Interview with Joel S. Schuman, MD, FACS

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  • Richard Lui: Okay so we're still here at the Embassy of a Italy here in Washington DC for BrightFocus Foundation, their gala, and another one of the awardees stopped by, one of the big brains that has been focusing on some of the solutions related to again the three spaces that we're looking at: one is Alzheimer's, two is macular degeneration, and three is glaucoma. And this awardee is getting recognized with the Impact Award and we’re going to get into that very shortly—by the way my name's Richard Lui, I'm at MSNBC as a news anchor and I'm volunteering today, so it's good to be with you, and Dr. Schuman, Dr. Schuman:, good to see you—

    Dr. Schuman: Hi, Joel Schuman nice to see you—

    Richard Lui: —and let me read just a little bit here of what makes this guy really, really interesting and very important. So, as he gets the award today, Dr. Schuman, he’s with NYU’s Langone Eye Center. He is seen as one of the world’s leading ophthamologists specializing in glaucoma and diagnostic testing of eye disease, so he's not only big physically he's also big in the brain and what he gets done. Sorry I had to say that, if you don’t mind—

    Dr. Schuman: It’s alright—

    Richard Lui: So, congratulations, first of all—

    Dr. Schuman: Thank you very much.

    Richard Lui: If you had to explain this to my mom or dad, what is it that you do?

    Dr. Schuman: Right, so, there are a number of different things but let's talk about one that's had the widest application which is optical coherence tomography. I was one of the inventors of optical coherence tomography, and it's a way of making a 3D map on the back of your eyes, so it's like taking a photograph except that it has three dimensions instead of just a flat picture, and that lets us look at the different layers of tissue in the back of the eye, lets us look at diseases like glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, the big blinding diseases, and it allows us to detect those really early, and also to manage them because we can follow them very precisely. We can do a measurement that is not subjective, it’s not based on somebody saying “It looks like this, it looks like that,” it’s a precise accurate measurement of the tissue that lets us say, “Oh wait, there’s a problem here,” or, “Hey, there’s no problem, you don’t need to be treated,” or, “You’re stable, you’re doing fine, you know, just keep doing what you are doing.”

    Richard Lui: And how does it work, like, you hook something to my head, do I lay down on a bed, how does this work?

    Dr. Schuman: Much easier. You just look into a machine and it use light—

    Richard Lui: Oh really? So, like this right? I’m just looking into a machine—

    Dr. Schuman: Yeah, and it uses light that’s invisible, so you don’t even see or feel anything, it’s very quick, painless, non-contact.

    Richard Lui: How long?

    Dr. Schuman: It—seconds.

    Richard Lui: And when you discovered that, how did it happen, what was that moment like?

    Dr. Schuman: There was a team, so there were six of us, some of us were physicians, some of us were engineers, there was a physicist involved, and we were working on a problem, and that problem was how to measure things, and that team worked together to be able to create a technology that would do measurements—first there was just, you know, a measurement along a line, and then, one of us, David Wong, had the idea of, “Oh well if you scan it this way you can make an image, so you can make a picture, and then if you do that very fast side-by-side, those cross-sections become a 3D image.

    Richard Lui: So what did you do when your team discovered this thing, did you do a high-five, did you jump up in the air?

    Dr. Schuman: It was real exciting—

    Richard Lui: Do you remember, like, give me the word, how would you describe that moment?

    Dr. Schuman: It was the “Aha” moment. It’s the thing that you always want when you’re doing research which is, you know, that time that your realize something and that this is something new that nobody’s ever done before that’s going to be really important.

    Richard Lui: Never done before, and I think one of the questions that is difficult for late people like myself is, hey, this is why research works, this is why it works, because otherwise it gets very sort of “out there.” How would you explain that to a late person like myself “this is the way research works.”

    Dr. Schuman: Well, you know, research is basically curious people looking at problems that affect either small or large groups of people. And if you have people who are physicians who understand how the body works, and you have people who are engineers who understand how technology works, and you have people who are scientists who understand the basics of how biology works, put those people together, they can come up with solutions to problems.

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