Lab Members

Johnson Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute

Thomas V. Johnson, M.D., Ph.D.

Principal Investigator & Associate Professor

Thomas V. Johnson is the Allen and Shelley Holt Rising Professor of Ophthalmology at the Wilmer Eye Institute. He is a physician-scientist who practices ophthalmology and cares for patients with glaucoma and cataracts in the clinic and operating room. He also leads a translational neuroscience laboratory dedicated to advancing vision restorative treatments for patients with optic neuropathy. Dr. Johnson received his undergraduate degree from Northwestern University, his Ph.D. in clinical neuroscience from the University of Cambridge (UK), and his medical degree from Johns Hopkins University.

He has been at JHU since 2010, where he also completed his internship in internal medicine on the Osler Medical Service, residency in ophthalmology, fellowship in glaucoma, and served as the Wilmer Eye Institute’s assistant chief of service from 2019-20. Dr. Johnson is an active member of the American Glaucoma Society’s Research Committee, the Association for Research in Vision and Ophthalmology’s Program Committee and Advocacy and Outreach Committee, the American Academy of Ophthalmology, and the Society for Neuroscience. In addition, he serves as Director of the Organizing Committee for the international RReSTORe Consortium.

Johnson Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute

Elizabeth Cone Kimball, M.S.

Research Associate

Lizzie Kimball received her B.S. degree in Biology from Dickinson College and M.S degree from Johns Hopkins University. She is currently a faculty member at the Wilmer Eye Institute, working closely with Dr. Thomas Johnson. Her primary focus is studying the pathogenesis of glaucoma, focusing on the mechanics of IOP generated stress in the sclera and optic nerve head. In collaboration with Dr. Harry Quigley, a Wilmer physician-scientist, she has developed experimental glaucoma models in various species, shown to alter the structure and function of ocular tissue. These models have permitted testing on genetically modified tissue and strains, and the detection of neuroprotective drugs.  Her expertise also comprises of cell culture, histology and confocal imaging.

Johnson Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute

Jian Du, Ph.D.

Laboratory Manager

Jian Du earned his BSc degree in Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering from Liaoning University and obtained his Ph.D. in Biomedical Engineering from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. Following his graduation, he embarked on a post-doctoral research position at the University of California, Davis. He subsequently served as a research fellow at both Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland School of Medicine. Currently, he has returned to Johns Hopkins University and joined Dr. Johnson laboratory.

With a diverse research background encompassing tissue engineering and regenerative medicine, Jian Du has made remarkable contributions to the field. One of his notable achievements includes the development of a groundbreaking stem cell therapy strategy. This innovative approach involves the synergistic combination of biomaterial scaffolds, stem cells, and glycosylation engineering. Through meticulous research and experimentation, he has successfully integrated this strategy into translational nerve injury models, demonstrating its remarkable efficacy in promoting neuroregeneration and neuroprotection.

Johnson Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute

Arumugam Nagalingam, Ph.D.

Senior Research Specialist

Arumugam Nagalingam received his Ph.D. from the University of Madras, India. He has broad experience in the field of biomedical research and has continuously expanded his training throughout in well-renowned universities.

He has particular expertise in carcinogenesis, diabetic retinopathy, breast cancer, and cancer stem cell therapy. He joined the Dr. Johnson laboratory as a senior research specialist in 2020. Aru’s work focuses on the differentiation of RGCs from human embryonic stem cells (hESCs) and human-induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSC), as well as the study of the functionality of stem cell-derived neuronal connectivity. He is also interested in developing transgenic stem cell lines driving expression of various fluorescent and activity-dependent reporters to study synaptogenesis within the host retina. This work utilizes advanced molecular technologies such as CRISPR-Cas9 knock-in/out and viral (AAV and Lentiviral) mediated gene targeting methods.

Johnson Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute

Behnoosh Bonakdar Yazdi, PharmD

Research Specialist II

Behnoosh grew up in Iran and holds a PharmD degree from Tehran University of Medical Sciences, Her research thesis focused on studying the effects of Arsenic on spatial memory, which sparked her interest in the field of neuroscience. During her time at the university, she also served as the chairperson for the public health and humanitarian committee of IPhSA, the Regional Sub-Organization of the International Pharmaceutical Students Federation (IPSF).

Prior to joining Johnson’s lab, Behnoosh worked as a dedicated community pharmacist in an underserved region of Iran. Her passion lies in improving patients’ lives, whether through her role as a pharmacist or as a scientist, harnessing the power of scientific discovery. She finds joy in assisting people and believes in the magical potential of science to make a positive impact. Outside the lab, she loves boardgames & puzzles, hiking, and learning languages.

Johnson Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute

William Yutzy, B.S.

Senior Research Specialist

William Yutzy earned his B.S. degree in immunology from the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth and studied molecular biology at Boston University. After moving to Maryland in 1998, he began work at Johns Hopkins University, working in a pathology/virology lab with Dr. Richard Roden and earning a master’s degree in bioinformatics. He worked his way to the National Clinical Trials Validation Laboratory, where he designed many staining, image-capture, and image-analysis protocols for the National Cancer Institute. These helped to study the effects of chemotherapy drugs directly on patient’s tumors by looking at DNA-damage markers in pre- and post-treatment tumor biopsies. He also developed the NCI’s assays to look at and measure the Epithelial to Mesenchymal Transition, to study how epithelial cancer cells become metastatic. He joined the Johnson laboratory in 2022 and now serves as the chief microscopist.

