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Director’s Reflections: Rex Ahima and the JCI

The Journal of Clinical Investigation (JCI) from the American Society for Clinical Investigation (ASCI) is a monthly peer-reviewed medical journal with a longstanding commitment to providing the world with free biomedical research articles. Since its inception in 1924, its editors have been elected from top medical universities including Vanderbilt, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, Columbia, Yale, University of California and Duke. In 2017, Johns Hopkins drew the high impact journal for the first time. In 2018, Dr. Rexford Ahima, director of the Division of Endocrinology, Diabetes and Metabolism, was elected editor-in-chief, and will lead the effort for the remainder of Hopkins’ five-year term.

Below we spoke with Dr. Ahima about his experience as editor so far and his plans for the future.

What was your previous experience with JCI and the ASCI?

I was elected to the ASCI in 2005 and served as a JCI consulting editor from 2007 to 2010 and associate editor from 2010 to 2012, during my tenure at the University of Pennsylvania. I was a deputy JCI editor (under Gordon Tomaselli) at Johns Hopkins from 2017 to 2018.

What are the goals of the JCI?

The JCI is a leading forum for research of interest to the physician-scientist community. The JCI publishes across diverse specialties, including oncology, immunology, neuroscience, metabolism and vascular biology. Research articles report new mechanistic insights into the genetic, molecular, cellular or physiological basis of human biology and disease pathogenesis; concise communications are discrete, highly significant findings reported in a shorter format; clinical medicine submissions report new medical therapies, interventions, diagnostic advances or observational studies in humans that have the potential to change medical practice. In addition, the JCI publishes reviews, review series, commentaries, editorials and viewpoint (opinion) items.

What are your goals for your term as editor-in-chief?

(i) Attract the best research submissions from ASCI members and the larger biomedical research community; (ii) ensure that the JCI peer-review process is fair to authors, accurate and timely for readers; (iii) expand the scope of submissions to include other specialties, such as genetics, infectious diseases, pulmonology, cardiovascular medicine, hematology, nephrology and gastroenterology; (iv) use the JCI Viewpoint category to highlight findings in key research advances, education, public health and policy-related issues of interest to the readership; (v) utilize the JCI Scholars Program [which began under the current editorial board] to train physician-scientist students in the editorial process; (vi) highlight biomedical research through Reviews and Review Series, Commentaries, Author’s Take videos and social media.

What have you already accomplished during your term as editor-in-chief?

(i) JCI submissions have increased tremendously due to better outreach to potential authors, efficient peer-review process, guaranteed reviews (one manuscript per year) for ASCI members and frequent reviewers of JCI manuscripts; (ii) expansion of the JCI Viewpoint series; (iii) expansion of the JCI Scholar program from two MD/PhD students in 2017-2018, to four MD/PhD students and four fellows in 2019; (iv) increased media presence, i.e. Twitter, Facebook, Author’s Take (YouTube), Graphical Art, Article Usage Metrics; (v) better coordination with our sister journal, the JCI Insight.

What are you most proud of?

The service of the JCI Editorial Board, science editors and staff. Unlike for-profit (commercial) journals, e.g. Nature, Cell etc., the JCI and other society journals exist because of their dedicated membership and a selfless team of peer researchers who serve on editorial boards. I am most proud of the JCI board who have sacrificed so much of their time, resources and effort to support the journal.

What is the best thing about being editor-in-chief?

It’s a thankless job, but a great platform to serve as an advocate for scientific discovery. I have served continuously on various editorial boards since 2000, and always viewed my role as a cheerleader for science. My current position as JCI editor enables me to expand my service to the ASCI, train the next generation of editors and serve the public that supports the biomedical research enterprise.

What are the biggest challenges?

The biggest challenges are (i) competition from specialized, mainly clinical journals; (iii) impact factor and other imperfect publication metrics popularized by institutions and review committees; (iii) Plan S: a coalition of European funders have proposed that research articles funded by their organizations be published in “open access publications” (see Free access to scientific publications: contrasting the JCI approach to Plan S). Unlike for-profit journals that generate revenue mainly from advertisements and institutional subscription, the proposed Plan S requirement would be harmful to the JCI and other society journals that depend on publication fees to support their programs. The JCI was the first to adopt a free access model in 1996 when the journal first went online, and all of our original research articles, from 1924 to the present, are publicly available. We charge readers for review articles and commentaries, and this small revenue together with the membership dues supports the ASCI’s programs.

What is the best way to have a paper published in the JCI?

(i) Focus on mechanisms relevant to human diseases; (ii) offer new insight and/or novel experimental approaches; (iii) a model organism should mimic the human condition; (iv) finish your story before submitting to the JCI.

Thanks to Dr. Ahima for spearheading this important endeavor and taking an active role in the mentorship of the next generation of physician-scientists. I encourage our investigators to keep the JCI in mind when publishing their science. Already had an article published in JCI? Submit it to be featured as our Article of the Week by emailing



Mark Anderson