Paul Johnson has been named the director of the Yerkes National Primate Research Center, effective Aug. 1, according to a March 14 University press release.

Johnson is leaving his positions as the director of the New England Primate Research Center (NEPRC), director of the NEPRC Division of Immunology and professor of medicine at Harvard Medical School.

Johnson is replacing Stuart Zola, who is stepping down in order to continue his research on memory in Emory’s Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences and at the Atlanta Veterans Affairs Medical Center, according to the press release.

As Yerkes director, Johnson will be responsible for guiding the strategic plan and research priorities of the center and ensuring the core values of stewardship, excellence, integrity, collegiality and people, according to David Stephens, vice president for research in the Woodruff Health Sciences Center.

The Yerkes Center is part of Emory’s Woodruff Health Sciences Center and is one of eight National Institutes of Health-funded primate research centers in the United States, Stephens said.

The center conducts laboratory and animal research in nonhuman primates and in mice that advances scientific understanding to improve the health and well-being of humans and nonhuman primates.

Johnson said his goal for Yerkes is to enhance the ability to use cutting-edge models to advance novel approaches for the prevention and treatment of human disease and continue to support Yerkes as an outstanding environment for the training of young investigators.

Johnson said that Zola’s departure will be a large gap to fill in the community and one he looks forward to working with.

“I am both humbled and honored by my appointment as the next director of Yerkes and the opportunity to follow in Zola’s footsteps,” Johnson said. “Zola has led Yerkes through a remarkable period of growth over the last 12 and one-half years and leaves Yerkes well-positioned to continue to lead the way as one of the premier National Primate Research Centers.”

Stephens said Johnson was a logical choice to lead the center.

“He is well qualified as a leader, an educator and a researcher,” Stephens said. “He is recognized for his own research in infectious diseases, which is one of the strengths of Emory and Yerkes.”

Stephens added that Johnson had certain experiences that made him especially suited for the job, namely his positions at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital.

“[Johnson] understands the importance of collaboration with colleagues and how animal research helps us move discoveries from the laboratory to patients,” Stephens said. “Dr. Johnson also has served in a number of leadership roles at Harvard Medical School and has mentored many medical trainees and graduate students.”

Above all, Johnson has a strong vision for the Yerkes community and research at Emory, Stephens said.

“I’m confident that Dr. Johnson is an excellent choice for Yerkes director and that he will continue to carry out the strategic priorities that make the center such a strong and integral part of Emory’s translational research programs,” he said.

– By Stephen Fowler