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Vol. LVII, No. 17
August 26, 2005

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New NIEHS Researcher Named STP Young Investigator of the Year

Dr. Kennita Johnson
Dr. Kennita Johnson, who started working at NIEHS just 18 months ago, was selected for the Young Investigator Award at the recent annual meeting of the Society of Toxicologic Pathology.

Her poster, "The Evaluation of Cardiac and Other Soft Tissue Abnormalities in Rat Teratology Studies Using Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)," looked at birth defects using non-invasive imaging techniques. The poster also resulted in a travel award and platform presentation at the June Teratology Society meeting. She is equally enthusiastic about her other poster, "Ultrasonic Analysis, A Tool for Early Detection of Cardiotoxic Lesions: Preliminary Findings."

Johnson's arrival at NIEHS and the Laboratory of Experimental Pathology coincided with a major emphasis on imaging. Until coming to NIEHS, she had no experience in animal research; lab chief Dr. Robert Maronpot said he wasn't sure how it would work to add a postdoc with a physics background to a group of pathologists. Maronpot heads the Laboratory of Experimental Pathology. He said it quickly became apparent that Johnson has a knack for communicating with scientists from different disciplines. Johnson became an integral part of the team, reviewing and modifying study protocols, participating in study management meetings, identifying unique ways to analyze and present imaging data and taking a leadership role in all of the lab's imaging efforts.

"She has been extremely productive, working on cutting-edge rodent-imaging protocols where no two studies are the same," Maronpot said. "She has shown the potential for micro-x-ray, micro-CT, ultrasound and MRI imaging modalities as tools for NIEHS researchers — all this in only 18 months."

Johnson was a Meyerhoff scholar at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. The Meyerhoff Program is designed to encourage minority students to pursue post-graduate science degrees.

Johnson completed her undergrad work at UMBC, and then went to the University of Florida, where she earned a master's degree in medical physics and a doctorate in biomedical engineering. As she neared completion of her doctoral program, Johnson was invited to present at NIEHS. It was during that visit, she said, that she first learned that the institute conducts small-animal imaging.

Johnson said LEP staff have been very patient and helpful, tutoring her in toxicology and pathology. She enjoys the intellectual freedom afforded at NIEHS, which allows her to develop her own style. Meanwhile, Maronpot says he is eagerly looking forward to Johnson's continued work in multimodality imaging.