Claes H. Dohlman, MD, PhD, whose pioneering research at Mass Eye and Ear and in the Department of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School (HMS) has forever changed the way conditions of the cornea are understood and treated, has been presented with the 2022 António Champalimaud Vision Award for his vast contributions to vision research.
Dr. Dohlman, who was born in Uppsala, Sweden in 1922 and trained at the University of Lund and the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm, received the award along with fellow 2022 Champalimaud Laureate, Gerrit R. J. Melles, MD, PhD, founder of the Netherlands Institute for Innovative Ocular Surgery (NIIOS) and the Melles Cornea Clinic in Rotterdam.
The award recipients were honored Sept. 15, 2022, during a ceremony held at the Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Lisbon, Portugal. The award carries a €1,000,000 ($1,000,000) prize that is shared among the winners to be used for furthering their research.
First established in 2006, the Champalimaud Vision Award, presented by the Portugal-based Champalimaud Foundation, is the highest distinction bestowed in ophthalmology and vision science, carrying one of the largest prizes in scientific research. The award, which is considered the “Nobel Prize of Vision,” is given once a year, alternating between research contributions to the field of vision (even numbered years) and contributions to the relief of vision problems, primarily in developing countries (odd numbered years).
This is the second time Harvard Ophthalmology researchers have received this prestigious honor; the institution is the only ophthalmology department to win the award twice and boasts the most Champalimaud Laureates to date. In 2014, six HMS researchers won the António Champalimaud Vision Award for their contributions to identify vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF) as the major trigger for angiogenesis in the eye, which underlies the pathology of various blinding retinal disorders, including age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, leading to the development of novel anti-VEGF treatments for these diseases.
“It is an incredible honor for our researchers to be recognized once again with the Champalimaud Vision Award. Dr. Dohlman’s work in particular has not only transformed the course of cornea science over the last century, but has also directly affected countless individuals through his innovations and discoveries,” said Joan W. Miller, MD, a recipient of the 2014 Champalimaud Vision Award, and Chief of Ophthalmology at Mass Eye and Ear and Massachusetts General Hospital, Ophthalmologist-in-chief at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and Chair of Ophthalmology and the David Glendenning Cogan Professor of Ophthalmology at HMS. “The hundreds of cornea specialists who have been fortunate to be trained by Dr. Dohlman carry on his lasting legacy through working towards a mission shared with the Champalimaud Foundation, to develop therapies that will benefit billions of people and to one day eradicate corneal blindness.
Father of modern corneal science feted for seminal contributions
Dr. Dohlman, a Professor of Ophthalmology, Emeritus, and former Chair of the HMS Ophthalmology Department, is internationally recognized as the founder of modern corneal science. Over the course of his seven-decade career at Schepens Eye Research Institute of Mass Eye and Ear and Harvard Ophthalmology, Dr. Dohlman has spearheaded investigations of corneal physiology that have laid the groundwork for clinical practice in dry eye disease, corneal burns, wound healing, corneal transplantation and keratoprosthesis. As a result, his work has helped improve vision and the lives of millions of people around the world.
Dr. Dohlman, who turned 100 on September 11, is the inventor of the Boston Keratoprosthesis (Boston KPro, or Boston Cornea), an artificial cornea that benefits patients who are unable to receive a standard corneal transplant. It has since become the most widely used artificial cornea, restoring the sight of more than 15,000 patients in the United States and in 52 countries worldwide.
A prolific researcher, Dr. Dohlman has published nearly 400 scientific articles, and presented more than 40 named lectures globally. His educational contributions are boundless. He was the first to create a formal structured cornea fellowship program and has trained over 200 cornea specialists – more than any ophthalmologist in the world – many of whom have gone on to become professors and ophthalmology department chairs and continue to train future generations of cornea specialists.
As part of the award, Dr. Dohlman will present a special lecture at the 2023 Annual Meeting of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology (ARVO), being held April 23-27 in New Orleans, La.
Our sincerest congratulations to Dr. Dohlman for being recognized with this prestigious award. Dr. Dohlman has been a valued member of ARVO for over 40 years with a body of work that is beyond impressive. We look forward to his lecture next year as his contributions continue to influence us and guide the new generation of researchers.”
Hans E. Grossniklaus, MD, MBA, ARVO President
Founder of Mass Eye and Ear Cornea Service
In 1964, Dr. Dohlman established the Cornea Service at Mass Eye and Ear-; the first cornea subspecialty clinic in the world. Under the leadership of Dr. Dohlman and his successor and former mentee Reza Dana, MD, MSc, MPH, the Claes H. Dohlman Professor of Ophthalmology at HMS, the service has grown to become one of the largest and most renowned in the world. Members of the service continue to be at the forefront of major medical and surgical advances in the field. Their translational research and clinical innovations have led to new treatments for corneal disorders, including stem cell transplantation ocular surface reconstruction, and lamellar keratoplasty.
“Dr. Dohlman’s indelible contributions to the field of cornea science are evident in his foundational research, which is still highly utilized today in scientific discovery and patient care,” said Dr. Dana, the Vice Chair for Academic Programs for Harvard Ophthalmology, and Director of the Cornea and Refractive Surgery Service at Mass Eye and Ear, and Co-Director of the Harvard Ophthalmology Cornea Center of Excellence. Dr. Dana is an internationally recognized clinician scientist and leader in the field of ocular immunology. “This award is a well-deserved recognition of his many accomplishments in advancing the field, and his trainees and inventions that continue to make a major impact on patient care today.”
Cornea Center of Excellence a hub for research advances and innovation
Corneal blindness is one of the leading causes of vision loss, according to the World Health Organization. Conditions affecting the cornea are complex in their epidemiology and include an array of inflammatory, infectious and genetic eye diseases that cause scarring to the cornea, the transparent layer at the front of the eye that is the primary structure for focusing light and serves as a protective barrier from injuries and microbial pathogens.
The Harvard Ophthalmology Cornea Center of Excellence, directed by Dr. Dana and Ula Jurkunas, MD, brings together one of the world’s largest group of scientists and physicians to advance the understanding of corneal biology, develop treatments for corneal conditions and improve access to sight-saving treatments.
Over the past two decades, these researchers have spearheaded advances including: Identifying molecular clues, including the role of oxidative stress, in the pathogenesis of Fuchs’ endothelial corneal dystrophy; identifying the molecular and cellular immune basis of dry eye disease, including the role of interleukin-17; developing and optimizing drug-eluting contact lenses which are entering clinical trials; receiving Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for novel method of cultivating corneal stem cells for ocular surface reconstruction, and performing the first surgery of its kind to take healthy stem cells from one eye and transfer them to an eye damaged with corneal burns.
Additionally, researchers continue to refine the Boston KPro. James Chodosh, MD, MPH, who spent 14 years at Mass Eye and Ear and HMS, most recently as Vice Chair for Education for Harvard Ophthalmology, and Associate Director of the Cornea and Refractive Surgery Service, before joining the University of New Mexico Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences as its inaugural Chair of Ophthalmology this month, invented and patented a newer low-cost keratoprosthesis – the “Lucia” – to address corneal blindness in low-resource countries. Researchers are also studying and testing newer formulations of the Boston KPro, including a titanium modification to enhance it cosmetically, and they are actively learning how to better prevent postoperative glaucoma following corneal injury treatment with the device.