Will is currently developing artificial intelligence-based methods for automatic segmentation of complex neuronal morphologies within retinal tissue, for volumetric analysis of cell structure.

Johnson Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute

Natalie Hamilton, Ph.D.

Post-doctoral Clinical Research Fellow

Natalie Hamilton received her undergraduate degree from the University of Miami and earned a Ph.D. in neuroscience from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Her graduate work focused on the development of direction-selective circuits in the mammalian retina that mediate optokinetic nystagmus. Natalie joined the Johnson Laboratory in 2023, where she works as a clinical research coordinator for studies involving remote intraocular pressure measurement over the entire circadian period using a patient-friendly self-measurement device.  Her work is investigating how eye pressure fluctuations might pose a risk for glaucoma disease worsening and how common glaucoma surgeries affect intraocular pressure at times of day and night that are outside of clinic hours.  Natalie hopes to attend medical school in the fall of 2024.

Johnson Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute

Patrick Nnoromele, B.S.

MD/PhD Candidate

Patrick Nnoromele is an MD/PhD candidate at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. He attended the University of Texas at Dallas as a Eugene McDermott Scholar and graduated with degrees in neuroscience and medical humanities. His undergraduate research in kinase biology and cancer immunology at UT Southwestern Medical Center afforded him a Barry Goldwater Scholarship in 2020. He joined Dr. Johnson’s clinical research team in 2023, and his current research endeavors span many areas of ophthalmology. Within the Johnson laboratory, is he working on clinical research related to better understanding the effects of minimally invasive glaucoma surgery on intraocular pressure fluctuations over the circadian period.

Johnson Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute

Stella Mary, Ph.D.

Post-doctoral Research Fellow

Stella Mary earned her Ph.D. in molecular medicine from Friedrich-Schiller University Hospital in Jena, Germany in 2015. She has experience in tissue culture, functional assays, molecular techniques and immunohistochemical assays.

Her research focuses on GCaMP imaging – investigating and characterizing the synaptic connectivity through measurement of intracellular calcium fluxes using 2-photon microscopy in retinal tissue. In addition, she works on multicolor fluorescent adaptive optics confocal scanning laser ophthalmoscopy (mAOSLO) where retinal neurons are studied in vivo at the subcellular level using 3-D imaging longitudinally. She is also investigating the role of the integrin signaling pathway in transplanted RGC engraftment.

Johnson Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute

Marzieh Mowlavi Vardanjani, Ph.D.

Post-doctoral Research Fellow

Marzieh Vardanjani earned her Ph.D. degree in neuroscience from Kerman University of Medical Sciences, Kerman, Iran in 2021. Her thesis project was focused on response inhibition as a cognitive function in non-human primates under different emotional conditions.

Her post-doctoral research is evaluating RGC transplantation and retinal engraftment in rodents and includes development of innovative methodologies to guide transplanted RGCs axons through the optic nerve head and into subcortical visual centers in the brain using electrical stimulation in the rats.  In addition, she is pioneering new surgical techniques to transplant stem cell-derived RGCs into the eyes of non-human primates with optic neuropathy.

Johnson Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute

Thanuja Gowda, Ph.D.

Post-doctoral Research Fellow

Thanuja M Yogananda is a post-doctoral research fellow at the Wilmer Eye institute, working both in the Johnson and Ensign Labs.  She obtained her Ph.D in Chemical Engineering (2022) from Visvesvaraya Technological University, India and Master of Technology degree in Nanotechnology from SRM University, India. Previously, she worked on the development of nanoparticles and stem cell derived nanovesicle-based prophylactic treatment for corneal transplantation, nanoliposomes for ocular surface biosensing, and active targeted drug delivery for cancer. Currently, she is developing a biocompatible nanofiber scaffold to support the survival and integration of transplanted retinal ganglion cells into a recipient host retina.

Johnson Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute

Maggie Hsu, M.D., Ph.D.

Ophthalmology Resident

Maggie Hsu is a second-year ophthalmology resident at the Wilmer Eye Institute. She received her B.S. in biochemistry and genetics from Texas A&M University, and her Ph.D in cancer cell biology and her medical degree from The University of Texas Medical Branch. She then completed her medical internship at Johns Hopkins University.

Her current research focuses on optimizing transplantation of retinal ganglion cells with the ultimate hope of restoring visual function in optic neuropathies. Her recent work in the Johnson lab resulted in a second-place finish in the 2023 Mitchell Prize for Outstanding Resident Research. She hopes to continue developing as a physician-scientist throughout her residency training and in her spare time, she enjoys spending time with her family.

Johnson Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute

Marianne Kistner

Sr. Administrative Coordinator

Marianne Kistner is a life-long resident of Baltimore.  She has worked at Johns Hopkins University since 2010.  She formerly held positions as Medical Office Coordinator in the Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences, Administrative Coordinator in Radiation Oncology, and Sr. Administrative Coordinator in the Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine. She joined the Johnson Laboratory at the Johns Hopkins Wilmer Eye Institute in 2023.

Laboratory Alumni:

  • Erika Aguzzi, PhD (former post-doctoral fellow)
  • Kevin Zhang, MD (former medical student researcher)
  • Lawrence Wechsler (former undergraduate student)
  • Shreya Hariharakumar (former undergraduate student)
  • Caitlyn Tuffy (former post-bachelorette research fellow)

Interested in joining the lab?

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