Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences Chair Jonathan Lass steps down after almost two decades

Renowned cornea specialist Jonathan H. Lass, MD, announced today that he will step down as chairman of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences after nearly two decades in the role.

“The opportunity to lead this outstanding group of faculty and staff has been one of the greatest honors of my career,” said Lass, who also is director of the University Hospitals Eye Institute. “But at this stage of my life I am eager to focus more intensely on advancing research to benefit new legions of patients and their families. I also look forward to continuing to teach residents and care for patients.”

Lass will remain as chair and director until his successor takes office, and then will return to full-time work as a clinician, faculty member and Charles I Thomas Professor in the department. He also will continue to lead the department’s residency program until his successor as chair selects a new program director. The chair search process is expected to last through early 2013.

Lass joined Case Western Reserve University and University Hospitals in 1979, after earning his medical degree at Boston University and completing a Harvard Medical School fellowship at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary. Since that time he has managed an active clinical practice and also accumulated more than 200 scholarly publications. He has received more than $20 million in external grants and collaborated with the two affiliated institutions to help raise more than $12 million from philanthropic sources.

In 1993, Lass became chair of a department that included seven clinical faculty members and two basic science faculty members. Today the department totals 19 clinical faculty members and six basic science faculty members. In addition, the department features six basic science faculty members with secondary appointments in ophthalmology, a figure that reflects the department’s increasing emphasis on interdisciplinary research.

“Jon is an international leader in the field of ophthalmology and the diseases and transplantation of the cornea,” said Fred C. Rothstein, MD, president of University Hospitals Case Medical Center. “Patients throughout the world have benefitted from the outcomes of his clinical research. He has built a legacy at University Hospitals Case Medical Center that has resulted in a department that is among the most highly regarded in the nation. We look forward to his continued contributions to our academic medical center.”

Today the department stands 18th in total funding from the National Institutes of Health to the School of Medicine and Case Western Reserve – a leap of more than 10 slots over the previous year.

“Jon has imbued the entire department’s research efforts with his own deep intellectual curiosity and laser-like focus on work that directly benefits patients,” said Pamela B. Davis, MD, PhD, dean of the School of Medicine and vice president for medical affairs. “His enthusiasm for collaboration has advanced the work of scientists within his own department and several others.”

Lass has led extensive studies involving the physiology and immunology of corneas. One of his most recent major projects found that the age of a cornea donor does not affect transplant survival but does affect endothelial cell loss. He now directs a multisite effort to assess whether corneas transplanted up to two weeks after a donor’s death are as effective and resilient as those transplanted after just one week. The NIH’s National Eye Institute has committed $12 million to the effort.

He is the medical director of the s Cornea Image Analysis Reading Center (CIARC), an initiative that draws significant federal grants and industry contracts. Among the center’s activities are studies that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration mandates be conducted to determine the safety and efficacy of potential medications.

Lass is a member of the editorial board of the journal Cornea, the 2004 recipient of the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s Senior Honor award, and the 2012 Paton Award winner from the Eye Bank Association of America, its highest award for a corneal specialist. He also is an avid cellist and a member of the Berlin-based World Doctors Orchestra, having organized the group’s first appearance in the United States in 2009 in Severance Hall.