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Duke mourns late biomedical engineering chair and OCT researcher Joseph Izatt


Joseph Izatt, PhD, was known for his excellence in mentorship and his work as a researcher that helped develop and advance optical coherence tomography technology, according to a news release.

Joseph Izatt, PhD, late Duke University biomedical engineering chair

Joseph Izatt, PhD / Image Credit: Duke University

Joseph Izatt, PhD, a major contributor to the development of the optical coherence tomography (OCT) passed away April 7. He was also the Michael J Fitzpatrick professor of engineering and chair of Duke University’s Department of Biomedical Engineering (BME), according to a news release.

“He was an exceptionally thoughtful leader who weighed every decision with a care that originated with his deep love for the BME community. The integrity and humility he brought as a school leader will be missed,” said Pratt School Dean Jerome Lynch in the release.

Since joining Duke in 2001, Izatt was known for his dedication to his students and colleagues, as well as his pioneering work as a researcher. While he played a role in the development of the OCT, he also maintained a decades-long collaboration with Cynthia Toth, MD, Duke professor of ophthalmology.1 Their work allowed that technology to directly reach patients, according to the release. “Their work to improve the accuracy of examination and surgery of the eye led to handheld OCT systems for infants and the first intraoperative OCT-guided system for surgery,” the release stated.

Toth paid respect to her longtime collaborator in a post on Linkedin. “Heartbroken at the loss of a colleague, brilliant scientist, amazing mentor, and wonderful human being! Joseph Izatt, PhD, brought OCT to infants and surgery. You are and will be missed!” Toth wrote.2

In his work with the OCT, Izatt also collaborated with students and staff in his Biophotonics Group to advance the technology. The group developed new methods to improve non-invasive medical diagnostics, in vivo tomographic microscopy, and real-time image-guided robotic surgery. The group also took these technological advancements outside the medical field, and were able to investigate how OCT could help autonomous robots and vehicles to see better. Because of these efforts, Izatt was named a fellow of the National Academy of Inventors and the American Institute for Medical and Biological Engineering.

Izatt’s impact that he made on his students was also recognized, both with the Pratt School’s Capers and Marion McDonald Award for Excellence in Mentoring and Advising in 2008 and the Graduate School Dean’s Award for Excellence in Mentoring in 2017. He also served as chair for the Pratt 2039 organizational visioning exercise and the Search Committee for Duke’s Vice President for Research and Innovation. Izatt took on leadership roles throughout his time at Duke, including chair of Duke BME in 2022 and his work with the BME Strategic Visioning Committee.

“The loss of Professor Izatt leaves us and the Pratt community with a profound sense of sorrow as his dedication to his family, students, faculty and staff were the hallmarks of who he was as a person,” said Lynch. “I am especially saddened to have lost a school leader who proudly led with his heart and who cared so deeply for the members of the BME and Pratt community.”

In recognition of Izatt's impact and legacy, in lieu of flowers, his family requests contributions be made to the Dr Joseph Izatt Memorial Fund. Donations can be made at Duke's giving portal. On the portal page, click "Or choose an area" at the bottom of the screen. On the next screen, click "Still can't find your designation of choice?" which will reveal a box that states "Which area of Duke would you like to support?" In this text field, type "Dr Joseph Izatt Memorial Fund" to ensure your gift is appropriately directed.

  1. Updated with memorial fund information: Biomedical Engineering Chair Joseph Izatt dies. News release. Duke Today. Updated April 8, 2024. Accessed April 29, 2024. https://today.duke.edu/2024/04/updated-memorial-fund-i nformation-biomedical-engineering-chair-joseph-izatt-dies
  2. Cynthia Toth Linkedin page.Heartbroken at the loss of a colleague, brilliant scientist, amazing mentor and wonderful human being! Joseph Izatt, PhD brought OCT to infants and surgery. You are and will be missed!! Accessed April 29, 2024. https://www.linkedin.com/feed/update/urn:li:activity:7185809669741780992/
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