Bankole Johnson

Bankole Johnson, M.D.

Chair, Department of Psychiatric Medicine Professor, Department of Neurology

“If you’re a clinician and not doing research, you can only treat one person at a time. Getting involved in research allows you to reach out to people you have never met and may never see.”

Twenty years ago a professor asked Bankole Johnson a question he couldn’t answer: Why couldn’t someone find an antidote to alcoholism? That conundrum spurred the young psychopharmacologist to devote his career to researching the biology of addictions. By analyzing how alcohol and cocaine alter the brain’s molecular structure, Dr. Johnson has made groundbreaking advances in identifying drugs, such as ondansetron and topiramate, capable of treating dependence.

Dr. Johnson, who holds the Alumni Professorship in Psychiatric Medicine, joined the University of Virginia in 2004 because it offered him opportunities not only to delve deeper into molecular research and neuro-imaging but also to open outreach clinics. “The clinics are important,” he explained, “because they really are the test bed for the development of new drugs.”

With treatment facilities now operating in Charlottesville and Richmond, Dr. Johnson is undertaking a new National Institute of Health-funded investigation of methamphetamine dependence. “There’s the excitement and potential for real breakthroughs and new findings,” he said. “And for a scientist, that is always going to be a thrill.” The 2006 winner of the American Psychiatric Association’s Prize for Distinguished Psychiatrist, Dr. Johnson noted, “The field is moving in multiple directions, and there is so much to do. I wish I had several lifetimes.”