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R. Paul Johnson selected as new director for Yerkes National Primate Research Center

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Lisa Newbern

Emory University has announced the appointment of R. Paul Johnson, MD, as director of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, effective August 1, 2014.  Johnson currently serves as director of the New England Primate Research Center (NEPRC), chairman of the NEPRC Division of Immunology and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital. 

Stuart Zola, PhD, who has served as director of the Yerkes Research Center since 2001, is stepping down from the directorship of Yerkes to continue his research on memory in Emory's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center. During Zola's tenure as director, Yerkes implemented a comprehensive strategic plan that resulted in substantial growth in research funding and expanded infrastructure as well as development of new areas of research and discovery, including brain imaging, genomics and social neuroscience. 

"Paul Johnson is internationally recognized for his leadership in developing innovative research models and in building effective working relationships with researchers throughout the world," says S. Wright Caughman, MD, executive vice president for health affairs, Emory University, CEO of Emory's Woodruff Health Sciences Center and chairman of Emory Healthcare.

"He brings to Emory a deeply rooted commitment to expanding our body of knowledge in infectious diseases for the benefit of patients everywhere.  His emphasis on developing ground-breaking research through collaborative relationships aligns perfectly with our mission of transforming health and healing.  We are thrilled to welcome Dr. Johnson to Emory and to Georgia." 

Among Johnson's research interests is identification of immune responses that can protect against HIV infection. "Analyzing protective immunity in macaques immunized with SIV is one of the best models we have to try to design better AIDS vaccines," says Johnson. "The focus of my work is determining what sort of immune responses can best protect people against HIV."   

In addition to his research and serving as director of the NEPRC, Johnson has held various leadership roles at Harvard Medical School, including director of the Developmental Research Core for the Harvard Center for AIDS Research and associate director of the Harvard Committee on Microbiologic Safety. He has served as a highly regarded mentor for numerous post-doctoral fellows and graduate students and has taught medical students, residents and fellows within the clinical service of Massachusetts General Hospital and for the Harvard Medical School Virology and Immunology Programs. 

"Emory's Yerkes National Primate Research Center is one of the world's premier scientific centers and has an outstanding core faculty," says Johnson. "The close relationship that exists among Yerkes and the various schools and divisions within the Woodruff Health Sciences Center represents a tremendous opportunity for collaborative research.  Yerkes has an outstanding history of research excellence, and I am honored to follow in the rich tradition established by Dr. Stuart Zola and the directors who came before him."

Johnson is Board Certified in Internal Medicine with a Certification in Infectious Diseases. He is a member of the American Society for Clinical Investigation, a Fellow of the Infectious Disease Society of America and the recipient of multiple national and international awards in AIDS research, including the Elizabeth Glaser Scientist Award. He has published nearly 130 peer-reviewed scientific papers as well as book chapters, monographs and editorials. 

"Over the past 19 years, Dr. Johnson has built an independent research program at the NEPRC, with sustained high productivity and NIH funding, while continuing clinical activities at Massachusetts General Hospital," says David Stephens, MD, vice president for research in the Woodruff Health Sciences Center and chair of the Department of Medicine in the Emory School of Medicine. "His accomplishments are well-reflected in the broad-based, collaborative research program he developed and led, which has had a global impact on a major societal disease. He will build upon and extend the critical work that has become the hallmark of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center." 

Johnson received his bachelor's degree in Psychology at Duke University and his medical degree at Harvard Medical School. He served as chief resident at Yale-New Haven Hospital and as a clinical and research fellow in infectious disease at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.

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