The National Academy of Engineering (NAE) 2017 Fritz J. and Dolores H. Russ Prize was awarded to a team of researchers, including two MIT affiliates, for their work in optical coherence tomography. The award committee noted that the research demonstrated “creative engineering to invent imaging technology essential for preventing blindness and treating vascular and other diseases.”
The Russ Prize, established in October of 1999, recognizes an outstanding bioengineering achievement in widespread use that improves the human condition as well as acknowledges insights that help the public better understand and appreciate the contributions of engineers to health, well-being and quality of life. An auxiliary purpose of the Russ Prize is to encourage collaboration between the engineering and medical/biological professions. The Russ Prize, the Gordon Prize, and the Draper Prize, all awarded by the NAE, are considered by many to be, collectively, the “Nobel Prizes of Engineering.”
Sharing the $500,000 Russ Prize were James Fujimoto and Eric Swanson, both of MIT; Adolf F. Fercher and Christoph K. Hitzenberger of the Medical University of Vienna; and David Huang of the Casey Eye Institute.
Optical coherence tomography (OCT), pioneered by the Research Laboratory of Electronics Biomedical Optical Imaging and Biophotonics group at MIT under support from the Air Force Office of Scientific Research and National Institutes of Health, 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. It is estimated that more than 30 million OCT diagnostic procedures are performed worldwide annually. There are also around 50 companies developing OCT for a range of medical and non-medical applications as well as for basic research.
James Fujimoto is the Elihu Thomson Professor of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in the Department of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science (EECS), a visiting professor of ophthalmology at Tufts University School of Medicine, and an adjunct professor at the Medical University of Vienna. His group and collaborators were responsible for the invention and development of optical coherence tomography (OCT). Their paper, “Optical Coherence Tomography,” published in Science in 1991, remains one of the most cited papers in the biophotonics field. Working with Carmen Puliafito and Eric Swanson, he was a cofounder of the startup company Advanced Ophthalmic Devices, which developed OCT for ophthalmic imaging and was acquired by Carl Zeiss. He also cofounded, with Eric Swanson and Mark Brezinski, LightLab Imaging, which developed cardiovascular OCT and was acquired by Goodman, Ltd. and St. Jude Medical.
Eric Swanson SM ’84 is an active participant in a variety of entrepreneurial, industrial, academic, and volunteer activities. He chairs the board of directors for Acacia Communications and is a member of the boards of directors for NinePoint Medical and Curata; serves on the governing board of the Danish National Quantum Innovation Center; and is an affiliate of the MIT Deshpande Center for Entrepreneurship and the MIT Translational Fellows Program. He is a cofounder or founding board member of five startup companies: Advanced Ophthalmic Devices, LightLab Imaging, Sycamore Networks, Acacia Communication, and Curata. Swanson worked at MIT Lincoln Laboratory for 16 years, where he collaborated in the discovery and advancement of OCT and worked on optical networks, including one of the first wavelength division multiplexed all-optical networks, and space communication, including one of the first intersatellite laser communication systems.
Complete information on this year’s and past years’ Russ Prizes can be found at the National Academy of Engineering website.