Ross S. Johnson, PhD, MPH
Nature and the environment have always fascinated Ross Johnson. When he began his undergraduate studies in science, he fell in love with how organisms work, and has studied and taught biology ever since. Today, he investigates how one of the world’s most infamous and lethal viruses—HIV—affects people in urban environments.
Though researchers discovered HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, in 1983, there is still no vaccine. In its absence, Johnson, who joined Penn Nursing in 2015, is researching ways to prevent the spread of HIV. He focuses on under-resourced communities where misinformation about the virus is still rampant and infection significantly affects population health.
“I am really excited about helping nursing students make connections between biology and patients’ health.”
- PHD, University of Pennsylvania, 2003
- MPH, Johns Hopkins University, 2015
- MS, University of Michigan, 1987
- BS, Pennsylvania State University , 1985
Dr. Johnson teaches introductory biology courses to first-year nursing students and research methods to junior-level and accelerated program students. As in his research on HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, he aims to help students develop understanding at the systems level of how basic biological principles affect a patient’s well-being and in turn, influence a nurse’s care plan. For example, he relates learning about cell structure and function to the example of cancer, reminding students that malignancies begin with dysregulation and overproliferation of a single cell that becomes many, metastasizes, and wreaks havoc on its host. His aim is to connect basic science with clinical care in ways that make students more thoughtful, effective nurses.
Today, HIV/AIDS commands fewer headlines than it once did. Drugs are available to prevent HIV infections from developing into AIDS, and to protect people at high risk of HIV. However, infection rates remain high in many communities, particularly urban communities of color, correctional institutions, and other economically and socially marginalized groups. While Dr. Johnson’s work includes research on Listeria as a vector for delivering HIV antigens, he focused his Master’s in Public Health work on a systems approach to the problem of HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections. He now provides his public health expertise to community groups to find effective infection prevention strategies.
Opportunities to Learn and Collaborate at Penn Nursing
Online learning and teaching with technology are another area of expertise for Dr. Johnson. The recipient of a Penn Nursing Innovative Technologies and Teaching Award, Dr. Johnson is developing new ways of teaching cell biology and microbiology using online methods. He is also involved in assessing Penn Nursing’s online instructional resources and developing online versions of some courses to better serve students.
Dr. Johnson takes pride in hearing that former students made meaningful connections in their nursing knowledge after taking his courses. He believes Penn Nursing offers students diverse possibilities for a nursing career, the opportunity to meet outstanding mentors, and a chance to work in a hospital system provides an outstanding professional, serving students well in their future careers.
Selected Career Highlights
- Advisory Board, Annual Editions: Microbiology
- Subject Matter Expert, Online Test Development, Western Governors University
- Johns Hopkins University SOURCE Service Scholar
- Co-founder, Ernest E. Just Biomedical Society, University of Pennsylvania
- Mentor and member, Fontaine Society, University of Pennsylvania
- Graf, M.R., Jia, W., Johnson, R.S., Dent, P., Mitchell, C., & Loria, R.M. (2009). Autophagy and the functional roles of Atg5 and beclin-1 in the anti-tumor effects of 3beta androstene 17alpha diol neuro-steroid on malignant glioma cells. Journal of Steroid Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, 115(3-5), 137-145. (PMID: 19375507).10.1016/j.jsbmb.2009.03.013
- Boyer, J.D., Robinson, T.M., Peng, X., Johnson, R.S., Pavlakis, G., Carlarota, S., et al. (2005). DNA prime Listeria boost induces a cellular immune response to SIV antigens in the rhesus macaque model that is capable of limited suppression of SIV239 viral replication. Virology, 333(1), 88-101. (PMID: 15708595).10.1016/j.virol.2004.12.026
- Paterson, Y., & Johnson, R.S. (2004). Progress towards the use of Listeria monocytogenes as a live bacterial vaccine vector for the delivery of HIV antigens. Expert Review of Vaccines, 3(4 Suppl), S119-S134. (PMID: 15285711).
- Johnson, R.S., Lewis, T.W., & Lampecht, E.G. (1992). In vivo tissue response to implanted chitosan glutamate. In C.J. Brine, P.A. Sandford, and J. P. Zikakis (Eds.), Advances in chitin and chitosan. (pp. 3-8). London, UK: Elsevier Science Publishers.