UTHSC Researcher Awarded NIH Merit Grant

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Leonard Johnson, PhD, the Thomas A. Gerwin Professor and chair of the Department of Physiology at UTHSC, was recently awarded a prestigious National Institutes of Health (NIH) MERIT award.

Memphis, Tennessee (July 26, 2005) — Leonard Johnson, PhD, the Thomas A. Gerwin Professor and chair of the Department of Physiology at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center, was recently awarded a prestigious National Institutes of Health (NIH) MERIT award. The five-year grant for a total of $2,368,450 is unique because it allows the researcher to easily re-apply for a five-year extension, effectively making it a ten-year award. According to the NIH, “MERIT awards are designed to provide a few outstanding investigators with the opportunity for long-term stable support.”

Dr. Johnson is currently in his 37th year of consecutive funding as he pursues his exploration of the processes that regulate cell death (apoptosis) within the lining (mucosa) of the intestinal tract. To date, his findings have led to a greater understanding of mucosal damage and repair and the development of gastrointestinal cancer. An outgrowth of his work has been a more in-depth investigation into how the gastrointestinal tract can be protected from the negative side effects of cancer treatments. “We want to prevent the nausea and sickness cancer patients currently experience while undergoing radiation or chemotherapy,” he explained. “These therapies kill normal intestinal cells, as well as the abnormal, cancerous cells. By preventing the death of the normal cells, we will increase the therapy”s effectiveness and enhance the patient”s quality of life.”

“The MERIT award recognizes consistent and excellent contributions to scientific knowledge. A very select few ever receive this distinction, but we are especially proud that Dr. Johnson joins two other UTHSC professors, James Dale and Mary Ellen Conley as NIH MERIT recipients” said Henry G. Herrod, dean of the UTHSC College of Medicine.

(James Dale, MD, is the UTHSC chief of infectious diseases and the associate chief of staff for education at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Memphis. Mary Ellen Conley, MD is the FedEx Professor of Pediatrics at UTHSC.)

With over 300 publications to his credit, Dr. Johnson has received numerous accolades and is an internationally recognized gastroenterology expert. He holds a PhD in physiology from the University of Michigan and a postdoctoral fellowship from UCLA. Dr. Johnson was also the recipient of a MERIT award in 1988.