Kenneth P. Johnson Memorial Lecture

ACTRIMS is proud to present an annual lecture named in honor of the late Kenneth P. Johnson, MD. The lecture provides an opportunity to hear from a prestigious clinician or researcher selected for their knowledge, accomplishments and contributions related to Multiple Sclerosis.

About Kenneth P. Johnson

Dr. Ken Johnson was one of the world’s leading innovators in MS Research and Treatment. He was a distinguished neurologist who had been a leader in the movement to end Multiple Sclerosis for more than four decades.

In 1996, he spearheaded the foundation of ACTRIMS®.

Dr. Johnson lead in designing and conducting controlled, multi-center clinical trials to test treatments for MS, and for his pioneering laboratory efforts to identify an infectious trigger of the disease. He was also admired for his focus on professional education in MS and his dedication to aggressive symptom management and rehabilitation to improve the quality of life of those living with MS. 

Dr. Johnson played a key role in the national clinical trials that led to FDA approval of the disease modifying therapy glatiramer acetate (Copaxone) in 1996 and was one of the first researchers to explore the potential benefits of beta-interferon as treatment for MS in the 1970s. This led to FDA approval of the first disease modifying therapy, Betaseron, in 1993.

“In addition to his scientific contributions, Ken was a gifted mentor and administrator who knew how to bring people together and build programs. He was a visionary leader,” says Suhayl Dhib-Jalbut, president of ACTRIMS®. “I was fortunate to have had the opportunity to work with Ken first as a faculty in his Department and as a member of the ACTRIMS team.”

The author of more than 175 scientific articles published in worldwide medical journals, Dr. Johnson was awarded the Dystel Prize by the National MS Society and the American Academy of Neurology for his groundbreaking research in developing new treatments for the disease.

“Anxiety and despair for hundreds of thousands of people with MS has been replaced by hope and reassurance that the disease, while not curable, can now be managed for many patients…,” wrote Dr. Johnson in his 2010 book on treating MS.

The first Kenneth P. Johnson Memorial Lecture was delivered by Dr. Jerry S. Wolinsky, past president of ACTRIMS and Bartels Family and Opal C. Rankin Professor in the Department of Neurology, University of Texas - Health Science Center at Houston where he directs the MRI Analysis Center and Multiple Sclerosis Research Group. He will speak about the current challenges facing the management of progressive phases of MS.

“I have been quite fortunate over the years to have had a number of quite gifted mentors, none the least of which was Ken. Our paths have been tightly intertwined from my early days as a wet behind the ears faculty member in San Francisco until nearly four decades later with his passing. I have benefitted greatly from both his spoken wisdom, often unseen guidance and friendship. It is truly a privilege to present the first of these named ACTRIMS Forum lectures in his honor” says Dr. Wolinsky.

The son of a mechanical engineer and a registered nurse, Dr. Johnson was born and raised in Jamestown, New York, USA. He earned a bachelor’s degree in 1955 from Upsala College in New Jersey where he met and married a fellow student, Jacquelyn Johnson. He earned his medical degree in 1959 from Jefferson University School of Medicine in Philadelphia and completed an internship at Buffalo General Hospital in Buffalo, New York. He began his residency in neurology at the hospital, which was interrupted in 1961 when he left to serve with the Navy at the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia. He completed his residency at the University Hospital in 1965 in Cleveland, and later a neurological residency at Case Western Reserve University. He was also a fellow in neurovirology, studying how viruses affected the nervous system.

“I was a resident in Cleveland when Ken was early in his career as an attending clinician at Case Western Reserve and he was the first clinician scientist to whom I was exposed. His career provides a template for the clinician investigator who aims to define and address challenges arising from the clinic and use the insights gained to identify therapeutic opportunities. He led the efforts to develop an organization (ACTRIMS) that would foster these aims. This named lecture is a fitting tribute to Ken’s legacy,” shares Dr. Jack Antel, president-elect of ACTRIMS®.

Johnson was a former chairman of the department of neurology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine. As head of the Maryland Center for MS, he built the neurology department at the University of Maryland from 10 faculty members to 35 before his retirement in 2001, gaining the group international prestige along the way.

Dr. Johnson held faculty positions at Case Western Reserve before leaving in 1974 to take a position at the University of California, San Francisco. There he conducted MS research and also worked at the Veterans Administration Hospital. During the 1970s, Dr. Johnson joined in collaborative research with the late Dr. Hillel Panitch, who shared the belief that MS appeared to be a viral disease. This led them into conducting early clinical trials using interferon, which impacts the ability of viruses to reproduce. Dr. Johnson came to the University of Maryland in 1981 assuming the role of chairman of the department of neurology. There he was joined by Dr. Panitch in continued research in beta-interferon.

Dr. Johnson was married to Jacquelyn Johnson, and had three sons, Thomas M. Johnson of Baltimore, Peter B. Johnson of Huntsville, AL, and Douglas C. Johnson of McLean,VA; a daughter , Diane E. Johnson of Lutherville; a sister, Joanne Erickson of Gales Ferry, CT; and two grandchildren.

Past Lectures 

ACTRIMS Forum 2024
West Palm Beach, FL
Anne Cross, MD
Pioneering B-Cell Therapies

ACTRIMS Forum 2023
San Diego, CA
Lawrence Steinman, MD
Deciphering the Specificity of Clonal Ig in the CSF to Explain the Pathogenesis of Multiple Sclerosis -EBNA-1--> Molecular Mimicry "Hot Zone"

ACTRIMS Forum 2022
West Palm Beach, FL
Ruth Ann Marrie, MD, PhD, FRCPC
Comorbidity in Multiple Sclerosis: What, So What, What Now

ACTRIMS Forum 2021
Benjamin M. Segal, MD
The Immunological Spectrum of MS

ACTRIMS Forum 2020
West Palm Beach, Florida
Peter Calabresi, MD
Advances in Understanding Progressive Multiple Sclerosis

ACTRIMS Forum 2019
Dallas, Texas
Rhonda Voskuhl, MD
Bedside to Bench to Bedside in Multiple Sclerosis

ACTRIMS Forum 2018
San Diego, California
Suhayl Dhib-Jalbut, MD
How gut dysbiosis breaks immune tolerance towards the brain and contributes to multiple sclerosis

ACTRIMS Forum 2017
Orlando, Florida
Stephen Hauser, MD
Multiple Sclerosis in the Age of B-cell Therapy

ACTRIMS Forum 2016
New Orleans, Louisiana
Jerry Wolinsky, MD
Progressive MS Disease – Past, Present and Future