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Outstanding Female Leader in Ophthalmology | May/June '17

Outstanding Female Leader in Ophthalmology: Kathryn Colby, MD, PhD

Dr. Colby is the Louis Block Professor and Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Science at the University of Chicago Medicine.

Please share with us your background.

I am an academic corneal specialist with a PhD in Neurobiology. After bouncing around the east coast for my education (Baltimore > Providence > Baltimore), I was fortunate to match at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary for residency, where I stayed to complete my chief residency and cornea fellowship. I then joined the faculty, where I developed a tertiary care cornea practice, concentrating on complex conditions and surgeries, including ocular surface tumors, keratoprosthesis, and pediatric cornea. After 22 years at Harvard, I succumbed to the siren’s song to lead my own department and moved to the University of Chicago, where I have been since 2015. I’m married to Donald Johns, MD, a neurologist and wonderful life partner. We have three grown daughters: Nicole, Amelia, and Lilly. I consider myself incredibly fortunate, and not a day goes by that I am not grateful for everything life has given me.

What is the focus of your current research?

I have been interested in Fuchs dystrophy for several decades. My early research suggested the involvement of the mitochondria in the pathogenesis of this common corneal condition, which has been confirmed by later work from other investigators. In 2014, I pioneered the use of Descemet stripping without endothelial replacement (primary descemetorhexis) in the United States as a treatment for Fuchs dystrophy. Work is ongoing to determine the best patient population for this technique. Early results are very promising, and the success of this technique has caused us to rethink our understanding of Fuchs dystrophy. My most recent research involves collaboration with neuroscientists to determine if same of the same cellular mechanisms that cause diseases such as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis occur in Fuchs dystrophy.

What has your experience been collaborating with industry?

I was involved in the pivotal clinical trial of the Implantable Miniature Telescope (VisionCare), the first vision-restorative device for advanced age-related macular degeneration and determined the optimal surgical technique for placement of this very large device.

In your opinion, how is the role of women in ophthalmology evolving?

It’s been great to see more women as speakers in major meetings. Several years ago, Women in Ophthalmology surveyed the speaker lists for a number of large ophthalmic meetings, both national and international. We were dismayed to find that, at that point, women speakers were a small minority. Just last month at Cornea Day, I was pleased to see that women speakers represented about 40% of the speakers. So, I know we are making some progress in this area!

We still need more work in advancing women leaders in ophthalmology. At present, I am one of a small number of women who lead an academic department of ophthalmology, but here too we have made some progress. In the past, one could count the women chairs on one hand. Now, we need at least two hands, and the number is increasing steadily. I’m also encouraged that two of our major ophthalmology organizations—the American Academy of Ophthalmology and American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery—are led by women this year. Right now, women outnumber men in medical school and ophthalmology residencies. It is up to us to help these young women advance in the ranks.

What, if any, hurdles do you feel women in health care still face?

The major hurdle for women (and men, too) is trying to find the right balance between life and work. Both are critical to having a happy life. I counsel young physicians on this topic often. My best advice is to know yourself, know what makes you happy and gives you joy, and work to get to a situation that allows you to flourish. Striving to be proactive rather constantly reactive will help in this regard. And, as soon as you can afford it, get help—spend your time doing the things you love rather than life’s mundane tasks.

What advice can you offer to young female ophthalmologists who are still in training or just beginning their careers?

Life is a journey, not a destination. Take risks, don’t be afraid to fail, make meaningful connections with others in your life, and live with purpose. Don’t be afraid to say no. And, as mentioned above, get help so that you can spend your time doing what gives you joy, whether it’s being with your children or your partner, taking care of patients, giving talks, or leading a department. For each of us, it’s different—that’s okay, and actually, wonderful! Take care of yourself—eat right, get a good night’s sleep, find time to exercise, meditate, take vacations. I love the phrase the airlines use as a metaphor for life: “Put your own mask on first before assisting others.” If you are not healthy and happy, it is very challenging to devote your best effort to everyone else.

