About Us

Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute

About the Johnson Lab

Thomas Johnson is a neuroscientist and glaucoma specialist at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute. In addition to treating children and adults with glaucoma, he leads an expert team of diverse scientific and clinical investigators who, together, are working to better understand why patients with glaucoma lose vision, how we can prevent it, and how we can reverse it

The Johnson Laboratory is a member of the international RGC Repopulation, Stem Cell Transplantation, and Optic Nerve Regeneration (RReSTORe) Consortium.

The Focus of our Work

Our sense of vision allows us to perceive the world around us. When light enters our eyes, it first passes through the clear window at the front of the eye called the cornea. Light is then focused by the lens onto the retina, a sensitive nerve tissue in the back of the eye that functions like the film in a camera. The retina is composed of multiple specialized types of nerve cells (neurons). Light is directly absorbed by photoreceptors (rods and cones) that turn light energy into electrochemical signals and communicate that information to bipolar cells. Bipolar cells, in turn, process that information and communicate it to RGCs. RGCs are the relay cells of the retina, meaning that they communicate visual information all the way from the eye to the brain through tiny fibers (called axons) which compose the optic nerve. When RGCs die, or their axons within the optic nerve degenerate, vision is lost.

While eye doctors have ways of slowing or preventing vision loss from some optic nerve diseases, there are currently no treatments that can restore vision that has already been lost to optic neuropathy. The Johnson Lab aims to change that.

There are several eye diseases that cause death of RGCs in the retina and degeneration of the optic nerve.  The most common of these “optic neuropathies” is glaucoma, which affects more than 100 million people worldwide. Glaucoma is caused by eye pressure that is too high for a given patient, and treatments for glaucoma work by lowering the eye pressure which can help prevent further vision loss if it is detected early.  Ischemic optic neuropathy is caused by a blockage in the blood supply to the optic nerve, and is similar to having a stroke in the nerve. Optic neuritis is inflammation of the nerve and can be caused by systemic autoimmune diseases such a multiple sclerosis or neuromyelitis optica, or it can occur in isolation. Infiltrative optic neuropathy causes nerve damage when the body’s immune cells, cancer cells, or infections grow into the nerve and destroy its tissue, as can occur in sarcoidosis, leukemia, metastatic and other cancers, tuberculosis, cryptococcus, and toxoplasmosis. Compressive optic neuropathy is caused by tumors that push on the nerve and damage its fibers, and can be caused by meningioma, pituitary adenoma, optic pathway glioma, and other tumors. Traumatic optic neuropathy can occur following severe head injury. Inherited optic neuropathies include neurodegenerative diseases due to inherited mutations in patient’s DNA that lead to progressive RGC death over time, and include Leber’s optic neuropathy and autosomal dominant optic atrophy.  Toxic and nutritional optic neuropathies can be caused by methanol or antifreeze poisoning, adverse reactions to certain antibiotics, chemotherapeutic medicines or cardiac medications, heavy metal exposure or deficiency of vitamin B12, folate, or copper.  Unfortunately, the sum total of patients affected by these many conditions is large and there are no current treatments capable of restoring vision in patients suffering from these optic neuropathies.  Therefore, innovating treatments capable of regenerating the optic nerve could be transformative.

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Awards Winning

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Our Equipments

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Field Expertise

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Industry Expertise

Our collaborators

Impactful science requires collaboration among diverse investigators.

The Johnson Laboratory recognizes the importance of open communication, data sharing, and scientific collaboration among investigators from diverse backgrounds and with complementary expertise. We are grateful for our many collaborations with outstanding scientists all over the world.

Our vision for the future

A world where blinding eye disease is diagnosed early and treated effectively, so that all patients can enjoy their lives with excellent vision.

    Fred Rodriquez
    Fred Rodriquez

    Biology Student

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      Audrey Stevenson

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            Jacob Vallas

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