The ASA Monitor sat down with Dr. Ru-Rong Ji, a key opinion leader in anesthesiology, for his insights on the specialty. Dr. Ji is the recipient of the 2020 ASA Excellence in Research Award, which recognizes an individual for outstanding achievement in research that has had, or is likely to have, an important impact on the practice of anesthesiology. Dr. Ji serves as Distinguished Professor of Anesthesiology, Professor of Neurobiology and Cell Biology, and Director of the Center for Translational Pain Medicine at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

ASA Monitor: As someone who's career began outside of anesthesiology, what later drew you to this specialty?

Dr. Ji: My initial training was in neuroscience and pain research. In the U.S., a significant portion of pain research has been conducted in the anesthesiology department. I joined Massachusetts General Hospital's anesthesia department in 1998 to work with Dr. Clifford Woolf, a prominent pain researcher and neuroscientist, and since then I have worked in three different anesthesia departments in the last 22 years. I believe anesthesiology is playing a more important role in medicine, especially during the pandemic.

ASA Monitor: How does your background in neurobiology and cell biology contribute to and influence your work in anesthesiology?

Dr. Ji: A deep understanding of neurobiology and cell biology is extremely useful in understanding how anesthesia works. I have secondary appointments in the department of Neurobiology and department of Cell Biology, that allow me to work with students and fellows from different backgrounds. We often make breakthroughs at the junctions of different fields.

ASA Monitor: What is your advice to physician anesthesiologists who want to become more involved in research?

Dr. Ji: Research is a very important part of the job for physician anesthesiologists. Most leaders in the field have a strong research background. I know many physician anesthesiologists have limited time, but you can still achieve a lot if you are persistent and have long-term goals.

ASA Monitor: You've served as a mentor several times. What advice would you offer those who would like to become involved in mentoring?

Dr. Ji: I have trained more than 60 fellows, residents, and students from different parts of the world, and most of them now have faculty positions and continue researching. I have tried to engage more undergraduate students during the pandemic, because they are having difficulties. It is important to show your passion for research and education. You also need to show patience and realize every trainee is different. Also try to let your trainees closely work together with other team members.

ASA Monitor: What do you perceive as the most exciting opportunity for the pain medicine specialty today?

Dr. Ji: There are both pharmacological and nonpharmacological approaches. There is a very exciting opportunity in regenerative pain medicine using cell therapies (e.g., bone marrow stem cells) or cell products such as autologous conditioned medium (ACS). This strategy may lead to the resolution of pain. Neuromodulation, such as spinal cord and nerve stimulation, is also an exciting area with amazing progress.

To learn more about Ru-Rong Ji, PhD, read the announcement of the 2020 ASA Excellence in Research Award in the November issue of the ASA Monitor.