Can you propose a unique or creative idea that may help women in ophthalmic practices?

Not unique, but you need to learn to negotiate! Women are notoriously bad at it, feeling that our hard work and accomplishments will be recognized without our having to advertise it. Learn to ask for what you want/need, even if it makes you uncomfortable. Be creative in what you ask for—maybe you can’t have a $30K raise, but what about some protected time for your other pursuits, or a flexible schedule so you can drop our kids off in the morning? Be your own advocate!


Taniguchi EV, Paschalis EI, Crnej A, et al. Role of the back plate in the angle anatomy of the Boston type I keratoprosthesis. Cornea. 2017. In press.

Parker J, Verdijk MR, Mueller TM, et al. Histopathology of failed Descemet membrane endothelial transfer (DMET). Eye & Contact Lens. 2017. In press.

Rao R, Colby KA, Veldman PV. Descemet membrane endothelial keratoplasty following failed Descemet stripping without endothelial keratoplasty. Cornea. 2017. In press.

Jakobiec FA, Stagner AM, Colby KA. Pigmented caruncular apocrine hidrocystoma with oncocytic features. Ophthal Plast Reconstr Surg. 2017;33(3S):S42-S45.

Palioura S, Colby KA. Outcomes of Descemet stripping endothelial keratoplasty using eye bank-prepared pre-loaded grafts. Cornea. 2017;36(1):21-25.

Homayounfar G, Grassi CM, Al-Moujahed A, Colby KA, Dohlman CH, Chodosh J. Boston keratoprosthesis type I in the elderly. Br J Ophthalmol. 2017;101(4):514-518.

Borkar DS, Veldman PV, Colby KA. Treatment of Fuchs endothelial dystrophy by Descemet stripping without endothelial keratoplasty. Cornea. 2016;35:1267-1273.

Cruzat A, Hamrah P, Cavalcanti BM, Zheng L, Colby K, Pavan-Langston D. Corneal reinnervation and sensation recovery in patients with herpes zoster ophthalmicus: an in vivo and ex vivo study of corneal nerves. Cornea. 2016;35:619-625.

Grob SR, Jakobiec FA, Stagner AM, Colby KA. Diffuse epibulbar complex lacrimal-cartilaginous choristoma: diagnostic clues and management. Cornea. 2015;34:1321-1323.

Grassi CM, Cruzat A, Taniguchi EV, et al. Periprosthetic tissue loss in patients with idiopathic vitreous inflammation after the Boston keratoprosthesis. Cornea. 2015;34:1378-1382.

Chang HY, Luo ZK, Chodosh J, Dohlman CH, Colby KA.Primary implantation of type I Boston keratoprosthesis in nonautoimmune corneal diseases. Cornea. 2015;34(3):264-270.

Grassi CM, Crnej A, Paschalis EI, Colby KA, Dohlman CH, Chodosh J. Idiopathic vitritis in the setting of Boston keratoprosthesis. Cornea. 2015;34(2):165-170.

Cruzat A, Shukla A, Dohlman CH, Colby K. Wound anatomy after type 1 Boston KPro using oversized back plates. Cornea. 2013;32(13);1531-1536.

Jakobiec FA, Gragoudas ES, Colby KA. Biopsy of an anterior episcleral nodule as an aid in managing a ciliary body melanocytic tumor. Cornea. 2013;32(8):1174-1177.

Liu S, Pavan-Langston D, Colby KA. Pediatric herpes simplex of the anterior segment: characteristics, treatment, and outcomes. Ophthalmology. 2012;119(10):2003-2008.

Yoder JS, Verani J, Heidman N, et al. Acanthamoeba keratitis: the persistence of cases following a multistate outbreak. Ophthalmic Epidemiol. 2012;19(4):221-225.

Todani A, Ciolino JB, Ament JD, et al. Titanium back plate for a PMMA keratoprosthesis: clinical outcomes. Graefes Arch Clin Exp Ophthalmol. 2011;249(10):1515-1518.

