Member Spotlight: Jianling Ji

1. Name and affiliation:

Jianling Ji, MD, MS, FACMG

2. What is your professional title?

Assistant Director, Clinical Genomics Laboratory, Center for Personalized Medicine, Department of Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, Children's Hospital Los Angeles

Assistant Professor of Clinical Pathology, Keck School of Medicine at University of Southern California

3. How did you decide to enter the field/what (or who) brought you into the field?

During my rotation in a clinical hematology laboratory in my second year of graduate school, my advisor showed me the “Philadelphia chromosome” under a microscope for a patient diagnosed with chronic myelogenous leukemia. I was astonished when I learned that the presence of this specific chromosome could potentially lead a patient to a landmark drug Gleevec. A single Gleevec pill was as expensive as the price of a TV at that time. “Eating a TV daily” at the early phase of the disease was an idiom back then in the local hospital to indicate that a life can be potentially saved/elongated. I was fascinated by how the identification of genomic alteration was a game changer and decided to pursue a career focused on genetics. After I immigrated to the U.S., I started my research career in a cytogenetics laboratory and soon realized I in fact love the pattern of the chromosomes. Gradually, I came to understand how new technologies, such as next generation sequencing, chromosomal microarray, and bioinformatics tools, are guiding all of us to understanding our genome at a higher resolution in a faster speed. The transition from a cytogeneticist to a molecular geneticist seemed so natural and inevitable and they really benefit from each other. And of course, I’ve gotten tremendous support from a few key mentors along the way!

4.What do you do? How would you describe your role?

My main clinical responsibilities include germline rare disease diagnostics using clinical exome sequencing and chromosomal microarray as well as pediatric brain tumors clinical genomics using panel-based NGS testing and oncology arrays. Occasionally, I cover clinical sign-out for traditional cytogenetics using karyotype and FISH. I am also actively involved in new test development. My research interest includes pediatric cancer predisposition, pediatric brain tumor genomics, and rare disease diagnostics using cutting edge technologies. I also enjoy working with residents and fellows during their rotations with us; there is always so much to share with and learn from these trainees. Having a great trainee is like hitting a jackpot.

5. What degree(s) and/or training did you receive to achieve your position?

  • M.D. in Clinical Medicine, Nantong University
  • M.S. in Internal Medicine-Hematology, Nantong University
  • ABMGG Fellowship in Clinical Cytogenetics, Cedars Sinai Medical Center and University of California Los Angeles
  • ABMGG Fellowship in Clinical Molecular Genetics, University of California Los Angeles

6. What is the greatest challenge you face in your work?

My greatest challenge is the incorporation of automated workflows to routine diagnostics. Some of my work, like writing an exome report from scratch, can be done using automated software tools, so that my time can be saved for more challenging tasks, such as developing new clinical tests and completing research projects. However, the actual process of implementing automated tools itself takes much time and effort.

7. What is the best part of your work as you see it? (most interesting, most fun…)

I enjoy working with a group of highly talented people to get things done in a timely manner. When the common goal is set, we all work hard toward the same destination. It may sound crazy, but occasionally, my colleagues and I exchange emails at midnight to discuss certain ideas. I feel this is an interesting part of my job that really unites our team in a unique way.

8. Optional follow up question - what do you do for fun?

Outside of work, I love spending quality time with my two beautiful children and my husband. We traveled a lot before the pandemic, exploring nature and museums. Now, because of the pandemic, I’ve started to exercise more on my treadmill, and sew dresses in my free time. I watch tons of action and thriller movies with my husband on Netflix. Our family also loves playing Monopoly together; we get quite competitive, but my daughter always wins. The bottom line is that I want to live positively in whatever way, shape, or form.

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