Jessica I.W. Morgan, Ph.D.

faculty photo
Associate Professor of Ophthalmology
Director, Advanced Retinal Imaging, Center for Advanced Retinal and Ocular Therapeutics
Department: Ophthalmology
Graduate Group Affiliations

Contact information
3400 Civic Center Blvd.
Ophthalmology 3rd floor WEST 3-113W
Philadelphia, PA 19104-6100
Office: 215-614-4196
BS (physics with honors)
Wake Forest University, 2002.
BA (Mathematics with honors)
Wake Forest University, 2002.
MS (Optical Engineering)
University of Rochester, 2005.
PhD (Optical Engineering)
University of Rochester, 2008.
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Description of Research Expertise

Of all of our senses, we rely on vision to provide timely and accurate information so that we can interact with our environment. Visual experience begins when light enters the eye and is focused by the cornea and lens onto the retina. Cone and rod photoreceptors (the primary light sensitive cells in the retina) capture this light and initiate phototransduction, thereby transforming the retinal image to electrical signals that are then relayed from the eye to the brain. The photoreceptors are thus crucial for vision, and diseases that interrupt their function cause blindness. Such diseases include age-related macular degeneration along with most of the more than 220 different types of inherited retinal degenerations. Thus, understanding the structure and function of the photoreceptors and the mechanisms through which they degenerate is critical for developing treatments for blinding conditions.

Dr. Morgan’s laboratory investigates the structure and function of individual photoreceptors in the living human retina, noninvasively. To do this, the lab uses numerous high-resolution retinal imaging techniques, the primary technique being adaptive optics in combination with scanning light ophthalmoscopy (AOSLO). Adaptive optics ophthalmoscopy involves measuring the optical aberrations of a person’s eye and compensating for those aberrations through use of a wavefront corrector such as a deformable mirror. This enables diffraction-limited imaging through the dilated eye, and enables visualization of the cone and rod photoreceptor mosaic noninvasively.

One goal of the Morgan lab is to use AOSLO to image photoreceptor structure and thereby characterize photoreceptor phenotypes and investigate the mechanisms of photoreceptor degeneration in inherited retinal diseases as compared with normal sighted individuals. For example, Dr. Morgan’s team has shown that patients with Choroideremia can retain normal cone density at many retinal locations while other locations exhibit reduced cone density. However, despite having normal or near normal densities, the Choroideremia patients’ cone photoreceptors showed abnormalities; cones were dim and misshapen and half of patients less than 20 years old displayed hyper-reflective clumps of cones throughout the photoreceptor mosaic. (Morgan et al. “High-Resolution Adaptive Optics Retinal Imaging of Cellular Structure in Choroideremia.” IOVS, 2014;55:6381–6397.) Dr. Morgan’s team continues to study the presentation and progression of photoreceptor degeneration in Choroideremia, and in collaboration with Drs. Aleman, Bennett, and Maguire, is investigating the photoreceptor response to experimental gene therapy. In addition to Choroideremia, Dr. Morgan’s team is investigating photoreceptor involvement in other inherited retinal degenerations including: Stargardt’s, retinitis pigmentosa, and achromatopsia.

A second goal of the Morgan lab is to investigate individual photoreceptor function. Standard tests of visual system function evaluate vision on a significantly coarser scale than that which is routinely used for structural imaging. However, by incorporating functional testing protocols through the AOSLO imaging system, the lab is able to study photoreceptor function at the same resolution with which they image. The functional protocols in use include: 1) testing sensitivity thresholds of individual cones and small spots using adaptive optics-guided cellular-scale microperimetry (Tuten et al. "Spatial summation in the human fovea: the effect of optical aberrations and fixational eye movements." JOV, 2018) and 2) measuring stimulus-evoked intrinsic optical signals by quantifying changes in cone near infrared reflectance in response to visual stimuli (Cooper et al. "Non-invasive assessment of human cone photoreceptor function.” Boomed. Opt. Ex., 2017). One long-term objective of this work is to develop cellular scale functional biomarkers to understand the pathogenesis and progression of retinal disease and assess the safety and efficacy of experimental interventions for these blinding conditions.

Students who are interested in joining the lab should contact Dr. Morgan by email and attach an up-to-date CV/resume.

Selected Publications

Morgan JIW, Chui TYP, Grieve K.: “Twenty-five years of clinical applications using adaptive optics ophthalmoscopy.” Biomedical Optics Express. 14(1): 387-428, 2023.

Warner RL, Brainard DH, Morgan JIW.: “Repeatability and reciprocity of the cone optoretinogram.” Biomedical Optics Express 13(12): 6561-6573, 2022.

Aleman TS, Huckfeldt RM, Serrano LW, Pearson DJ, Vergilio GK, McCague S, Marshall KA, Ashtari M, Doan TM, Weigel-DiFranco CA, Biron BS, Wen XH, Chung DC, Liu E, Ferenchak K, Morgan JIW, Pierce EA, Eliott D, Bennett J, Comander J, Maguire AM.: AAV2-hCHM Subretinal Delivery to the Macula in Choroideremia: Two Year Interim Results of an Ongoing Phase I/II Gene Therapy Trial. Ophthalmology June 2022 Notes:

Chen M, Jiang YY, Gee JC, Brainard DH, Morgan JIW.: Automated Assessment of Photoreceptor Visibility in Adaptive Optics Split-Detection Images Using Edge Detection. Translational Vision Science & Technology 11: 25, May 2022 Notes: DOI: 10.1167/tvst.11.5.25.

Morgan JIW, Jiang YY, Vergilio GK, Serrano LW, Pearson DJ, Bennett J, Maguire AM, Aleman TS.: Short-term Assessment of Subfoveal Injection of Adeno-Associated Virus-Mediated hCHM Gene Augmentation in Choroideremia Using Adaptive Optics Ophthalmoscopy. JAMA Ophthalmology 140: 411-420, April 2022 Notes: DOI: 10.1001/jamaophthalmol.2022.0158.

Aleman, TS, O’Neil, EC, O’Connor, K, Jiang, YY, Aleman, IA, Bennett, J, Morgan, JIW, Toussaint, BW: Bardet-Biedl Syndrome-7 (BBS7) Shows Treatment Potential and a Cone-Rod Dystrophy 2 Phenotype that Recapitulates the Non-Human Primate Model Ophthalmic Genetics Page: 1-14, Mar 2021 Notes: DOI: 10.1080/13816810.2021.1888132.

Cooper RF, Brainard DH, Morgan JIW. : Optoretinography of individual human cone photoreceptors. Opt Express. 28(26): 39326-39339, Dec 2020 Notes: doi: 10.1364/OE.409193.

Morgan JIW, Chen M, Huang AM, Jiang YY, Cooper RF. : Cone Identification in Choroideremia: Repeatability, Reliability, and Automation Through Use of a Convolutional Neural Network. Transl Vis Sci Technol. 9(2): 40, July 2020 Notes: doi: 10.1167/tvst.9.2.40.

Tuten, WS, Vergilio, GK, Young GJ, Bennett J, Maguire, AM, Aleman, TS, Brainard DH, Morgan JIW: Visual function at the atrophic border in choroideremia assessed with adaptive optics microperimetry. Ophthalmology Retina 3: 888-899, May 2019.

Jackson, K, Vergilio GK, Cooper RF, Ying GS, Morgan JIW: A 2-Year longitudinal study of normal cone photoreceptor density. Investigative Ophthalmology and Visual Science 60(5): 1420-1430, April 2019.

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Last updated: 06/07/2023
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