International expert in eye diseases named director of USC Eye Institute

Rohit Varma Los Angeles OphthalmologistRohit Varma has been named chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at the Keck School of Medicine of USC and director of the USC Eye Institute.

The accomplished physician/scientist, who is recognized worldwide as a leader in the epidemiology of eye diseases, also will serve as a professor of ophthalmology and preventive medicine and hold the Grace and Emery Beardsley Chair in Ophthalmology.

“Dr. Varma is an internationally recognized clinician-scientist, translational researcher and educator,” said Carmen A. Puliafito, dean of the Keck School. “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 the 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.”

Varma 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. He will return this summer to the Keck School, where he previously served as professor of ophthalmology and director of the glaucoma service, ocular epidemiology center and clinical trials unit.

He has been a funded researcher for the past 20 years by the National Eye Institute, part of the National Institutes of Health. He is the principal investigator of the Los Angeles Latino Eye Study, Multi-Ethnic Pediatric Eye Diseases Study, 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.

Past 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 to expand the eye care network.

During Varma’s time at USC, the Department of Ophthalmology was a leader 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,” said Thomas E. 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 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 the Keck School of Medicine of USC,” Varma said. “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.”

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 USC.

University Professor Mark Humayun, who has served as interim chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and director of the USC Eye Institute, will continue as co-director for the institute. He will continue to lead the ophthalmology department in an interim role until Varma assumes his role as chair.

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