Five Questions for Ji Yi, Ph.D.

Ji Yi joined the Wilmer Eye Institute in September 2020 as an assistant professor of ophthalmology, with a joint appointment in biomedical engineering. His research focuses on novel optical techniques for understanding biological systems and pathologies. We spoke to Yi to learn more about his work and how it aims to benefit patients and advance the field.

What attracted you to the field of ophthalmology?

As a biomedical engineer, I’m amazed and intrigued by the way our eyes are designed — allowing us to see in both dark and bright environments, near and far, and to sense colors. Humans perceive more than 80% of the information they receive through vision, underscoring the importance of ophthalmology to address conditions that threaten eyesight.

What drew you to Wilmer?

I love Wilmer’s rich history of innovative research and pioneering clinical care. I was also drawn to the collaborative and interdisciplinary environment. As a biomedical engineer with a passion for translational research, I believe Wilmer is the perfect setting to collaborate and, ultimately, to use my research to benefit clinical care in ophthalmology.

Can you describe your research interests?

I’m part of an imaging lab team that develops novel microscopic methods to visualize the biological structures, processes and functions of the eye. If you consider that any organism is constructed by building blocks, similar to Legos, 3D optical imaging allows us to break down the structures virtually and reveal the inner working principles of life. By understanding the fundamental mechanisms, we may ultimately engineer or synthesize the biological systems — either experimentally or computationally — to control and predict their functions.

What are you working on right now, and how will it contribute to the advancement of ophthalmology?

One area we are actively working on is vascular perfusion function in the retina. The vascular system delivers oxygen to support local aerobic metabolism and, in turn, receives feedback from tissue to regulate the perfusion. The compromise of such interplay is implicated in a broad range of diseases, including major retinal conditions such as macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and retinal vein occlusion, as well as cancers and neurodegenerative diseases. Our lab uses noninvasive imaging to quantify oxygen perfusion and metabolism from the 3D level to the individual capillary level. The goal is to observe the interplay of vascular perfusion with other tissue components in their native environment to provide imaging markers for clinical diagnosis and to gauge the effectiveness of treatments.

Beyond vascular function, we’re also working on exciting projects involving large-volume imaging and multimodal imaging to provide rich and complementary data for a broad spectrum of model systems, from single cells to the entire retina. These tools offer an unprecedented ability to study life in action during its most natural state.

Where do you see opportunities for advancement or innovation in your specialty?

Optical imaging in ophthalmology has gained significant traction in recent years, thanks to the rapid development of advanced imaging methods, better technology and our ability to translate findings into early diagnosis and treatment. Technical advancement allows us to push the frontiers of imaging to make it faster, more accurate and with higher resolution. We can also combine imaging with computational methods, such as deep learning, to further augment the imaging data. All these opportunities will help us to achieve earlier, more precise diagnoses and speed up our understanding of disease progression.