Ilene K. Gipson, PhD
Ilene K. Gipson, PhD, Professor of Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School and a Senior Scientist at Schepens Eye Research Institute of Mass Eye and Ear, will retire on February 1, after more than 40 years with the department.
After earning a bachelor’s degree in biology at Drury University, Dr. Gipson earned her MS and PhD at the University of Arkansas, where she studied the pathogenesis of Heterodera glycines infection of soybean roots. Visualizing life at the cellular and subcellular levels sparked Dr. Gipson’s lifelong interest in cell biology.
Dr. Gipson began her career in vision research as Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at the University of Oregon Health Sciences Center, where she worked to identify the association between tyrosine crystals growth in cells and corneal epithelial lesions. In 1979, she was recruited to join the Harvard Medical School faculty as Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology and Associate Scientist at the Eye Research Institute of Retina Foundation—now known as Schepens Eye Research Institute of Mass Eye and Ear. Dr. Gipson was part of the cornea research team, which was then headed by Dr. Claes Dohlman and included former faculty members Drs. Ken Kenyon and Art Neufeld. Dr. Gipson credits the intellectually stimulating and exciting environment created by that group as being precisely the sort of atmosphere that charges a young investigator with the confidence and ambition necessary to “shoot for the moon.”
Dr. Gipson steadily rose through the ranks, becoming Professor of Ophthalmology in 1997. During her prolific career, she published more than 100 original papers and trained several outstanding scientists in the field. Among her critical research findings are the fundamental discovery of how hemidesmosomes mediate firm adhesion of epithelium to underlying stroma. Later in her career, Dr. Gipson pivoted to the function of mucins on the ocular surface epithelia and their alteration in disease and infection. This new focus led to several impactful research discoveries, including the determination regulators of goblet cell differentiation at the ocular surface, the role of their secreted mucins in ocular surface health, and the important barrier function of membrane anchored mucins present in the ocular surface glycocalyx.
Dr. Gipson has received numerous awards for her research and mentorship efforts, including the prestigious Friedenwald Award from the Associate for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, the Alcon Research Award, the MERIT Award from the National Eye Institute, and the Research to Prevent Blindness Senior Scientific Investigator Award. She is also the founder of the Women’s Eye Health Task Force, an interinstitutional body that works to educate the public and health care professionals on the disproportionate number of women that suffer from blinding diseases.
Dr. Gipson served as a Trustee at her alma mater, Drury University, for many years before being elected an Emeritus Trustee in 2016. She also received an honorary Doctor of Science degree from Drury University.
We offer our sincere gratitude to Dr. Gipson for her numerous research, teaching, and mentoring contributions to the field and our department.