John Ubels

John Ubels


  • B.S., Biology, Calvin College, 1974
  • Ph.D., Animal Physiology, Michigan State University, 1979
  • Post-doctoral Fellow, Physiology and Ophthalmology, Medical College of Wisconsin, 1980-82

Professional Experience

  • Instructor, Biology, Calvin College, 1980
  • Scientific Consultant, Alcon Laboratories (Fort Worth, TX) 1980-2012
  • Associate Professor of Physiology and Ophthalmology, Medical College of Wisconsin (Milwaukee, WI) 1982-1991
  • Associate professor of Ophthalmology, University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine, 1991-1995
  • Professor, Department of Biology, Calvin University (Grand Rapids, MI) 1995-2016
  • Professor Emeritus, Department of Biology, Calvin University (Grand Rapids, MI) 2016-present
  • Adjunct Professor of Ophthalmology, Wayne State University School of Medicine (Detroit, MI) 1996-present
  • Visiting Scientist, Van Andel Research Institute (Grand Rapids, MI) 2003-2005
  • Visiting Professor, Schepens Eye Research Institute, Harvard Medical School (Boston, MA) 2010
  • Professor, Michigan State University College of Human Medicine (Grand Rapids, MI) 2016-present 
  • Guest Scientist, Van Andel Research Institute (Grand Rapids, MI) 2017-present


Dr. Ubels taught human physiology and cell physiology during his time at Calvin University. He led an interim sailing course in Florida and an eye care service learning interim course in Tijuana, Mexico. During his years at Calvin, he mentored 56 students in his research lab. Over the past 44 years, he has published 104 papers and chapters on every part of the eye of fish, amphibians and mammals, including humans. During his retirement, he teaches part time at the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine and is a guest scientist at the Van Andel Research Institute.  Dr. Ubels enjoys fishing and, with his wife, sails, kayaks and travels. 

Academic interests

Research and Professional Interests

Before retirement, with grant support from the National Eye Institute, Dr. Ubels studied function of the lacrimal gland, tear fluid and cornea as related to dry eye disease. In collaboration with the pharmaceutical industry, he participated in the development and marketing of several artificial tear solutions.  He is currently doing research at the Van Andel Research Institute on the control of development of the retinal vasculature. 


  • Singleton KR, Will DS, Schotanus MP, Haarsma, LD; Koetje LR, Bardolph SL, Ubels JL. Elevated extracellular potassium inhibits apoptosis of corneal epithelial cells Exposed to UV-B Radiation. Experimental Eye Research 89:140-151, 2009.
  • Ubels JL, Van Dyken R, Louters JR, Schotanus MP, Haarsma LD. Potassium ion fluxes in corneal epithelial cells exposed to UVB. Experimental Eye Research 92:425-431, 2011.
  • Konynenbelt BJ, Mlnarik DS, Ubels JL. Effects of peroxide based contact lens disinfecting systems on human corneal epithelial cells in vitro. Eye and Contact Lens 37:286-297, 2011.
  • Ubels JL, Gipson IK, Spurr-Michaud SJ, Tisdale AS, Van Dyken RE, Hatton MP. Gene expression in human accessory glands of Wolfring. Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science. 53:6738-6747, 2012.
  • Stoddard AR, Koetje LR, Mitchell AK, Schotanus MP, Ubels, JL. Bioavailability of antioxidants applied to stratified human corneal epithelial cells. Journal of Ocular Pharmacology Therapeutics. 29:681-687, 2013.
  • Glupker CD, Boersma PM, Schotanus MP, Haarsma LD, Ubels JL, Apoptosis of corneal epithelial cells caused by ultraviolet B-induced loss of K+ is inhibited by Ba2+, Ocular Surface. 14:401-409, 2016.
  • Boersma PM, Haarsma LD, Schotanus MP, Ubels JL. TNF-R1 and FADD mediate UVB-induced activation of K+ channels in corneal epithelial cells. Exp Eye Res. 154:1-9, 2017. 

  • Ubels JL, DeJong, RJ, Hoolsema B, Wurzberger A, Nguyen T-T, Blankespoor HD, Blankespoor CL.  Impairment of retinal function in yellow perch (Perca flavescens) by Diplostomum baeri metacercariae. Int J Parasitol – Parasites and Wildlife. 7:171-179, 2018. 

  • Ubels JL, Osmond JM, Timmermans MA, Hoogewerf AJ. Prevalence of refractive error and need for corrective lenses in medically underserved residents of Tijuana, Mexico. 2019. bioRxiv. doi: 

  • Ubels JL, Christensen M, Nelson JD. Do no harm: Why you should avoid benzalkonium chloride- containing artificial tears. Sjogrens’s Quarterly. 15:1-4, 2020.  

  • Ubels JL, Diegel CR, Foxa GE, Ethen NJ, Lensing JN, Madaj ZB, Williams BO. Low-density lipoprotein receptor-related protein 5 (LRP5)-deficient rats have reduced bone mass and abnormal development of the retinal vasculature. CRISPR J. 3:284-298, 2020. 

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