Daniel Johnson, PhD

Daniel Johnson
Professor and Vice Chair of Research
Degree: PhD
Daniel Johnson, PhD, is Professor and Vice Chair of Research in the Department of Otolaryngology – Head and Neck Surgery (OHNS) at the University of California, San Francisco. He obtained a bachelor of science in chemistry and a bachelor of arts in mathematics, both from North Park University in Chicago, Illinois. Dr. Johnson earned his MA and PhD in molecular biology from Princeton University, followed by a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of California, San Francisco. Prior to joining UCSF OHNS Department in 2016, Dr. Johnson was a Professor in the Division of Hematology/Oncology, Department of Medicine, and Department of Pharmacology and Chemical Biology at the University of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Dr. Johnson was also the Scientific Director of the Acute Leukemia Working group at the University of Pittsburgh Cancer Institute.

Dr. Johnson has over 120 publications and is Editor of two books, entitled “Cell Death Signaling in Cancer Biology and Treatment” and “Targeting Cell Survival Pathways to Enhance Response to Chemotherapy”. He has maintained continuous NIH funding as a principal investigator since 1995, and has served as a standing member for both NIH and ACS study sections. Dr. Johnson continues to play an active role on multiple review panels for the NIH, VA, and other granting agencies, and serves on the Board of Scientific Counselors for NIH NIDCD. Since 2001 he has served as a Section Editor for Leukemia, the top-ranked journal for hematologic malignancies, and has also served as Editor for Cancer Research and Oncology Research. Dr. Johnson places a high priority on translating findings from his lab to the clinic, and has facilitated the development of clinical trials in both leukemia and head and neck cancer.

Dr. Johnson greatly values teaching and serving as a mentor for individuals with a broad variety of educational backgrounds. He has served as primary mentor or co-mentor for 68 trainees. Most of his trainees have gone on to higher academic or clinical positions, including several who are now faculty members at academic institutions. He was the first lab-based faculty to be awarded the G. David Roodman Excellence in Mentorship Award by the University of Pittsburgh Hematology/Oncology Clinical Fellows. At the University of Pittsburgh he also was a leader for the Career Mentoring Program for junior faculty, and taught extensively in both the graduate and medical schools. He is a faculty member of the BMS Graduate Program at UCSF.

Dr. Johnson’s research is focused on understanding the molecular mechanisms that contribute to the origin and progression of head and neck squamous cell carcinoma (HNSCC), and the development of novel therapeutic agents and strategies for this disease. He is particularly interested in combating the intrinsic and acquired resistance to anti-cancer agents that characterizes the majority of HNSCC patient tumors. Work from his lab has shown that overexpression of anti-apoptotic Bcl-2 family members and/or hyperactivation of STAT3 transcription factor contribute to HNSCC drug resistance. He has employed small molecule inhibitors of Bcl-2/Bcl-XL/Mcl-1, as well as proteasome inhibitors, to develop synergistic co-targeting strategies to overcome resistance arising for overexpression of Bcl-2 family members. To combat the effects of STAT3 hyperactivation, he has co-invented an highly novel decoy oligonucleotide inhibitor for this previously undruggable oncogene. Current efforts are focused on moving the STAT3 decoy to clinical evaluation in patients with HNSCC. Additional studies in his lab have shown that mutations in caspase-8 protease, which occur frequently in HNSCC tumors, contribute to disease progression by abrogating cell death mediated by death ligands such as TRAIL and TNF. Ongoing studies are aimed at developing further in vivo and organoid models of HNSCC for investigation of drug resistance mechanisms and evaluation of novel precision medicine therapeutic strategies.

Head and Neck Oncology

Molecular biology and molecular genetics of head and neck cancer, anti-cancer drug development

Professional Interests:
Development of new therapeutic strategies and agents for head and neck cancer, mechanisms of chemotherapy resistance, cell death mechanisms, mentoring

Education and Training:
• Graduate School: Princeton University, NJ – M.A., Molecular Biology
• Graduate School: Princeton University, NJ – Ph.D., Molecular Biology
• Postdoctoral Fellowship: University of California, San Francisco

Awards and Honors:
• 2019-present - NIDCD Board of Scientific Counselors
• 2015-present – Oncology Research Editorial Board
• 2014 – G. David Roodman Excellence in Mentorship Award from Hematology/Oncology Fellows
• 2010-2013 – Cancer Research Editorial Board
• 2007 – Hillman Fellow for Innovative Cancer Research
• 2001-present – Leukemia Section Editor
• 1999-present – Leukemia Editorial Board
• 1994-95 – Fellow of the Lymphoma Research Foundation of America
• 1990 – Henry Christian Outstanding Abstract in Cardiology, AFCR
• 1988-1992 – Fellow of the Cardiovascular Research Institute, UCSF
• 1989 – American Heart Association Postdoctoral Fellowship
• 1982 – Graduated summa cum laude, North Park College
• 1981 – Walter E. Olson Memorial Scholarship Fund
• 1981 – J. Paul Bennett Chemistry Award
• 1980-82 – President, North Park University Mathematics Society
• 1979 – Oscar E. Olson Memorial Scholarship Fund in Mathematics