Steven D. Schwartz, M.D.

Steven D. Schwartz, M.D. 

Professor-in-Residence, Ahmanson Professor in Ophthalmology; Chief, Retina; Director, Diabetic Eye Disease and Retinal Vascular Center; Director, Ophthalmic Photography Laboratory, Stein Eye Institute


Steven Schwartz, M.D., is an ophthalmologist whose primary research areas include early diagnosis and treatment of diseases such as macular degeneration, retinopathy of prematurity and diabetic eye disease. He aims to translate basic biological discoveries into new treatment strategies, and to develop and evaluate novel medical device technologies, imaging technologies, surgical equipment (including surgical robots) and drug delivery systems. Schwartz leads clinical trials of novel cell therapies and drugs to treat blinding eye diseases.

Schwartz was a principal investigator in a number of early-stage clinical trials for retinal diseases, including the initial studies for ranibizumab (Lucentis) – an injectable drug that is now a common treatment for wet age-related macular degeneration. Age-related macular degeneration affects the retina, which lines the inner surface of the back of the eye, and is the leading cause of severe vision loss in people over the age of 65. In dry macular degeneration, the center of the retina deteriorates. With wet macular degeneration, abnormal blood vessels grow under the retina. The development of ranibizumab and similar therapies changed the prognosis of wet macular degeneration from a 90 percent risk of legal blindness within two years of diagnosis to a 95 percent chance of stabilization of vision and 35 percent chance for significant improvement over two years. 

More recently, Schwartz led the first clinical trial in the United States to use human embryonic stem cell-derived cells in patients to treat eye disease. This trial replaced retinal pigment epithelium cells, which are lost in many blinding eye conditions – including dry age-related and myopic macular degeneration, and Stargardt’s macular dystrophy – with cells that had been derived from human embryonic stem cells. The trial showed that retinal pigment epithelium cell replacement strategies are safe and possibly effective in addressing retinal blindness. However, because this treatment method used cells that were not genetically matched to the patient, trial participants were required to take drugs that suppress the immune system long-term so that their bodies did not reject the new cells. These immunosuppressive drugs carry substantial health risks, particularly for the elderly. Schwartz and the center’s research team are now working to develop a new therapy that creates retinal pigment epithelium cells from each patient’s own induced pluripotent stem cells. These cells will maintain the genetic code of the individual from whom they originated, which will likely eliminate the need for the long-term use of immunosuppressive drugs.  

A recognized expert in translational research, Schwartz has contributed to the development of several new technologies that have advanced the field of ophthalmology including drug delivery systems, diagnostic imaging instrumentation, therapeutic lasers and microsurgical devices.  He is committed to developing approaches that use telemedicine to screen for eye diseases such as diabetic retinopathy and retinopathy of prematurity, which would improve access to high-quality medical care for patients who live far away from specialized ophthalmology centers. 

Schwartz earned his medical degree at University of Southern California’s Keck School of Medicine and subsequently completed an internship at Los Angeles County+USC Medical Center. He completed a residency in ophthalmology at UCLA’s Stein Eye Institute, and fellowships in Medical Retina & Uveitis and Vitreoretinal Surgery at Moorfields Eye Hospital in London, England.


Honors & Affiliations


  • Director’s Award, Japanese Clinical Ophthalmology Annual Congress, 2017
  • Alumnus of the Year, Moorfields Eye Hospital, Royal Society of Medicine, 2016
  • Alumni Award, Bay Area Vision Research at UC Berkeley, 2015
  • Recognition for Outstanding Service, American Society of Retina Specialists, 2014
  • Senior Achievement Award, American Academy of Ophthalmology, 2012



  • American Academy of Ophthalmology
  • Affiliate Member, Royal College of Ophthalmologists
  • Active Member, Club Jules Gonin
  • The Retina Society
  • The Macula Society
  • Program Committee Chair, Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology  


Schwartz’s work is funded by the National Institutes of Health, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Astellas Institute for Regenerative Medicine, Ophthotech, the UCLA Department of Ophthalmology and the UCLA Broad Stem Cell Research Center.