NEWYORK, NY — The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research (MJFF) announced today that Eugene Johnson, PhD, has signed on as chief scientific advisor. Dr. Johnson is professor of molecular biology and pharmacology at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri. He is also associate director of the university’s Alzheimer’s Disease Research Center and a member of its HopeCenter for Neurological Disorders.
“Gene Johnson is a scientific leader who shares the Foundation’s strategic focus on driving and facilitating translational research,” said Deborah W. Brooks, MJFF president and CEO. “The Foundation will benefit tremendously from his insight and perspective on research with potential to yield advances for patients sooner rather than later.”
As chief scientific advisor, Dr. Johnson will counsel MJFF’s research staff in identifying priority research areas in need of funds and then strategically deploying capital to advance the science in those areas. He will be an important part of the Foundation’s ongoing efforts to build strong collaborative relationships with industry, the scientific community, governmental agencies and other private funders. In addition, one of his primary responsibilities will be to help lead the search for the Foundation’s first full-time, on-staff scientific director.
“The Foundation’s ability to efficiently manage its growing and increasingly complex portfolio will expand with the addition of an on-staff, senior scientific director,” said Ms. Brooks. “This newly created position will allow for even greater speed and quality of execution in key areas including application review and active milestone management.”
Dr. Johnson takes over as chief scientific advisor from Kenneth J. Olden, PhD. Dr. Olden, former director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences at NIH, held the MJFF position in 2005. Prior to Dr. Olden’s tenure, J. William Langston, MD, CEO of The Parkinson’s Institute, served as chief scientific advisor from 2000 until April 2005. The Foundation continues to benefit from the leadership, counsel and advice of both Dr. Olden, who has joined the Foundation’s board of directors, and Dr. Langston, who continues to serve on the scientific executive committee and full scientific advisory board.
Dr. Johnson is internationally renowned for his research on the death of nervous system cells during normal development and in response to disease. In collaboration with his WashingtonUniversity colleague Jeffrey D. Milbrandt, MD, PhD, Dr. Johnson’s team discovered three neurotrophic factors: neurturin, persephin, and artemin. Neurotrophic factors, also called trophic factors or growth factors, are molecules critical for the development and maintenance of the nervous system. These proteins are an MJFF research priority because they hold the ability to protect and restore nerve cells, and may provide a basis for medically preventing and treating Parkinson’s and other neurodegenerative diseases.
Dr. Johnson’s research has also helped explain how nervous system cells die without sufficient amounts of neurotrophic factors, as occurs during normal development. His team studies the biochemical and genetic mechanisms of this cell death and examines pharmacological approaches to preventing nerve cell death in neurological diseases.
“I am delighted to work more closely with the Foundation’s talented staff and scientific advisory board,” said Dr. Johnson. “I share their extraordinary commitment to establishing funding channels that allow basic discoveries to be rapidly tested and validated, providing funds without delay, and developing a research infrastructure that promotes collaboration and speeds information dissemination.”
Dr. Johnson earned a bachelor’s degree in pharmacy in 1966 and a doctorate in medicinal chemistry in 1970, both from the University of Maryland. He joined the Washington University School of Medicine faculty in 1976.
Dr. Johnson serves on the editorial boards of Neuron and Neurobiology of Disease and is section editor for Experimental Neurology and Neurobiology of Aging. He also has served on several national committees, including the Medical and Scientific Council of the Alzheimer’s Association and the advisory council of the National Institute on Aging. He has been a member of MJFF’s scientific advisory board since January 2005. His many honors and awards include WashingtonUniversity’s Carl and Gerty Cori Faculty Achievement Award and the MERIT Award of the National Institute on Aging. Dr. Johnson was also named the Decade of the Brain Medalist by the American Association of Neurological Surgeons.