A Gift That Expands Knowledge

The Joel E. Johnson Sr. family invests in UAB dystonia research.
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Tom Strauss, David Standaert, Nell Johnson, Bonnie Strauss, Ray Watts, and Paula Stein





The family of Mr. Joel E. Johnson Sr. has committed a transformative gift of $1 million to expand and strengthen UAB’s dystonia research program. The Joel E. Johnson Sr. Research Acceleration Fund in Dystonia will support dystonia research in the Division of Movement Disorders, part of the Department of Neurology.

Joel Johnson Sr., who passed away at age 98 in 1997, was a 1921 graduate of The University of Alabama Law School. His father, J.J. Johnson, founded Citizen’s Bank in Geneva, Alabama, in 1901. J.J. Johnson, Joel Johnson, and his late son Joel Jr. operated the bank for more than 100 years until it merged with the Bank of the Ozarks in 2012. “The Johnsons were very civic-minded individuals, giving of their time and resources to the community,” says Nell Johnson, daughter-in-law of Mr. Johnson. “This gift will perpetuate their memory as civic, business, church, and philanthropic leaders.”

Dystonia is a neurological movement disorder in which sustained muscle contractions cause twisting and repetitive movements or abnormal postures. “Dystonia has several forms and may be hereditary or caused by factors such as physical trauma, infection, or reaction to a pharmaceutical,” says David G. Standaert, M.D., Ph.D., chair of the Department of Neurology. “However, most cases have no known cause. Treatment is difficult and has been limited to minimizing the symptoms. At present, there is no cure.” The Dystonia Medical Research Foundation, for which Standaert has served as an advisor, estimates as many as 300,000 people in North America have dystonia. Standaert currently serves as a member of the Scientific Advisory Board for the Bachmann-Strauss Dystonia and Parkinson Foundation. Because of the Johnson gift, UAB received a competitive grant from the Bachmann-Strauss Foundation, which created The Bachmann-Strauss Dystonia and Parkinson’s Disease Center for Excellence.

The gift will help UAB create a world-class research program in dystonia, which Standaert says will use an integrated team of clinicians and laboratory scientists to achieve the ultimate goal of creating disease-altering, neuro-protective and potentially neuro-restorative therapies. It also will aid in recruitment of pre- and postdoctoral researchers to UAB to train as the next generation of dystonia clinicians and scientists. In addition to providing clinical care and research support, the fund will help UAB recruit additional faculty researchers and clinicians who will focus on dystonia, pursuing promising, novel research projects and accelerating ongoing research projects aimed at developing new treatments and cures.  

“It’s gratifying to know that the Joel E. Johnson Sr. Research Acceleration Fund in Dystonia will help bolster patient care, clinical research, and basic laboratory research in pursuit of new treatments—and ultimately a cure—for dystonia here in Alabama,” says Lesley Laird, granddaughter of Mr. Johnson.

For more information on giving to the Department of Neurology, visit www.uab.edu/medicine/neurology.