Skip to content

Claes H. Dohlman, MD, PhD: Cornea Research Pioneer and Visionary

In September 2022, Claes H. Dohlman, MD, PhD, who has forever changed the way conditions of the cornea are understood and treated, was honored with the 2022 António Champalimaud Vision Award for his exceptional contributions to the field. To celebrate Dr. Dohlman’s award and his recent 100th birthday, Focus is looking back at his monumental seven-decade career at Mass Eye and Ear and Harvard Ophthalmology. Watch this video to hear more about Dr. Dohlman’s storied career from those who he has influenced.

The Father of Modern Corneal Science

Claes Dohlman, MD, PhD headshot
Claes Dohlman, MD, PhD

Internationally recognized as the founding father of modern corneal science, Claes H. Dohlman, MD, PhD, has spearheaded key research investigations to help better understand the structure and function of the cornea—the clear outer layer at the front of the eye that allows people to focus light and see clearly. His research efforts laid the groundwork for the modern treatments and methods used today for dry eye disease, corneal burns, wound healing, corneal transplantation and keratoprosthesis (an artificial cornea). As a result, Dr. Dohlman’s work has helped improve the vision and lives of millions of people around the world.

Born in Uppsala, Sweden, in 1922, Dr. Dohlman earned his Medical Degree and a Doctor of Medical Research from the University of Lund in Sweden and completed his residency training in ophthalmology at the Eye Clinic of the University of Lund.

In 1958, he was recruited to work at Schepens Eye Research Institute of Mass Eye and Ear (then known as The Retina Foundation Institute of Boston) by his former mentor and celebrated retina surgeon, Charles Schepens, MD.

A Career of Firsts

In 1964, at the request of then Chief of Ophthalmology Edwin Dunphy, MD, 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 service has grown to become one of the largest and most renowned in the world.

Dohlman, Claes, examining a pediatric patient in undated photo.
Claes Dohlman, MD, PhD, examining a young patient in this undated photo.

That was just the start of the many firsts in Dr. Dohlman’s career. He was also the first person to create a formal cornea fellowship program (also at Mass Eye and Ear), the first to recruit full-time cornea fellows to Harvard Medical School, and the first to pioneer several new surgical advances in corneal transplants (keratoplasty) and artificial corneas (keratoprosthesis).

The biggest of these surgical innovations is undoubtedly the Boston Keratoprosthesis. Invented by Dr. Dohlman in the 1960s, this innovative procedure, commonly known as the “Boston KPro,” involves implanting an artificial cornea to replace one that is diseased or damaged. The Boston KPro remains the most successful artificial cornea in the world with 19,000 implantations to date.

The Evolution of the Boston KPro

Although he no longer sees patients, at the age of 100 Dr. Dohlman continues to work with a new generation of clinician-scientists and researchers to improve the Boston KPro. James Chodosh, MD, MPH, who served as Director of the Boston Keratoprosthesis Program from 2017 to 2022, developed the ‘Lucia’ type I keratoprosthesis, an FDA-approved design created to offer an improved cosmetic appearance for patients.

When Dr. Chodosh departed Mass Eye and Ear in September 2022 to become the inaugural chair of The University of New Mexico Department of Ophthalmology & Visual Sciences, Dr. Dohlman welcomed a new generation of leadership. After many years of training and mentorship under Drs. Dohlman and Chodosh, Eleftherios Paschalis, PhD, has been appointed Director of Research, Development, and Regulatory Affairs and Thomas Dohlman, MD,  appointed Medical Director. They will be joined by Reza Dana, MD, MSc, MPH, Director of the Cornea Service at Mass Eye and Ear, who will provide research and business strategy support to the program. Together, Drs. Dana, Paschalis and Thomas Dohlman will work to further the Boston Keratoprosthesis Program and its mission to help those suffering from corneal blindness.

Leadership and Teaching

While most known for his innovative cornea research and advances in clinical care, Dr. Dohlman has also had an enormous impact on Mass Eye and Ear and Harvard Ophthalmology through leadership and teaching.

Claes Dohlman, MD, PhD, works with trainees in this undated photo.
Claes Dohlman, MD, PhD, works with trainees in this undated photo.

In 1974, Dr. Dohlman was appointed Chief of Ophthalmology at Mass Eye and Ear, Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, and Director of the Howe Laboratory of Ophthalmology at Mass Eye and Ear. He remained in these roles until 1989, when he stepped back to focus more on his research and teaching.

Throughout Dr. Dohlman’s 64 years at Mass Eye and Ear, he has trained more than 200 cornea specialists—more than any other ophthalmologist in the world. He continued to work with and mentor trainees and junior faculty into his nineties, and his dedication to teaching is reflected in the three Resident Teacher of the Year awards he has received from Harvard Ophthalmology residents.

Among the Most Honored Ophthalmologist in the World

Throughout his career, Dr. Dohlman has received numerous awards and honors for his groundbreaking contributions to corneal research and clinical care, including:

  • American Academy of Ophthalmology Laureate Award
  • Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology Friedenwald Award
  • Swedish Medical Society Gullstrand Medal
  • Cornea Society Castroviejo Medal
  • New England Ophthalmological Society Award
  • Massachusetts Eye and Ear Distinguished Service Award
  • Swedish Ophthalmological Society Honorary Award
  • Named Harvard Medical School Professorship (Claes H. Dohlman Professor of Ophthalmology)
  • Order of Vasa, Sweden
  • Honorary degrees from the Université de Montréal and Harvard University
Dr. Dohlman with his family in Lisbon, Portugal where he received the 2022 António Champalimaud Vision Award

The 2022 António Champalimaud Vision Award is Dr. Dohlman’s most recent—and most prestigious—honor. Established in 2006, the Champalimaud Vision Award, presented by the Portugal-based Champalimaud Foundation, is the highest distinction bestowed in ophthalmology and vision science, and is considered the “Nobel Prize of Vision.”

Dr. Dohlman and fellow 2022 Champalimaud winner, Gerrit R. J. Melles, MD, PhD, founder of the Netherlands Institute for Innovative Ocular Surgery and the Melles Cornea Clinic in Rotterdam, will share a prize of $1,000,000 to further their research efforts.

Dr. Dohlman’s work and dedication has benefited Mass Eye and Ear patients—and millions of people around the world—and his legacy of knowledge thrives today in the hundreds of fellows, students and colleagues he has trained and mentored over the years.

Congratulations, Dr. Dohlman on this special award recognizing a storied career!

2 thoughts on “Claes H. Dohlman, MD, PhD: Cornea Research Pioneer and Visionary”

  1. Thank you Dr. Dohlman, for the bilateral K-pro procedure, which will have given me twenty years of vision this May 2023.
    I only “have remember to blink.”
    Thank you.

  2. I was a patient of Dr. Dohlman in 1964. He operated on my eye and saved my vision. I wanted to send a heartfelt Thank You to Dr. Dohlman. I am seeing a corneal specialist currently who did her fellowship with Dr. Dohlmans grandson. It is a small world but I believe God might have had a hand in the consequence of it all! God Bless you Dr. Dohlman and your family. And a Happy Centennial Birthday to you as well!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *