Eliot L. Berson, M.D.

Harvard Medical School

William F. Chatlos Professor of Ophthalmology, Department of Ophthalmology

Massachusetts Eye and Ear

Senior Scientist


Research Summary

Center/Research Area Affiliations

Research Summary

Dr. Berson investigates the causes of, and treatments for, retinal degenerations including retinitis pigmentosa (RP) and Leber congenital amaurosis. He and his co-workers discovered the first gene defects associated with RP - point mutations in the rhodopsin gene. They subsequently have identified 20 genes with mutations that lead to RP and allied retinal degenerations. Dr. Berson also discovered that electroretinographic (ERG) testing can be used to detect this condition in early life and to estimate the long-term visual prognosis for a given patient. He has developed the first treatment regimen for adults with the common forms of RP, specifically vitamin A palmitate 15,000 IU/day, an omega-3-rich oily fish diet (1-2 three ounce servings per week) and lutein 12 mg per day that can add up to 20 additional years of vision for patients who start this treatment by age 40.His current work investigates further treatment of these diseases with nutritional interventions. Dr. Berson is also participating in safety and efficacy studies in animal models of hereditary retinal degenerations with respect to gene therapy for these conditions.

Selected Publications

Berson EL. Retinitis pigmentosa. The Friedenwald Lecture. Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci 1993; 34:1659-1676.

Berson EL, Rosner B, Sandberg MA, Hayes KC, Nicholson BW, Weigel-DiFranco C, Willett W. A randomized trial of vitamin A and vitamin E supplementation for retinitis pigmentosa. Arch Ophthalmol 1993; 111:761-772.

Sibulesky L, Hayes KC, Pronczuk A, Weigel-DiFranco C, Rosner B, Berson EL. Safety of less than 7,500 RE/day (25,000 IU/day) of vitamin A in adults with retinitis pigmentosa. Amer J Clin Nutr 1999; 69:656-663.

Berson EL, Rosner B, Sandberg MA, Weigel-DiFranco C, Moser A, Brockhurst RJ, Hayes KC, Johnson CA, Anderson EJ, Gaudio AR, Willett WC, Schaefer EJ. Further evaluation of docosahexaenoic acid in patients with retinitis pigmentosa receiving vitamin A treatment: Subgroup analyses. Arch Ophthalmol 2004;122:1306-1314.

Berson EL. Long-term visual prognoses in patients with retinitis pigmentosa. The Ludwig von Sallmann Lecture. Exp Eye Res 2007; 85:7-14.



B.S. Yale University

M.D. Harvard Medical School

Postgraduate Training

Internship, University of California and Moffitt Hospital, San Francisco

Residency in Ophthalmology, Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes & McMillan Hospital, St. Louis

1966 - 1968
Clinical Associate in Ophthalmology and Surgeon, United States Public Health Service, National Institute of Neurological Diseases and Blindness, National Institutes of Health, Bethesda

Academic Appointments

1968 - 1970
Instructor in Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School

1971 - 1976
Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School

1976 - 1982
Associate Professor of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School

1982 - present
William. F. Chatlos Professor of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School

Selected Honors

Dr. Berson's research has been recognized by several awards including the Franceschetti Award of the International Society for Genetic Eye Diseases, the Friedenwald Award of the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, the MERIT Award of the National Eye Institute, the Pisart Vision Award of the New York Lighthouse International, two Alcon Research Institute awards, the Llura Liggett Gund Award of the Foundation Fighting Blindness, and the Ludwig von Sallmann Prize of the International Society of Eye Research.