Sunil Chauhan, D.V.M., Ph.D.

Harvard Medical School

Associate Professor of Ophthalmology

Schepens Eye Research Institute of Massachusetts Eye and Ear

Associate Scientist
Director, Flow Cytometry Core

Harvard Stem Cell Institute

Affiliate Faculty

Research Summary

Center/Research Area Affiliations


Dr. Chauhan’s research interests focus on immunomodulation and regenerative medicine for ocular surface injury and inflammatory disorders. His work has led to many important novel findings, including loss of function of regulatory T cells (Tregs) in corneal transplantation and the involvement of highly pathogenic Th17 cells in the immunopathogenesis of dry eye disease. More recently, Dr. Chauhan has focused on using immunomodulatory and regenerative functions of Mesenchymal Stem Cells (MSCs) to treat ocular surface disorders. His research has recently demonstrated that MSCs have the capacity to restore corneal transparency by secreting high levels of hepatocyte growth factor. Dr. Chauhan is studying the function of immunoregulatory cells, including MSCs, Tregs, and myeloid suppressor cells, with the ultimate goal of using their therapeutic potential in ocular inflammation.

Download his CV [PDF] for more information.


D.V.M., Bombay Veterinary College, KKV University, India
M.V.Sc., College of Veterinary Science, GB Pant University, India
Ph.D., Immunology, Sanjay Gandhi Postgraduate Institution of Medical Sciences, India (2007)

Postgraduate Training

Postdoctoral Fellowship, Immunology, Schepens Eye Research Institute of Mass. Eye and Ear (2009)

Academic Appointments

2010-2011: Instructor in Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School
2011-2016: Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School
2016-present: Associate Professor of Ophthalmology, Harvard Medical School

Professional Memberships

2001: Indian Society for Veterinary Immunology and Biotechnology, Life Member
2005: Indian Immunology Society, Life Member
2007: Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology, Member
2010: Society for Mucosal Immunology, Member
2012: International Society for Stem Cell Research, Member
2016: Tear Film & Ocular Surface Society, Member


2003: National Lecturership & Fellowship Award, Council of Scientific & Industrial Res., India
2005: ICAR National Lecturership Eligibility Award, Government of India
2006: SS Agarwal Award for Excellence in Research, SGPGIMS, Lucknow, India
2008: EBAA Research Grant Award, Eye Bank Association of America
2009: Richard Lindstrom Research Award
2010: Best Research Paper Award, Schepens Eye Research Institute of Mass. Eye and Ear
2011: The Alice J. Adler Fellowship, Harvard Scholar in Medicine
2012: National Eye Institute Travel Award, ARVO Annual Meeting
2014: New England Cornea Transplantation Research Award
2014: Massachusetts Lions Research Award
2015: Hypothesis-Development Award, U.S. Department of Defense


Research Interests

  • Immunomodulation and regenerative medicine for ocular inflammatory disorders

Immunomodulatory and Regenerative Functions of Mesenchymal Stem Cells in Ocular Injuries and Inflammation

The goal of this project is to identify and use the immunomodulatory and regenerative functions of mesenchymal stem cells (MSC) to treat ocular surface disorders. Since their discovery, MSCs have held tremendous promise for tissue regeneration, primarily due to their differentiation capacity. However, this represents only a portion of the vast potentials of MSCs in re-establishing tissue homeostasis, including their capacity to promote immune quiescence.

Little is known how MSCs modulate the host immune response. Although MSCs have been shown to suppress pathogenic immune cells, the specific molecular mechanisms by which MSCs directly promote the function of regulatory immune cells remain much less understood.

Dr. Chauhan is exploring the molecular mechanisms by which MSCs promote function of critical regulatory immune cells. In the setting of ocular inflammation and immunity, he is investigating how MSCs (1) promote generation of myeloid suppressor cells and (2) enhance the function of regulatory T cells.

His results from animal models of corneal injury (IOVS 2012, Stem Cells 2017) and transplantation (IOVS 2014) suggest that the immunomodulatory function of MSCs could effectively be used therapeutically. His is also evaluating the capacity and mechanisms of MSCs in restoring corneal transparency. Ocular injuries involving the cornea undergo a wound healing process that often results in scar formation and loss of corneal transparency. Dr. Chauhan has reported that MSCs are capable of restoring corneal transparency. Specifically, he has shown that (1) MSCs secrete high levels of hepatocyte growth factor (HGF), which inhibits the generation of opacity-inducing myofibroblasts and (2) that HGF alone can restore corneal transparency in an in vivo model of corneal stromal injury, suggesting a novel HGF-based therapeutic approach that could potentially eliminate the need for cell-based and conventional therapies (Stem Cell Reports 2016, Molecular Therapy 2017).

Dr. Chauhan believes that MSC-based treatments (cell-based or identified factors) could be a significant improvement over the current use of non-specific anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive drugs, which are fraught with serious side effects.

