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In Memoriam: Dr. Kenneth Johnson, Former Chair of the Department of Neurology

Wednesday, September 07, 2011

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 Dr. Johnson was a pioneer in the field of multiple sclerosis research.
 

Kenneth P. Johnson, MD, professor emeritus, Department of Neurology, and former chair of the department (1981 to 2001), passed away on Saturday, September 3, 2011.  He was 79.

"Ken was a visionary in the field of multiple sclerosis and where it was going and in developing new therapies," Dr. Christopher T. Bever told The Baltimore Sun in Dr. Johnson's obituary. Dr. Bever was a longtime colleague, and is also a professor of neurology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine and chief of the neurology service at the Veterans Administration Medical Center in Baltimore. "He will be remembered as a very kind person who was wonderful with his multiple sclerosis patients, whom he was totally devoted to curing. To his colleagues, he was a thoughtful and caring mentor."

During Dr. Johnson’s tenure, the department grew from eight to 35 faculty members, with strong programs in stroke, epilepsy, neuromuscular disease and movement disorders. Dr. Johnson’s interest in recovery from neurologic insult and in rehabilitation activities to improve function led to the department assuming responsibility for all rehabilitation activities in the University of Maryland Medical Center, and, subsequently, the establishment of a strong rehabilitation program at Kernan Hospital.

When he first became chair, there were no treatments recognized and approved to alter the course of multiple sclerosis (MS). Dr. Johnson and his colleagues conducted the majority of their studies on various types of interferon as potential MS therapies. This work led to FDA approval of beta interferon as the first drug available for the treatment of MS. During the same time, he became the national director for the Copaxone trial, which also led to FDA approval of a second MS therapy drug, Copaxone.

These activities led to the founding of the Maryland Center for Multiple Sclerosis in 1983. This center is a major referral center for MS in the Mid-Atlantic area and continues to care for over one-third of the MS patients in the region.

Dr. Johnson’s research career was supported uninterrupted for 30 years by National Institutes of Health (NIH) research funding, with additional support from the National Multiple Sclerosis Society and the Veterans Administration Research Service. In 2000, the American Academy of Neurology and the National Multiple Sclerosis Society in New York awarded Dr. Johnson the Annual Dystel Prize for Outstanding MS Research.

Dr. Johnson is survived by his wife Jacquelyn; sons Thomas, Peter and Douglas; and daughter Diane, as well as a sister and two grandchildren. A memorial service in his honor was held on September 17, 2011 at 11 a.m. at Christ Lutheran Church, 701 S. Charles Street, Baltimore.

Ken Johnson, M.D. Memorial Fund for Multiple Sclerosis

Dr. Ken Johnson was a great leader and pioneer in the field of Multiple Sclerosis. His recent passing leaves a void that will be felt not only by friends and family, but by everyone in the MS community. In order to leave behind a legacy of his dedication to research and patient care, the University of Maryland School of Medicine’s Department of Neurology is establishing the Ken Johnson, M.D. Memorial Fund for Multiple Sclerosis.
 
The memorial fund will be used to benefit the Maryland Center for Multiple Sclerosis and to continue its innovative research and education program designed to find better treatments and ultimately a cure for MS. Dr. Johnson was a pioneer in MS research and his work led to FDA approval of beta interferon as the first drug available for the treatment of MS. During the same time, he became the national director for the Copaxone trial, which also led to FDA approval of a second MS therapy drug, Copaxone. It is only fitting that the support fund for our research and education program in MS being named in memory of Dr. Johnson.

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