical coherence tomography and how it was developed. 

Until the 1990s, ophthalmologists relied on examination techniques that produced limited and subjective results. Fujimoto, an expert in ultrashort lasers, enlisted M.D./Ph.D. student Huang to harness a light-based phenomenon called interference to see into biological structures such as the light-sensing retina in the back of the eye. They partnered with Swanson, an engineer with experience in inter-satellite laser communications, and together their work increased the speed and efficacy of the invention. Their efforts led to the development of compact and practical equipment to scan a high-resolution cross-section of the inside of the eye.

 Building on their pioneering findings, published in 1991, techniques have been further advanced, leading to noninvasive and precise detection of medical conditions, enabling earlier diagnoses than ever before possible. Today, more than 30 million OCT procedures are performed annually worldwide, approximately one every second. OCT is now being applied in additional medical arenas, such as cardiology, surgical guidance, gastroenterology, and dermatology.

 Established in 1945 by Mary and Albert Lasker, pioneering biomedical research advocates, the Lasker Awards are now widely regarded as America’s preeminent biomedical research prize. The awards carry an honorarium of $250,000 for each category. The awards will be presented at a gala ceremony in New York City on Friday, September 29, 2023.