A Win for Corneal Visionaries
The pioneers of modern corneal science have been awarded the largest visionary prize in the world
Sarah Healey | | 3 min read | News
Launched in 2006 and supported by the World Health Organization’s “Vision 2020 – The Right to Sight” program, the António Champalimaud Vision Award is the largest award of its kind in the world. Boasting an €1,000,000 prize, the achievement celebrates significant contributions to ophthalmology, including far-reaching science and work in the fight against blindness and visual impairment. The 2022 award recognises two key figures in ophthalmic medicine, Gerrit Melles and Claes Dohlman, both of whom have revolutionized the field of vision.
Now 100 years old, Claes Dohlman is internationally recognized as the “father of modern corneal science” and his work is considered classic literature on corneal biology. Having trained over 200 cornea specialists, his contributions to the field of ophthalmology are indispensable. Over the course of his seven-decade career, Dohlman has spearheaded corneal physiology investigations and laid the foundations for clinical practice in dry eye disease, corneal burns, wound healing, corneal transplantation, and keratoprosthesis.
Alongside finding the first cornea subspecialty clinic in the world (the Massachusetts Eye and Ear clinic), Dohlman’s most notable contribution to the field of ophthalmology is the Boston keratoprosthesis (KPro). Having undergone continuous design innovations since its FDA approval in 1992, the Boston KPro is now the most commonly used corneal prosthesis in the world, restoring the sight of more than 11,000 patients in 66 countries (1). Now having also received a European Conformity (CE) mark, the device has been made reimbursable across the European market and is even more accessible.
Reza Dana, Dohlman’s successor at Mass Eye and Ear, has said of the Champalimaud Vision award, “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 (2).”
Although Gerrit Melles has not yet been in the ophthalmic field as long as Dohlman, his contributions to ophthalmic research are no less pivotal. As stated by Alan R. Morse, “Melles has revolutionized the field of corneal transplantation and his research is opening new pathways to help people with vision loss lead full and productive lives (3).”
Noticing that there was much to improve in the field of corneal transplantation, Melles made it his mission to treat corneal disorders with minimally invasive techniques that wouldn’t damage the ocular surface. Prior approaches to treating corneal disease involved penetrating keratoplasty – removing healthy layers of the cornea alongside diseased layers – that often resulted in unpredictable and unsatisfying visual outcomes. By replacing only the back of the cornea, Melles was able to retain the healthy layers of the cornea while treating the disease.
Melles has since gone on to invent several other advanced lamellar keratoplasty techniques, including Descemet membrane endothelial keratoplasty and Bowman layer transplantation. He has also developed surgical instruments and devices, such as the SurgiCube®, that can be used to execute these techniques.
By developing a range of groundbreaking techniques and technologies, Dohlman and Melles have accelerated the path to treating corneal disease. Their combined research has helped establish a deeper understanding of the cornea and the possibility of a more consistent and cost-effective approach to corneal surgery and transplantation. It goes without saying that the award is well deserved.
- JW Miller, “The Boston KPro: Revolutionized the Field of Corneal Transplantation” (2022). Available at: http://bit.ly/3ti3KkG.
- M Campbell, “Dohlman Receives Antonio Champalimaud Vision Award” (2022). Available at: https://bit.ly/3zETDd2.
- Lighthouse Guild, “2020 Bressler Prize Awarded to Dr. Gerrit Melles for Outstanding Accomplishments in Vision Science” (2020). Available at: https://bit.ly/3Unq7jU.