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Meet a Specialist: Leo Kim, M.D., Ph.D.

“Medical school changed everything,” said Mass. Eye and Ear ophthalmologist, Dr. Leo Kim. While he always knew he wanted to be a scientist,

it was in medical school that he discovered the value and impact that science and medicine bring to one another. “I realized that if your idea has good potential, you can’t keep it under wraps in the lab,” he continued. “There are so many mysteries about vision loss that we still can’t explain, so science and medicine need to work together to understand the questions and find answers.”

This realization set him on a dual career path, and today Dr. Kim is a clinician scientist and a member of Mass. Eye and Ear’s Retina Service. Applying his scientific expertise to help his patients has become his most important goal and a key part of his treatment philosophy. Based at the hospital’s Retina Consultants practice in Stoneham one day a week, Dr. Kim treats patients with a wide range of retinal disorders, including retinal detachment, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), diabetic retinopathy, non-diabetic vascular diseases of the retina, ocular trauma, and intraocular infections. He also provides surgical treatment at Mass. Eye and Ear’s Charles Street campus. 

“When I meet with patients, my goal is to ensure that each individual gets the best possible treatment,” he said. “But I often continue thinking about their diagnoses long after that first encounter. And that often leads to important new research questions.” In the laboratory, he studies the disease processes that underlie certain forms of retinal disease, like AMD, retinal toxicity, diabetic retinopathy, and other eye disorders.

Awarded both his medical degree and a Ph.D. by the School of Medicine at Yale University, Dr. Kim completed his ophthalmology residency and a fellowship in Retina and Vitreous Surgery at the Doheny Eye Institute at the University of Southern California. A member of the Department of Ophthalmology’s K12 Harvard Vision Clinician Scientist Development Program funded by the National Institutes of Health, he is currently studying drug-induced retinal toxicity, proliferative diabetic retinopathy, and the role of lymphangiogenesis in Graves’ eye disease.

Tamoxifen-induced retinal toxicity first drew attention about thirty years ago, as high-dose tamoxifen treatment for breast cancer began causing vision loss in many women. The side effect of vision loss is far less common today, now that the standard of care calls for lower-dose treatment. However, due to recent studies, the standard of care will likely double the length of tamoxifen treatment. Dr. Kim notes that some patients still develop this form of retinal toxicity and its incidence may increase. His initial investigations helped shed light on understanding how tamoxifen-induced toxicity occurs, and he is now exploring how to inhibit that process. He hopes that his work may eventually contribute to new therapeutic approaches for drug-induced retinal toxicity and analogously macular degeneration, as well.

An Instructor in Ophthalmology at Harvard Medical School, Dr. Kim helps train ophthalmology residents and surgical fellows, and participates in the teaching group on the molecular basis of eye disease. Originally from California, he expresses delight to be a part of the Harvard Medical School Department of Ophthalmology and Mass. Eye and Ear.

“This place is amazing because of the kind of synergy it fosters, helping us to connect our experience with patients in the clinic with discovery in the laboratory,” he said. “There are really only a few places in the world like this. I’m not a fan of Boston winters but they’re worth putting up with to be here!”

Contact Dr. Kim's office at 617-573-3202.

View Dr. Kim's online bio for more information.

Request an appointment.