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Black History Month: Q&A With Featured Research Trainee, Christopher M. Johnson, PhD

Published on February 21, 2022 in Cornerstone Blog
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Christopher M. Johnson, PhD

The February Featured Research Trainee for Black History Month is Christopher M. Johnson, PhD

Editor's Note: For Black History Month, our Featured Research Trainee for February is Christopher M. Johnson, PhD. Dr. Johnson is a postdoctoral researcher in the lab of Eric D. Marsh, MD, PhD, of the Division of Neurology. Dr. Johnson graduated from Georgia State University with a PhD in Neurobiology and Behavior in 2019. In this Q&A, Dr. Johnson discusses his research, his experiences at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, and the importance of Black History Month.

Q: What do you hope people take away from Black History Month?

When I think about Black History Month, I think about a time to acknowledge and reflect on all the accomplishments that African Americans have contributed to America and the world. I hope people take away that Black Americans have a rich culture, have been integral to the development of this country, and continue to make various achievements.

Q: What are some research projects you are currently working on? Why is your work important?

I am working on a project investigating a potential cause of epilepsy and cognitive impairment in the disorder infantile spasms syndrome also known as West syndrome. One prevalent cause of infantile spasms syndrome is a mutation in the gene ARX, which is important for the brain's proper development. A significant change in the brain of mice that also have this mutation is a significant loss of neurons that release the substance acetylcholine. Acetylcholine is especially important for proper functioning of the brain center for learning and memory, the hippocampus.

One objective of my project is to understand what happens to these missing neurons during development. A second objective is to understand how the loss of acetylcholine in the hippocampus affects the activity of neurons in the hippocampus and consequently epilepsy and cognitive function.

My work is important because it will provide strategies to treat infantile spasms patients and possibly provide a framework for treating similar disorders.

Q: What are some of the most salient training experiences you've had at CHOP thus far?

It has been very beneficial to have formal opportunities to listen to and discuss the science that other members of the community here at CHOP are engaged in. We have had several seminar series to listen to guest speakers talk about their work that is always relevant to what we do here. We also have programs for junior scientists to present their research in the form of presentations as well as potential grants to receive feedback. It has been most beneficial to be in an environment where so many others are passionate about the research they are doing and are willing to collaborate with one another.

Q: Aside from research, what do you consider your biggest accomplishment?

My biggest accomplishment has been serving as an example of academic success to my family, especially to the younger members.

Q: What do you do for fun when you're not in the lab?

I like to read various genres such as science fiction, fantasy, personal development, and business books. I hope to include more literary fiction as well. In addition, exploring the local offerings in the ways of parks, hiking trails, and eateries has occupied my time.