Mark Humayun featured on NBC News for inventions to treat blindness

By Alexandra Demetriou

Mark Humayun, MD, PhD, recently appeared on NBC California Live in a feature highlighting the remarkable story of his patient, Anna Kuehl, who regained her eyesight thanks to a retinal implant invented by Humayun’s research team.

Anna, a mother of two living in Southern California with her husband, noticed that her vision had begun deteriorating drastically with age. At first, she needed a stronger eyeglass prescription; eventually, the center of her visual field darkened into a black spot of complete blindness. Her quality of life declined with her vision: she found herself unable to fulfill her job duties as a CPA, and she withdrew from social events because, as she explained to NBC California Live, it became difficult to enjoy herself when she could no longer recognize people’s faces.

Anna was diagnosed with a form of progressive blindness known as dry age-related macular degeneration (AMD), for which there was no existing cure. Anna, like the millions of other Americans diagnosed with dry AMD each year, expected that her vision would inevitably deteriorate until it was mostly overtaken by darkness.

Anna sought treatment at the USC Roski Eye Institute, where she met Dr. Humayun, a vitreoretinal surgeon and world-renown inventor of advanced medical implants intended to cure various forms of blindness. Fortunately for Anna, Humayun’s research team at the USC Ginsburg Institute for Biomedical Therapeutics had the perfect invention in the works: a stem cell-based retinal implant meant to help patients with Anna’s exact condition.

After meeting with Dr. Humayun, Anna was deemed a good candidate to receive one of the first implants available to patients. She underwent surgery at the USC Roski Eye Institute, and over time, she noticed a change in her eyesight. Whole faces of her loved ones reappeared, and the dark spot that used to dominate her vision receded.

Anna is once again able to appreciate the day-to-day joys that macular degeneration had stolen, such as watching ships sail across the horizon and appreciating the vividly colored flowers of her garden.

As for Humayun and his team, seeing success stories like Anna’s continues to fuel their dedication to curing blindness and bringing hope to patients living in darkness. As Humayun says, “To be able to make even a little bit of difference makes it all worthwhile for us.”

To watch the full feature on NBC California Live, click here.

Dr. Humayun on NBC California Live
From left to right: NBC California Live reporter Vicki Johnson, USC Roski Eye Institute patient Anna Kuehl, and Dr. Mark Humayun

Dr. Humayun featured on Walter Isaacson’s Trailblazers podcast

By Alexandra Demetriou

Mark Humayun, MD, PhD, was recently featured on Trailblazers, an original podcast hosted by former CNN chairman and CEO Walter Isaacson. The Trailblazers podcast features leaders across society who have shaken up their fields, innovated in ways many would think impossible and charged forward to pioneer changes that excite the way our world operates. Isaacson, who has written best-selling books on innovators ranging from Leonardo da Vinci to Steve Jobs, sat with Humayun to discuss his career as a world-renown ophthalmologist and inventor. The episode highlights the challenges and victories Humayun has encountered along his journey to reverse blindness and restore a glimmer of hope to vision loss patients living in complete darkness.

Isaacson opens the podcast episode, entitled “Eyesight: Vision’s Visionaries,” with the story of Humayun succeeding in his first attempt to use electrodes to stimulate vision during eye surgery. He recounts the miraculous moment in 1992 when Humayun confirmed that his patient, blind for 50 years, was able to see a small but encouraging flicker of light while lying on the operating table. That light, which his patient described as looking like “a candle far off in the distance on a dark night,” marked a turning point in Humayun’s career and a monumental step forward in the field of vision science.

Almost three decades later, Humayun continues to pioneer groundbreaking advancements in ophthalmology and vision restoration. Humayun is widely recognized for his invention of the world’s first artificial retina, which has restored partial vision to hundreds of patients who were previously completely blind. Humayun and his team continue working to surmount the challenges of recreating one of our most sophisticated senses using a network of electrodes, and their current studies are focused on increasing clarity and adding color vision to their artificial sight system. But perhaps the truest measure of Humayun’s success as a trailblazer lies in the most basic and human experiences his patients have regained thanks to their implants: patients often share stories of watching fireworks on the Fourth of July, appreciating the lights on a Christmas tree, or experiencing the joy of playing with their young grandchildren thanks to the gift of sight their implants have given them.

“Everyone said, ‘This cannot happen,’” Humayun explains on Trailblazers, referring to the many obstacles that complicate creating a bionic eye implant, such as the delicacy of the human retina and the challenge of developing an electrode array capable of creating signals that the human brain can discern as meaningful images. “This was actually science fiction,” Humayun surmises, “and we made it science reality.”

To listen to the full podcast episode, click here.