Claes H. Dohlman, MD, PhD
Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology, 1974-1989
"The Father of Modern Corneal Science"
Research Area(s): Cornea
Chief of Ophthalmology, Emeritus, Mass. Eye and Ear
Director Emeritus, Boston Keratoprosthesis Research and Development, Mass. Eye and Ear
BIOGRAPHY Claes Henrik Dohlman was born in 1922 in Uppsala, Sweden. He earned his MD and a Doctorate of Medical Research (biochemistry) from the University of Lund in Sweden, and completed his residency in ophthalmology in the Eye Clinic of the University of Lund. In 1958, he was recruited to work at The Retina Foundation Institute of Boston by former mentor and world-renowned retina surgeon, Dr. Charles Schepens, founder of the Institute (now Schepens Eye Research Institute). He was also asked by Dr. Edwin Dunphy, then Chief of Ophthalmology at Mass. Eye and Ear, to establish a Cornea Service at the Infirmary. In 1974, the same year he achieved HMS professorial status, Dr. Dohlman was appointed Chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology of Harvard Medical School, Director of the Howe Laboratory of Ophthalmology, and Chief of Ophthalmology at Mass. Eye and Ear.
In a career that now spans seven decades, Dr. Dohlman stands as one of the most highly honored ophthalmologists in the world. Recognized as the founder of modern corneal science, his work is considered “classic” literature on understanding corneal biology. His investigations of corneal physiology laid the groundwork for modern clinical practice in dry eye disease, management of corneal edema, corneal burns, wound healing, corneal transplantation, and keratoprosthesis.
His career reflects a remarkable number of firsts: Dr. Dohlman was first in the world to create an organized cornea subspecialty (Mass. Eye and Ear), first to create a formal structured cornea fellowship program (Mass. Eye and Ear and Schepens), first to recruit full-time cornea fellows to HMS, and first to pioneer a number of surgical innovations in keratoplasty and keratoprosthesis. His most notable achievement is the Boston Keratoprosthesis (KPro), an artificial cornea he first conceptualized in the 1960s and is now the most successful artificial cornea in the world with over 15,000 implantations to date. During his career, Dr. Dohlman has trained first-hand over 200 cornea specialists—more than any other ophthalmologist in the world. His “real” contributions to ophthalmic education are incalculable considering the hundreds of second- and third-generation cornea specialists who have trained under his protégées, and the thousands more who have benefitted from his prolific contributions to corneal literature and science.
In 2007, the American Academy of Ophthalmology named Dr. Dohlman recipient of the Laureate Award— the highest honor possible to bestow by the Academy— in recognition of his contributions spanning many years of continuous service to the profession The following year, he was again honored for his lifetime accomplishments in a named Harvard Professorship (Claes H. Dohlman Professor of Ophthalmology) whose first incumbent is Dr. Reza Dana, famed for his pioneering science in corneal immunology and transplantation biology.
“Dr. Dohlman’s opus of research and clinical work set the stage for a world-class cornea center of excellence at Harvard,” remarked chief and chair Joan W. Miller. “His work has benefitted 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. Harvard Medical School—and indeed, the whole world—is a far better place today because of his remarkable talent, contributions, and character.”
Dr. Dohlman retired from formal administrative roles in 1989. Today (2019) at age 96, he continues (full-time) to advise and mentor students and colleagues, and pursue multidisciplinary research to enhance clinical KPro outcomes. Despite a lifetime of achievement, Dr. Dohlman is remarkably self-effacing. While he acknowledges his numerous accomplishments (his bibliography lists 375 publications), he prefers not to focus on what he has achieved, but rather what still needs to be accomplished— particularly in the area of KPro development. He continues to shape and set new standards for the field, and remains an inspiration to everyone in the Harvard community—and beyond.