Karen C. Johnson, MD, MPH, who has brought more than $40 million in research dollars to the University of Tennessee Health Science Center (UTHSC) and is the principal investigator on five currently funded research grants or contracts, has been awarded the UTHSC College of Medicine Endowed Professorship in Women’s Health. The professorship, conferred because of her excellence in research, her national reputation and her history as a strong collaborator at UTHSC, is supported by the Kathryn Sullivan Bowld Endowment Fund.
In August, Dr. Johnson, a professor in the Department of Preventive Medicine, was named to the Thomson Reuters list of “The World’s Most Influential Scientific Minds: 2014.” The distinction is based on the significant number of articles she has published and the frequency of which they are cited by fellow researchers.
Despite the major financial support and accolades, Dr. Johnson says her motivation remains simple: “I have always loved asking new questions, being creative and trying to figure out how to help people be healthier and live better-quality lives.”
A native Memphian and graduate of Memphis Preparatory School and Lambuth University, Dr. Johnson received her medical degree from the UT College of Medicine. An internal medicine residency sparked her interest in preventive medicine. “I realized that some of the medical care we could give did not prevent people from getting serious diseases,” she said. “We’d already missed the boat, and we were intervening too late to help people be healthier. So, I got very interested in prevention.”
A residency in preventive medicine and a master’s degree at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore cemented her interest in clinical research and prevention.
Dr. Johnson is the principal investigator for the UTHSC location of the Women’s Health Initiative, a large 40-site clinical trial and cohort study of more than 161,000 women that began in 1993 to look at diseases that affect women and how to help them stay healthier. The study, funded by the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI) through 2015 and expected to continue to 2020, is best known for its recommendation that menopausal hormone therapy should not be started or continued for the purpose of preventing cardiovascular disease. UTHSC has enrolled more than 4,200 women from Memphis and the surrounding area in the study.
Dr. Johnson is the principal investigator at UTHSC for the Systolic Blood Pressure Intervention Trial (SPRINT) funded by the NHLBI to determine the best blood pressure for reducing risk of cardiovascular disease. She also is the national vice chair of the steering committee for the study.
As the principal investigator for the Memphis site of the ongoing Look AHEAD (Action for Health in Diabetes) study funded by the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (NIDDK), Dr. Johnson has played a major role in helping to show that long-term, sustained weight loss is possible for people with diabetes.
She is also the principal investigator for the UTHSC site of the TARGIT (Treating Adults at Risk for Weight Gain with Interactive Technology) study aimed at finding ways to help smokers stop smoking without gaining weight by using interactive technology.
And as the principal investigator for the D2d (Vitamin D and Type 2 Diabetes) study at UTHSC, Dr. Johnson is recruiting participants for the study funded by the NIDDK to determine if vitamin D can prevent those at risk of diabetes from getting the disease.
Dr. Johnson joined the UTHSC faculty in 1990, and served four years as interim chair for the Department of Preventive Medicine. She is a past president of the UTHSC Faculty Senate and a past member of the board of trustees for the UT System.
“It is a great honor to be recognized for my work in the area of clinical research, and the endowed professorship gives me the opportunity to continue to do what I love to do,” said Dr. Johnson. “I hope to continue to make an impact.”