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Dr. Kenneth Johnson receives Dystel Prize.

The John Dystel Prize for Multiple Sclerosis Research, the most prestigious annual research award in MS, was presented to Dr. Kenneth P. Johnson by the American Academy of Neurology and the National MS Society this May. Established by Oscar and Marion Dystel in honor of their son John Jay Dystel, who is disabled by severe progressive MS, the prize recognizes work that will contribute to the defeat of this disease.

Dr. Johnson has spent more than 30 years pursuing that goal. His earliest research asked questions about what triggers the onset of MS. In the early 1970s, scientists suspected the measles virus played a role. Dr. Johnson's careful studies helped show that measles was not the culprit. This seeming dead end led him to study the then newly identified interferon molecules, which are produced by immune-system cells. They were understood to "interfere" with viral infections.

More lucky dead ends followed as Dr. Johnson and his colleagues tested interferon gamma for MS in pilot clinical trials. The hoped-for therapy made MS much worse, but these negative results were proof that MS is a disease in which the immune system goes awry. The stage was set for a burst of research on interferons.

Today, Betaseron and Avonex (forms of interferon beta) are proven to "modify" MS. They are not cures, but they can slow down onset of disability, calm hidden disease activity in the central nervous system, and make attacks of the disease fewer, shorter, and less devastating.

Dr. Johnson was also the lead investigator in clinical trials that brought FDA approval for another disease-modifying therapy, Cop-1, known today as Copaxone.

The award committee applauded his involvement in virtually every large-scale controlled clinical trial in MS since 1985. But, befitting a group of scientists, they were most impressed by Dr. Johnson's contributions to the basic science of the clinical trial itself. This may seem a bit abstract to people waiting and praying for an MS cure, but scientists know how easily results can mislead rather than illuminate.

Dr. Johnson's work designing clinical trials that can fairly compare 2 or more groups of patients with MS, and determine measurable results in a disease famous for being slow, variable, and hidden, has influenced MS research around the world.

"I think his major and long-lasting contribution will be related to the development of therapeutic trials in MS," Dr. Leslie Weiner said of the nomination. Dr. Johnson's commitment to the link between basic research and quality clinical trials was further demonstrated when he organized ACTRIMS (the Americas Committee for Treatment and Research in MS) to foster collaboration and cross-fertilization of ideas among laboratory scientists, researchers, and physicians who focus on patient care.

With all his concentration on developing therapies that fight MS directly, Dr. Johnson advocates for rehabilitation and active management of day-to-day MS symptoms. To that end, he just served as coeditor of a comprehensive reference work for physicians, Multiple Sclerosis: Diagnosis, Medical Management, and Rehabilitation.

Dr. Johnson has been chief of the Rehabilitation Service and chaff and professor of Neurology at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore since 1981.
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Title Annotation:John Dystel Prize for Multiple Sclerosis Research
Publication:Inside MS
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 22, 2000
Words:518
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