Cell biologist and MJFF Scientific Advisory Board member Jennifer Johnston, PhD, is devoted to a cause that the Foundation holds dear: finding better treatments for Parkinson’s disease (PD) patients.
The good news is, she says she’s not alone in her drive. In fact, “many, many biotech researchers are deeply driven to make a difference in patients’ lives,” she explains.
Jennifer, for her part, has gone above and in the name of PD research, devoting time and lots of energy, to the cause. And she has done so even outside of the lab: She ran 120 miles with Sam Fox during his Run While You Can initiative back in 2011.
MJFF spoke with Jennifer for the second installment of our new feature, Three Questions for a Researcher. Read on to get to know her and her work a little better.
MJFF: What is the biggest challenge you face in your research today?
JJ: Today's environment is challenging for raising funds for research, even when the research has a direct medical application. There is very little appetite for risk, so the very early stage ideas are suffering from lack of investment. It is true that one has to kiss a lot of experimental frogs to find a successful drug candidate, but there are still so many opportunities for exciting breakthroughs in biology that it is impossible to think that there are not going to be innovations that will lead to successful drugs.
This summer, Jennifer was part of a team that published an important paper discovering the structure of a protein implicated in PD called Parkin.
MJFF: What is one thing people would be surprised to know about your daily work with PD?
JJ: At Elan, we were always thinking about the best, fastest way to make an impact for patients. Whether it was a biomarker assay that could be used for clinical trials, or a novel therapeutic, or a basic understanding of the pathogenesis of PD, our focus was translation to the patient experience. A lot of times I think there is a misconception about the drug industry that we are not concerned with patients — in fact, the opposite is true — many, many biotech researchers are deeply driven to make a difference in patients' lives.
MJFF: How do you unwind after work?
JJ: Actually, I tend to unwind before work. I am addicted to running, and wake up pretty wound up with ideas and activities. I run every morning, and after I run I can approach the day in a calm and focused fashion. And, I have two little boys, so that pretty much takes care of any time after work for 'relaxing'!