Roger Johns, professor and former director of anesthesiology and critical care at Johns Hopkins, was born in Detroit. He earned his bachelor’s degree in biological sciences from Stanford University in 1977 and his medical degree from Wayne State University School of Medicine in Detroit in 1981. He then served residencies in internal medicine and anesthesiology at the University of Virginia and stayed on to complete fellowships in pharmacology and cardiac anesthesiology before joining the faculty as an assistant professor of anesthesiology in 1987. Johns moved up the ranks to become professor of anesthesiology, vice chair, and then acting chair of the department.
In 1999, he moved to Johns Hopkins to become Mark C. Rogers Professor and chairman of the department of anesthesiology and critical care medicine, a position he held until 2003, when he stepped down as chair in order to pursue research. An expert in cardiothoracic anesthesia, Johns and his group discovered the role of the nitric oxide pathway in mechanisms of anesthesia and have published work implicating this pathway in the mechanism of plasticity associated with chronic inflammatory and neuropathic pain.
He and his team investigate the molecular mechanisms underlying the onset and maintenance of chronic pain, particularly neuropathic pain. This research has helped to elucidate a vast network of molecules at neuronal synapses that are critical for pain signal propagation. This work includes the development of new analgesics to interfere with the protein interactions in the hopes of providing relief for those who suffer from debilitating chronic pain.
Another of his interests is the mechanism of inhalational anesthetics, such as the commonly used sevoflurane. Johns and his team identified a gene, called hypoxia-induced mitogenic factor (HIMF), that is expressed during pulmonary hypertension. Much work is still required to clarify the exact role of HIMF, but it could be a key player in inflammatory lung diseases such as pulmonary hypertension and asthma.
A member of numerous professional societies, Johns has served as editor of the journals Anesthesiology, Journal of Vascular Research, Journal of Cardiothoracic and Vascular Anesthesia, Intelligence Reports in Anesthesia, and the American Journal of Physiology: Lung, Cellular, and Molecular Biology.
In 2010, he was elected to the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine. He also was an Institute of Medicine Robert Wood Johnson Health Policy Fellow, and worked on Capitol Hill in the 109th Congress as a health policy advisor in the office of Senator Orrin Hatch from 2005 to 2006. He earned a Ph.D. in public health from the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2013.