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LA County honors Puliafito for innovation, leadership

by Leslie Ridgeway
The award was presented for Carmen A. Puliafito’s expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of retinal disease and accomplished leadership in academic medicine. (Photo/Don Milici)
The award was presented for Carmen A. Puliafito’s expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of retinal disease and accomplished leadership in academic medicine. (Photo/Don Milici)

Carmen A. Puliafito, dean of the Keck School of Medicine of USC, has won the Los Angeles County Medical Association’s Innovation Award for Technology.

The award was presented on Oct. 17 at the second annual Los Angeles County Medical Association’s L.A. Healthcare Awards designed to recognize individuals and institutions for increasing access to quality health care in the county through leadership, innovation, education and service.

“It is a distinct honor to be recognized not only for my work but alongside so many distinguished colleagues,” Puliafito said. “I thank the Los Angeles County Medical Association not only for this award but for all they do to support the important work of physicians in the Los Angeles region.”

The award was presented for Puliafito’s skill and expertise in the diagnosis and treatment of retinal disease and accomplished leadership in academic medicine. He has served as dean of the Keck School since 2007, having been recently reappointed to the position.

As dean, Puliafito has been recognized as a visionary academic medical leader, a highly effective administrator and educator, and an innovative clinician-scientist. Under his leadership, the Keck School is undergoing a transformation into one of the nation’s preeminent, research-intensive medical schools.

Keck School clinical, research and educational programs have been dramatically enlarged and restructured under his leadership, including the 2009 acquisition by USC of its two private teaching hospitals, Keck Hospital of USC and USC Norris Cancer Hospital. The newly formed USC Eye Institute, the recently acquired USC Laboratory of Neuro Imaging, the recently enhanced Department of Otolaryngology-Head and Neck Surgery, and the Eli and Edythe Broad Center for Regenerative Medicine and Stem Cell Research at USC are examples of programs and departments that have been strengthened.

The dean’s emphasis on technology innovation and new avenues in biomedical engineering is exemplified by his championing of the Health, Technology and Engineering@USC program, established in 2011 as a joint program between the Keck School and the USC Viterbi School of Engineering. The program helps medical students think like engineers and engineers think like doctors, with a goal of training a new generation of problem solvers and thought leaders who have the potential to change health care for the better.

Puliafito’s ophthalmic research has earned him many distinguished awards. Along with several colleagues, in 2012 he received the António Champalimaud Vision Award  for the invention and development of optical coherence tomography (OCT), imaging technology that has revolutionized the practice of ophthalmology by improving the ability of clinicians to diagnose and treat such blinding diseases as macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma.

For his work on OCT, he was awarded (along with James Fujimoto and Eric Swanson) the 2002 Rank Prize, the world’s top award in optoelectronics.

Before coming to USC, Puliafito served as chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at the Bascom Palmer Eye Institute of the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine from 2001 to 2007. Prior to his work at Bascom Palmer, he served as founding director of the New England Eye Center and chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at Tufts University. Puliafito started his career at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary and Harvard Medical School, where he was founder of the Laser Research Laboratory and associate professor of ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School until 1991.

A native of Buffalo, N.Y., Puliafito is a cum laude graduate of Harvard College and a magna cum laude graduate of Harvard Medical School. He also earned an MBA from the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.

Other L.A. Healthcare Awards honorees included physician, surgeon and scientist Patrick Soon-Shiong; Richard Zapanta of Eastside Orthopedic Medical Associates; Eric Savitsky, UCLA Health Systems; Matthew Lin, Pacific Orthopedic Medical Group, UCLA’s Operation Mend and the Westside Family Health Center.

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