Stacy RC, Jakobiec FA, Michaud N, Dohlman CH, Colby KA. Histopathological characterization of retro-keratoprosthetic membranes in the Boston Type I keratoprosthesis. Arch Ophthalmol. 2011;129:310-316.

Keay LJ, Gower EW, Iovieno A, et al. Clinical and microbiological characteristics of fungal keratitis in the United States, 2001-2007: a multi-center study. Ophthalmology. 2011;118:920-926.

Tanhehco TY, Stacy RC, Mendoza L, Durand ML, Jakobiec FA, Colby KA. Pythium insidiosum keratitis in Israel. Eye Cont Lens. 2011;37:96-98.

Colby K, Bhat P, Novais G, Jakobiec FA. Recurrent primary acquired melanosis with atypia involving a clear corneal phacoemulsification wound. Cornea. 2011;30:114-116.

Kanoff JM, Colby K. Pigmented deposits on a Boston keratoprosthesis from topical ibopamine. Cornea. 2010;29:1069-1071.

Jakobiec FA, Stacy RC, Colby K. Pigmented apocrine hidrocystoma of the caruncle. Cornea. 2010;29:1320-1322.

Jakobiec FA, Sandhu H, Bhat P, Colby K. Bilateral conjunctival melanocytic nevi of simultaneous onset simulating conjunctivitis in a child. Cornea. 2010;29:937-940.

Kanoff JM, Colby K, Jakobiec FA. Incipient corneoscleral xanthogranuloma with S-100 positivity in a teenager. Cornea. 2010;29:688-690.

Jakobiec FA, Mehta M, Greenstein SH, Colby K. The white caruncle: sign of a keratinous cyst arising from a sebaceous gland duct. Cornea. 2010;29:453-455.

Grover S, Jacobs DS, Colby KA. Boston ocular surface prosthesis for persistent epitheliopathy following treatment of conjunctival melanoma. Cornea. 2010;29:459-461.

Gower EW, Keay LJ, Oechsler RA, et al. Trends in fungal keratitis in the United States, 2001 to 2007. Ophthalmology. 2010;117:2263-2267.

Tanhehco TY, Colby K. The clinical experience of Acanthamoeba keratitis at a tertiary-care eye hospital. Cornea. 2010;29:1005-1010.

Jakobiec FA, Bhat P, Colby KA. Immunohistochemical studies of conjunctival nevi and melanomas. Arch Ophthalmol. 2010;128:174-183.

Stacy RC, Kenyon KR, Jakobiec FA, Colby KA. Conjunctival melanoma arising from primary acquired melanosis in a patient with neurofibromatosis type I. Cornea. 2010;29:232-234.

Thiagalingam S, Jakobiec FA, Chen T, Michaud N, Colby KA, Walton DS. Corneal anomalies in newborn primary congenital glaucoma. J Pediatr Ophthalmol Strabismus. 2009;46:241-244.

Jakobiec FA, Colby KA, Bajart AM, Saragas SJ, Moulin A. Immunohistochemical studies of atypical conjunctival melanocytic nevi. Arch Ophthalmol. 2009;127:970-980.

Jurkunas UV, Behlau I, Colby KA. Fungal keratitis: changing pathogens and risk factors. Cornea. 2009;28:638-643.

Mandell KJ, Colby KA. Penetrating keratoplasty for invasive fungal keratitis resulting from a thorn injury involving Phomopsis species. Cornea. 2009;28:1167-1169.

Todani A, Gupta P, Colby K. Type I Boston keratoprosthesis with cataract extraction and intraocular lens placement for visual rehabilitation of herpes zoster ophthalmicus: the “KPro Triple.” Br J Ophthalmol. 2009;93:119.

Jurkunas UV, Rawe I, Bitar MS, et al. Decreased expression of peroxiredoxins in Fuchs’ endothelial dystrophy. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2008;49:2956-2963.

