Pakistani-American Wins America's Top Technology Medal
By Riaz Haq
President Obama has honored Dr Mark Salman Humayun of Pakistani origin with the National Medal of Technology and Innovation at a White House ceremony recently, according to a USC Eye Institute press release .
Dr Humayun's "bionic eye" offers a solution for those who have the inherited retinal degenerative disease retinitis pigmentosa (RP). Known as Argus II, it uses a camera mounted on special glasses that sends a signal to an electronic receiver with electrodes that are implanted in and around the eye. The electrodes send signals to the retina that stimulate the retina and then these retinal impulses travel through the optic nerve to the brain where they are interpreted as images.
Dr Humayun's "bionic eye" received approval from the FDA in the US in 2013 and since then the USC Eye Institute has been one of the centers of excellence for patients receiving this implant. Dr Humayun has trained ophthalmologic surgeons worldwide in implanting the Argus device that has been in use in Europe since 2011 and was also recently approved for implantation in Australia, according to USC Keck Institute.
Born in Pakistan, Dr Mark Salman Humayun is the grandson of Quaid-i-Azam Mohammad Ali Jinnah's personal physician Dr Ilahi Bakhsh, according to a story by Anjum Niaz of Pakistan's Dawn newspaper . Dr Humayun now leads the USC Eye Institute at the University of Southern California in Los Angeles where he is Professor of Ophthalmology and Biomedical Engineering.
The Humayun family came to America in 1972. Dr Humayun received his MD degree from Duke University, a PhD in Biomedical Engineering from University of North Carolina followed by clinical training in ophthalmology at the Duke Medical Center as well as the Johns Hopkins Hospital.
The news of Dr Humayun's achievement comes on the heels of another Pakistani-American Dr Nergis Mavalwala's contribution to the discovery of gravitational waves that has been widely recognized. Mavalvala and her colleagues are credited with developing an ultrasensitive telescope designed to catch glimpses of gravitational waves. Albert Einstein predicted the existence of these ripples in spacetime nearly a century ago, but they haven’t been observed directly yet, according to the Science Magazine . Theoretically a consequence of violent cosmic events—the collisions of black holes, the explosive deaths of stars, or even the big bang—gravitational waves could provide a brand new lens for studying the universe, according to the magazine.
Pakistan Link adds: In a press release issued by the White House, President Obama stated, "Science and technology are fundamental to solving some of our nation's biggest challenges. The knowledge produced by these Americans today will carry our country's legacy of innovation forward and continue to help countless others around the world. Their work is a testament to American ingenuity."
Dr Humayun, who is one of nine recipients of the medal this year, was chosen for his lifelong dedication to bridging medical science and engineering to restore sight. He holds more than 100 issued patents and patent applications, most in the area of bioimplants for ophthalmology. His innovative work is best exemplified by the development of the Argus II, the only FDA approved retinal prosthesis system that allows those with certain blinding diseases to regain some useful vision.
"I am very honored to receive the National Medal of Technology and Innovation," said Dr Humayun. "Medical breakthroughs such as the Argus II come after long periods of research and development and I am grateful to have been and continue to be surrounded by teams of very talented individuals."
The National Medal of Technology and Innovation, presented by US presidents since 1980, is given to individuals, small teams collaborating on innovative systems or divisions of companies, all whom have contributed to the nation's economic, environmental and social well-being.
Administered for the White House by the US Department of Commerce's Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO), a distinguished panel of individuals from the private and public sector including current and past heads of the Smithsonian Institution, Intel, the Johnson Space Center, Johns Hopkins University Medical School and Corning Corporation, review numerous nominees and make recommendations to the President. Past award recipients include Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, David Packard, Ray Dolby, Vint Cerf and Industrial Light & Magic (ILM) founded by USC alumni George Lucas, as well as inventors of the microprocessor, the digital camera, electronic microphones, and other devices or systems that have fundamentally changed the worlds of communication, biotechnology, automotive, mobile computing, computer science and chemical engineering.
" Mark Humayun epitomizes the culture and dedication of the experts at the USC Eye Institute to constantly seek new solutions in the mission to prevent blindness," said Rohit Varma, MD, MPH, director of the USC Eye Institute. "One of the reasons the USC Eye Institute has been ranked in the Top 10 of ophthalmology departments over the last 21 years by US News & World Report, is because of the innovative stars in our constellation like Mark who help guide and inspire us. As only the third USC recipient in 30 years to receive this prestigious honor we are tremendously proud of Mark."
Dr Humayun merges medicine and engineering to focus on developing treatments for the most debilitating and challenging eye diseases. An expert in bioelectronics and implants for the eye, Dr Humayun is a USC professor with joint appointments in ophthalmology, cell and neurobiology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, and in biomedical engineering at the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. He holds the inaugural Cornelius J.Pings Chair in Biomedical Sciences. He is also the director of the National Science Foundation and the principal investigator of a California Institute of Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) disease team grant involving a multi-university consortium to develop a stem cell implant for age-related macular degeneration.
About Argus II: The Argus II, also known as the "bionic eye," received approval from the FDA in the US in 2013 and since then the USC Eye Institute has been one of the centers of excellence for patients receiving this implant. A true miracle solution for those who have the inherited retinal degenerative disease retinitis pigmentosa (RP), the Argus II system uses a camera mounted on special glasses that sends a signal to an electronic receiver with electrodes that are implanted in and around the eye. The electrodes send signals to the retina that stimulate the retina and then these retinal impulses travel through the optic nerve to the brain where they are interpreted as images.