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International expert in the epidemiology of eye diseases named ophthalmology chair at Keck School of Medicine and director of USC Eye Institute

Rohit Varma, MD, MPH (right)

By Sherri Snelling

Keck School of Medicine of USC announced today it has named one of its own, Rohit Varma, M.D., M.P.H. to become chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and director of the USC Eye Institute as well as to serve as professor of ophthalmology and preventive medicine and hold the Grace and Emery Beardsley Chair in Ophthalmology. Varma, who is currently chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences at the Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary at the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Medicine, returns to Keck School of Medicine where he previously served as professor of ophthalmology and director of the glaucoma service, ocular epidemiology center and clinical trials unit.

An accomplished physician/scientist, Varma is recognized worldwide as a visionary leader in the epidemiology of eye diseases. Among his many significant contributions to the field, Varma has been  a funded researcher for the past 20 years by the National Eye Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). He is the principal investigator of the Los Angeles Latino Eye Study (LALES), Multi-Ethnic Pediatric Eye Diseases Study (MEPEDS), African-American Eye Disease Study and the Chinese-American Eye Study in addition to his studies on blindness and vision impairment for the World Health Organization. Varma’s experience with national and international organizations will aid in his additional role as associate dean for strategic planning and community network development with the Keck School of Medicine of USC to expand the eye care network.

“Dr. Varma is an internationally recognized clinician-scientist, translational researcher and educator,” said Carmen A. Puliafito, M.D., M.B.A., dean of the Keck School of Medicine. “His vital work protecting and promoting vision health for all Americans and his primary epidemiological research which has focused on two of our most vulnerable populations: minority children and seniors, go beyond exceptional medicine. We’re proud to have him return to Keck School of Medicine of USC and name him as chair of our ophthalmology department to continue our leadership in vision training, research and clinical practices.”

During Varma’s time at USC, the Department of Ophthalmology was a pioneer in population-based studies that have provided substantial data on the frequency and impact of major eye diseases, as well as possible preventive and therapeutic strategies necessary to eliminate them. Varma also has established an international reputation in new imaging techniques for detecting and treating glaucoma.

“Dr. Varma is a perfect example of the world-class talent we attract at Keck Medicine of USC,” says Thomas Jackiewicz, senior vice president and CEO for USC Health. “By fostering the best in academic medicine where we bring together education and training, research and patient care, Dr. Varma will help us lead the way during a time of significant health care transformation.”

More than 4.1 million Americans over age 40 suffer from some vision impairment including more severe eye diseases such as glaucoma (2.7 million) and almost 1.3 million with complete blindness. Focusing on the changes in the optic nerve in glaucoma, Varma has helped pioneer the development of imaging techniques that aid in the early diagnosis of glaucomatous optic nerve damage. He also was involved in developing unique implantable intraocular pressure (IOP) sensors and drainage devices that hold the promise for curing or at least controlling glaucoma.

“I am deeply honored to have been selected as the chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and director of the USC Eye Institute at Keck School of Medicine of USC,” said Varma. “Keck Medicine of USC is known for its pioneering efforts in vision research and innovative solutions to managing eye disease and I am dedicated to continuing this legacy of excellence and helping guide the department to new heights.”

Varma has more than 219 publications in peer-reviewed ophthalmic journals and has co-written two ophthalmic books, Essentials of Eye Care: The Johns Hopkins Wilmer Handbook and The Optic Nerve in Glaucoma. His numerous awards include Research to Prevent Blindness Career Development, Sybil B. Harrington Scholar, American Academy of Ophthalmology Senior Achievement Award, Glaucoma Research Foundation President’s Award and Best Doctors in America. He serves on the Institute of Medicine Roundtable on Health Discrepancies, chairs the American Academy of Ophthalmology Public Health Committee and servedon the board of the Scientific Counselors of the National Eye Institute.

Having earned his medical degree at the University of Delhi, India, Varma completed his residency at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore as well as earning a master’s in public health from Johns Hopkins University. He completed two glaucoma fellowships, one at the Wills Eye Hospital in Philadelphia and the other at the University of Southern California. 

Mark S. Humayun, M.D., Ph.D., who has served as interim chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and director of the USC Eye Institute, will continue as co-director for USC Eye Institute and as director of the Institute for Biomedical Therapeutics, director of sensory sciences initiatives, the Cornelius J. Pings Chair in Biomedical Sciences, a tenured University Professor in three departments: ophthalmology, biomedical engineering, and cell and neurobiology. Humayun will continue to lead the ophthalmology department in an interim role until Varma assumes his role as chair this summer.

“We are especially grateful to Dr. Humayun for providing interim leadership and are pleased to support his goals of returning more of his focus to his ground-breaking research programs,” said Puliafito. “Through his work in advanced engineering, Dr. Humayun will continue to ensure Keck Medical School of USC’s critical contributions to vision disease and therapies.”

Humayun is internationally known for his work on the Argus II artificial retina implant designed to restore sight to those blinded by macular degeneration.

 

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