From Greece to the Big Apple

Passion, innovation and dedication according to A. John Kanellopoulos.

by Timothy Norris


From Greece to New York, A. John Kanellopoulos, MD dedicates his life and career in research and development of advanced and effective anterior segment surgical techniques.

Dr Kanellopoulos specializes in corneal transplantation and corneal cross-linking. In 2005 along with the research team of the Institute in Athens, he developed and introduced the Athens Protocol, a revolutionary treatment method for keratoconus patients. His activity is divided between medical practice and research in Athens, and teaching at NYU in New York. In the video interview given to EyeSee, Dr Kanellopoulos talks about his life, his experiences and the various aspects of his professional career.


What is your subspecialty or your main area or areas of interest?

My primary professional interest is certainly corneal transplantation. I chose this path after participating in two fellowships at the universities of Harvard and Cornell, and in one fellowship on glaucoma at Harvard. On a clinical level, my specialization is based on the cornea and on dealing with complicated cases of cataract surgery, complex glaucoma and advanced refractive surgery, with corneal transplantation being my first specialty. This is what my medical and research activity is based on as founder and scientific director of

Half of the activity of our center is dedicated on diagnosis, cataract surgery and corneal transplantation while the other half focuses on clinical research. Even if it is a relatively small center with a long way to go, it has presented within 20 years 120 scientific papers to 4 major ophthalmological conferences worldwide. For us it is an honor and a privilege to succeed in sharing our scientific discoveries globally.


Which moments in your career would you consider as your greatest professional achievements?

Looking back, I see that I have been practicing ophthalmology for 25 years. I graduated in 1994 and then completed 3 fellowships. During these 25 years I had the honor of serving as President of the International Society of Refractive Surgery and I still teach clinical ophthalmology at NYU, which is currently third in U.S. university rankings for medicine.

I earn my greatest satisfaction not from achievements but from the daily practice of medicine which allows me to treat patients and fulfil my passion. I am also rewarded by engaging in medical research which strengthens our team with advanced technology and solutions. Continuous research improves our clinical activity and gives us the lead in offering solutions to complicated challenges while offering a practical level of excellence.


Which is your most significant contribution to modern ophthalmology?

Our team is the second one worldwide, after Theo Seiler, to deal with corneal crosslinking and we have the benefit of being an institute located in a global epicenter for keratoconus. During the first year of applying this method we performed the operation on 5-6 times more patients than other centers in other parts of the world. This led to the development of the Athens Protocol.

As a corneal transplantation expert I have been very fulfilled by developing and refining a technique that allows young patients to avoid corneal transplantation. It is a big rewarding step for me because at the beginning of my career corneal transplantation was the sole treatment to patients with advanced keratoconus.


Which figures would you consider as mentors and inspirers in your career?

I have been fortunate enough to benefit from many prominent people in my life, among which there is Claes Dohlman, the father of corneal surgery, and his students, Henry D. Perry and Eric D. Donnenfeld, with whom I was trained in New York. I then went to Boston to be trained directly by Dohlman, a crucial moment in my career.


You are present in the international scene, in the largest congresses worldwide and in medical organizations. What can this experience bring to the professional life of an ophthalmologist?

With about 2000 presentations in global congresses I am certain that this has been a very important training for me. Through the interaction with colleagues, technicians and people active in the industry there is a continuous knowledge and data flow. Medicine has become a dynamic exchange of information at this level of the global community, and I feel very fortunate to be a part of it.


How does your profession affect your life?

I don’t look at my profession as a job but as an important piece of my personality. It’s a passion encompassing the entire range of my vocations, from caring for patients to research, my dedication to the global ophthalmological scene, which is a large aspect of my life and defines me as a person and comes second only to my family.


What are your other passions and hobbies outside your profession?

From time to time the need arises for me to get away from practicing ophthalmology, which is my main occupation, and spend some quality time with my family in Greece. I enjoy living in Greece as it is ideal especially during the summer months. I spend most of my time boating and doing water sports with my three children. I always keep myself busy though: it aids me cope better with my professional schedule, which tends to be frantic at times.


What breakthrough innovation you would like to have readily available for your patients today?

From a cornea specialist’s point of view, it goes without saying that one of the most difficult conditions is age-related macular degeneration, for which an effective treatment would prove to be an important innovation.

An effective method to ensure perfect vision in all viewing distances for patients with presbyopia would also be considered very useful. Throughout my career I have seen quite a few innovations in this field. These are some of my goals for the near future.


Which would you consider to be the three most rewarding aspects of being an ophthalmologist?

In the second and third place I would consider academic validation and also the support of colleagues, which becomes a motive to continue practicing medicine and doing research.

First place would without a doubt go to the patients who, with a handshake and a smile, show recognition to the ophthalmologist’s effort for them to gain the best possible vision. This is the most rewarding experience for a doctor.

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