Regulation of Innate Immune Responses in Ocular Injury

Eye injuries due to trauma, infection, and burns are common causes of ocular inflammatory disorders and blindness worldwide. Following injury, innate immune responses—primarily through recruitment of activated neutrophils to the eye—lead to deleterious inflammatory tissue damage and fibrosis. As neutrophils advance from the vasculature to the site of injury, they go through progressive stages of activation and release effector molecules, including tissue matrix-destructing enzymes myeloperoxidase (MPO) and N-elastase (ELAN).

Current treatments, such as steroids, not only suppress the protective immune response non-specifically, but are also associated with serious side effects, including infection, cataract, and glaucoma. Thus, there is a pressing need for new therapeutic strategies that can regulate innate inflammation by selectively inhibiting pathogenic neutrophil effector function.

Dr. Chauhan’s pilot studies indicate that during ocular inflammation, infiltrating neutrophils interact with non-hematopoietic tissue-resident stromal cells. These eye-resident stromal cells effectively regulate neutrophil effector functions, including the release of tissue-destructing MPO and ELAN. In this project, using a standard mouse model of ocular injury and a series of novel experiments, he is delineating critical mechanisms by which stromal cells regulate neutrophil effector function and promote reestablishment of immune quiescence in ocular inflammation.

Dynamics of Treg and Th17 Cells in Ocular Immunity

This project aims to determine the role of regulatory T cells (Tregs) and pathogenic Th17 cells, and their secreted cytokines in the induction of antigen-specific immunity and tolerance—both in corneal transplantation and autoimmune dry eye disease. His work has led to many important novel findings. He has reported the involvement of highly pathogenic and autoreactive Th17 cells in the immunopathogenesis of dry eye disease. Using a murine model of dry eye disease, he clearly demonstrated that in vivo inhibition of Th17/IL17 pathway leads to amelioration of both the induction and progression of the disease (J Immunol, 2009; Blood 2011). He also established that levels of Foxp3 in Tregs reflect their functional status in transplantation, and reported an association between Treg function and corneal allograft survival (J Immunol 2009; J Immunol 2014). He is now developing strategies for clinical translation of our novel research findings, particularly a Treg cell-based therapy to promote allograft survival and a Th17/IL17-antagonist-based immunotherapy for dry eye disease.

Current Research Funding

2015-2020 NIH/NEI (R01)
Ocular immune regulation by mesenchymal stem cells



33 (Google Scholar, as of October 2018)

Selected Publications

Dr. Chauhan has published more than 75 peer-reviewed research and review articles. Below is a list of selected publications. View his publications on PubMed, or Google Scholar, or ORCID.

  1. Li M, Mittal SK, Foulsham W, Amouzegar A, Sahu SK, Chauhan SK. Mast cells contribute to the induction of ocular mucosal alloimmunity. American Journal of Transplantation. 2018 Aug 21. 
  2. Omoto M, Suri K, Mittal SK, Chauhan SK. Hepatocyte growth factor suppresses inflammation and promotes epithelium repair in corneal injury. Molecular Therapy. 2017; 25(8):1881-1888.
  3. Amouzegar A, Mittal SK, Sahu A, Sahu SK, Chauhan SK. Mesenchymal stem cells modulate differentiation of myeloid progenitor cells during inflammation. Stem Cells. 2017; 35(6):1532-1541.
  4. Mittal SK, Omoto M, Amouzegar A, Sahu A, Sahu SK, Rezazadeh A, Katikireddy KR, Shah DI, Chauhan SK. Restoration of Corneal Transparency by Mesenchymal Stem Cells. Stem Cell Reports. 2016; 7(4):583-590.
  5. Chauhan SK*, Jin Y, Goyal S, Lee HS, Fuchsluger TA, Lee HK, Dana R. A novel pro-lymphangiogenic function for Th17/IL-17. Blood. 2011;118(17):4630-4. (*Lead and corresponding author)


For a complete list of Dr. Chauhan’s patents, download his CV [PDF].

Therapeutic Compositions for Treatment of Ocular Inflammatory Disorders
Dana R and Chauhan SK. International Patent Application #PCT/US2009/000114 (Patent granted in U.S. and Japan)

Therapeutic Compositions for the Treatment of Dry Eye Disease
Dana R and Chauhan SK. US Patent Application (Filed on 02/25/10). (Licensed to Vegenics Pty Ltd, Circadian, Australia)

Novel Method for the Treatment of Corneal Haze and Scarring
Chauhan SK, Dana R. (Application# 62/217,611; Submitted 11/09/2015).


Current Members of Dr. Sunil Chauhan’s Laboratory

Chauhan lab

Administrative Coordinator
Linda Benson

Senior Research Associate
Sharad Mittal, PhD

Postdoctoral Fellows
Afsaneh Amouzegar, MD
Mingshun Li, MD
Sayed Basiony, MD
Sachin Shukla, PhD

Graduate Student
Disha Singhania (U Cambridge)


To date, more than six trainees have worked in Dr. Chauhan’s laboratory. To view the complete list of alumni, download his CV [PDF].