Get to Know Cindy Cai

Cindy Cai joined Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins Medicine as an assistant professor of ophthalmology in September 2020. Cai specializes in the medical and surgical treatment of retinal diseases, including diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular edema, age-related macular degeneration, retinal vascular occlusion, retinal detachment and macular hole. An awardee of the prestigious Heed Ophthalmic Foundation fellowship, Cai has been recognized for her innovative research with numerous awards and research grants, and she is pursuing a master’s degree in applied health sciences informatics at Johns Hopkins. She sees patients at Wilmer’s East Baltimore location, as well as at Wilmer–Green Spring Station.

What attracted you to the field of ophthalmology?

I chose ophthalmology because vision is so critically important to people. I decided to specialize in the retina because of the interesting surgeries, the numerous imaging tools that allow us to view the retina and the systemic link of some of the diseases we manage (like diabetic eye disease). It is an amazing field that has tremendous potential for growth and innovation, and I wanted to be part of it.

What is it like to be part of the faculty at Wilmer?

I joined the Wilmer faculty after completing my vitreoretinal surgery fellowship at Duke University. Because I finished my ophthalmology residency here at Wilmer, coming back for faculty felt like I was returning home in a lot of ways. Wilmer is an absolutely incredible place. Not only is it a leader in clinical care, but also research and innovation. The collaborative environment at Wilmer and The Johns Hopkins University has facilitated my cross-disciplinary research and brought together great minds from multiple departments for the purpose of advancing clinical care.

Can you describe your research interests?

I am interested in studying how social determinants of health, or the social aspects of one’s life — for example, where a person lives and works — affect outcomes in diabetic eye disease. We know that medical care does not exist in isolation and that social factors influence health. Understanding and addressing social determinants of health will allow us to address health disparities that exist in diabetic eye care, where vulnerable populations have lower rates of diabetic eye screening and follow-up. I am working with multiple departments in the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and the Bloomberg School of Public Health for this work. Ultimately, I hope to change the paradigm of how we approach diabetic eye disease and incorporate social determinants of health as part of medical decision-making to deliver more personalized care.

Where do you see opportunities for advancement in your specialty?

With the advances of the electronic health record and the digital revolution in the field of medicine, we are very close to the goal of delivering personalized care and precision medicine. I am truly excited by the possibility of unifying the biological, medical and social aspects of disease to tailor our treatment for each individual.