But the Lees don’t just collaborate with each other. They’re also working with Russell Van Gelder, MD, PhD, chair of the UW Medicine Department of Ophthalmology and director of the UW Medicine Eye Institute, to establish a new center for computational ophthalmology that will help their colleagues.
“Our vision of the center is not only to provide expertise in order to accelerate research in our department, but also to recruit research participants for personalized medicine or precision-medicine projects,” says Cecilia. “We want to make sure that our clinicians and patients can participate in this important research.”
“We are so fortunate to have attracted Cecilia and Aaron to the University of Washington,” says Van Gelder. “Their unique and complementary skills give them the ability to answer questions that have resisted analysis until now. Both are at the forefront of their fields. They are wonderful scientists, physicians and colleagues.”
The Lees’ research home is the Karalis Johnson Retina Center at the UW Medicine Eye Institute. The new center was opened in 2019 by Angie Karalis Johnson, who is passionate about finding a cure for macular degeneration and helping people with vision problems.
“Our entire clinic space and lab are here because of Angie’s generosity and foresight in supporting innovation,” says Aaron. And continued donor support will also make future projects, like the center for computational ophthalmology, a reality.
“The Seattle philanthropic community has been critical to developing our research programs. Through extremely generous gifts like Angie’s, we are able to provide the infrastructure to allow Aaron and Cecilia to develop their cutting-edge programs. We are so indebted to our donor community,” says Van Gelder.
In the next few years, the Lees anticipate major developments in computational ophthalmology — and more big questions to answer together.
“I believe medicine is at a tipping point with these exciting artificial intelligence techniques,” says Aaron. “But how does that help us understand diseases better? Can we use these technologies to change the way we deliver care? In the next five years, our field is going to be struggling with a lot of those issues. And we want to be at the forefront of guiding how that thought develops.”
By Stephanie Perry
Illustration: David Hoyt