Mark Humayun – 2013 National Medal of Technology & Innovation

HUMAYUN: The first patient who saw light with the Argus ONE device I still remember. It was the happiest day of my life. NARR: Mark Humayun truly is a man of vision–a pioneer in sight-producing technology. HUMAYUN: When we started 25-plus years ago, the concept of using electronics in and around the eye simply didn’t exist. The retina’s so delicate you could lose the entire eye. So, both from an engineering standpoint and also from the surgical-medical standpoint, these ideas were not something that anybody was thinking of at all. NARR: But it was all Humayun could think of– and then, a breakthrough unlike any seen before. HUMAYUN: So, what happens is the image is captured by a camera in the glasses and then sent wirelessly to an implant in and around the eye. This implant then converts this image into tiny, electrical pulses and jumpstarts the otherwise blind eye, enabling the person to see. The patients who can receive the Argus device have little to no vision. They can barely see the brightest light, the sunlight at noon, or they can barely see movements of hand right in front of their face. NARR: A next generation of the retinal prothesis system ushered in a new era of hope. HUMAYUN: What the Argus II series does is it enables these subjects to have better orientation and mobility. By that I mean, they can tell where the large chairs and objects and the people sitting in front of them, cars moving in front of them. When my patient for the first time said that after 30 years of having not be able to see anything, to be able to see the lights on a Christmas tree, or to be able to see the fireworks at the Fourth of July. It really does transform their life. NARR: The impact is wide-reaching but for Humayun, it’s personal. HUMAYUN: When I was in medical school, my grandmother went blind form complications of diabetic retinopathy; and it made me consider my career. The Argus development has always been viewed as almost science fiction. Some people thought “Well, it’s right around the corner” where others in science and ophthalmology thought it was a moonshot. NARR: This moonshot now could improve the lives of hundreds of thousands through the biocompatible technologies honed for the Argus system HUMAYUN: Vision is something that I’ve appreciated from the time when my grandmother went blind. The wonderful organ of the eye and what it can do is just amazing. To be able to do even a fraction of what it does using the Argus series is something that I could only dream of and I’m glad the dream came true.

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