Profiles: Julie Johnson

Gainesville’s 28 Most Interesting People: Julie Johnson

Insite Gainesville, Fall 2010

By Chelsea Moore

Julie-Johnson-color

Professor and pharmacotherapy chair Julie Johnson sits in a large, cozy office buried deep in the jumble of medical facilities on the southwest edge of the University of Florida campus. The walls are lined with degrees and awards, but with her warm smile and approachable demeanor, you’d almost forget that she is a leading researcher in a disease that affects more than 75 million Americans.

Julie is working to improve the ability of doctors to provide appropriate treatment for high blood pressure—the most common chronic, noninfectious disease in the world.

The National Institute of Health and the American Heart Association have funded Julie’s research for the past 20 years. This September, Julie’s team received another grant—for $10.62 million—funding a five-year continuation of Julie’s work in determining the role of genetics in reactions to heart and blood pressure medications.

“Right now we use age and race to prescribe hypertension medications, but it isn’t very precise,” she says. “We’re trying to find genetic markers that help us to identify who is going to have a favorable response to a specific medication.”

Her research will allow doctors to use information about patients’ genetic composition to prescribe the best possible treatment, avoiding the risky (and costly) trial and error process used currently.

“We have lots of drugs to treat hypertension, but there is a lot of variability in the way people respond,” she explains.

Growing up in Delaware, Ohio, Julie had an interest in the health professions. “In high school I really liked chemistry, so I decided I wanted to become a pharmacist,” she says. Julie studied pharmacy at Ohio State, then received her doctorate from the University of Texas.

Since then, she has collected data from clinical trials of 800 patients across three cities. The second part of the study will involve clinical trials on 400 patients, to see if the results of the first trial are actually indicative of genetic links to drug effects.

When she’s not solving medical mysteries, Julie likes to play tennis, run, scuba dive and read, but she doesn’t have nearly as much time as she’d like. She and her husband, John, also a clinical pharmocologist, have two daughters, Elizabeth (12) and Sarah (16), who have both expressed interest in following in their mother’s footsteps.

While Julie cites her daughters as her proudest personal achievement, she says, “Professionally [I’m proud of] doing research in an area where we are … able to influence the way people are treated. It’s translated into something really practical that we can see helping people.”

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The creative portfolio of journalist Chelsea Moore

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