5 questions with…PhD student, Parkinson’s researcher William Johnson

William Johnson CWRUWhile an undergraduate student researcher at Ohio University, William Johnson gained a strong interest in blood cell development and gene regulation. So after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in biological sciences, he decided to take his passion for science to the next level.

Johnson began working as a research assistant in Amy Wilson-Delfosse’s lab, and an assignment there sparked a new interest: Parkinson’s disease. He decided to join the doctoral program in Case Western Reserve University’s Department of Pharmacology in 2011.

This past summer, Johnson’s hard work and promising future in the field of Parkinson’s research earned him a prestigious student fellowship from the Parkinson’s Disease Foundation.

The program supports students in their pursuit of Parkinson’s-related research projects to foster an interest in studying the disease. The summer fellowships typically are 10 weeks of clinical or laboratory work and provide a stipend to help support their research.

Johnson worked in the lab under the supervision of his mentors Wilson-Delfosse and John Mieyal of the Department of Pharmacology on a research project titled “Investigating the Role of Enzyme-Mediated Neuronal Protection in Parkinson’s Disease.”

“A major factor in Parkinson’s disease is age,” Johnson said. “We are trying to figure the reasons why some people develop the disease while other do not. We want to understand the molecular mechanisms that lead to neuronal cell death in the Parkinson’s disease patient.”

Over the summer, Johnson performed hundreds of hours of research throughout the 10-week period. He compiled his data and results into a report that was sent to the foundation’s fellowship program.

“I read papers that are relevant to the field, plan and perform experiments, and, hopefully, move us closer to identification of a novel therapeutic target,” he said.

Now a third-year doctoral student, Johnson is in his first year of exclusive lab work and continues to work to better understand Parkinson’s disease.

After completing his PhD, he hopes to work with a pharmaceutical company to develop and continue his study of possible drugs to manage and prevent the disease.

Find out more about Johnson in this week’s five questions.

1. If you could live anywhere in the world, where would it be and why?
I would definitely live somewhere warm in the United States. It would be nice to get sun year-round.

2. What was your first concert?
The first concert I went to was a Chris Cagle concert on the 4th of July in San Jose while on vacation.

3. Where is your favorite spot on campus and why?
The Wood Building. My lab is there and we have a medical library in the building, so it’s very convenient.

4. Where do you see yourself in 10 years?
I’d like to be in a leadership role in a pharmaceutical company developing novel therapeutics for Parkinson’s disease.

5. What is your favorite thing about Case Western Reserve?
My favorite thing about the university is the Department of Pharmacology. Everyone in the department works hard and is fun to be around.