Jurkunas UV, Bitar MS, Rawe I, Harris DL, Colby K, Joyce NC. Increased clusterin expression in Fuchs’ endothelial dystrophy. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 2008;49:2946-2955.

Asbell PA, Colby KA, Deng S, et al. Ocular TRUST: Nationwide antimicrobial susceptibility patterns in ocular isolates. Am J Ophthalmol. 2008;145:951-958.

Thiagalingam S, Johnson MM, Colby KA, Zembowicz A. Juvenile conjunctival nevus: clinicopathological analysis of 33 cases. Am J Surg Path. 2008;32:399-406.

Harissi-Dagher M, Colby KA. Cataract extraction following implantation of a type 1 Boston keratoprosthesis. Cornea. 2008;27:220-222.

Colby KA, Chang DF, Stulting RD, Lane SS. Surgical placement of an optical prosthetic device for end-stage macular degeneration: the implantable miniature telescope. Arch Ophthalmol. 2007;125:1118-1121.

Sugiura M, Colby KA, Mihm MC, Zembowicz A. Low and high-risk histological features in conjunctival primary acquired melanosis with atypia: clinicopathological analysis of 29 cases. Am J Surg Path. 2007;31:185-192.

Colby KA, Nagel DS. Conjunctival melanoma arising from diffuse primary acquired melanosis in a young black woman. Cornea. 2005;24:352-355.

Perez VL, Colby KA, Azar DT. Epithelial ingrowth in the flap-graft interface after microkeratome-assisted posterior penetrating keratoplasty. J Cataract Refract Surg. 2003;29:2225-2228.

Colby K. Now we number 33: women in ophthalmology at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary in 2002. Arch Ophthalmol. 2002;120:1738-1740.

Coday M, Colby KA. Nailing down the diagnosis: imaging intraocular foreign bodies. Arch Ophthalmol. 1999;117:548-549.

Kuroki M, Voest EE, Amano S, et al. Reactive oxygen intermediates increase vascular endothelial growth factor expression in vitro and in vivo. J Clin Invest. 1996;98:1667-1675.

Thompson TL, Colby KA, Patrick RL. Activation of striatal tyrosine hydroxylase by in vivo electrical stimulation: comparison with cyclic AMP-mediated activation. Neurochem Res. 1990;15:1159-1166.

Colby KA, Thompson TL, Patrick RL. Tyrosine hydroxylase phosphorylation in rat brain striatal synaptosomes. Brain Res. 1989;478:103-111.

Colby KA, Blaustein MP. Inhibition of voltage-gated K channels in synaptosomes by sn-1,2-dioctanoylglycerol, an activator of protein kinase C. J Neurosci. 1988;8:4685-4692.


• Alpha Omega Alpha | 1991 to Present

• Massachusetts Medical Society | 1994 to 1998

• Massachusetts Society of Eye Physicians and Surgeons 1996 to 2015

• American Academy of Ophthalmology | 1996 to Present

• American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery1996 to Present

• Women in Ophthalmology | 1999 to Present

• Cornea Society | 2003 to Present

• New England Ophthalmological Society | 2006 to 2015


• Secretariat Award, American Academy of Ophthalmology | 2016

• Innovation and Research Award, Lions Eye Institute for Transplant and Research | 2016

• Senior Achievement Award, American Academy of Ophthalmology | 2015

• Mentorship Award, Women in Ophthalmology/American Medical Association | 2013

• Achievement Award, American Academy of Ophthalmology | 2007

• Balder Scholarship Award for Academic Achievement, University of Maryland School of Medicine | 1992

• Janet M. Glascow Award for Academic Achievement, University of Maryland School of Medicine | 1992

• Valedictorian, University of Maryland School of Medicine | 1992

• Election to Alpha Omega Alpha (Junior Year), University of Maryland School of Medicine | 1991

• Charles Wisseman Award for Excellent in Microbiology, University of Maryland School of Medicine | 1990

• First Prize, Medical Student Research Day, University of Maryland School of Medicine | 1989

• Young Investigator Award, American Society of Neurochemistry | 1985