Professor Dr. Bankole A. Johnson, DSc., M.D., MB. CHB., MPhil, DFAPA, FRCPSYCH, FACFEI, ABDA, received training at the Universities of Glasgow, London, and Oxford, and has dedicated his professional life to discovering methods that help people recover from alcohol and substance use disorder through scientific and evidence-based means, and how to optimize brain wellness. Prof. Johnson has been called “one of the people making the biggest contribution to the study of neuroscience and addiction.” His work has been described by medical experts as being “a singular breakthrough in addiction treatment that advances scientific understanding of the disease to a new level.” Among his numerous national awards, Prof. Dr. Bankole Johnson was the 2019 awardee of the R. Binkley Smithers Distinguished Scientist Award by American Society of Addiction Medicine, the largest academic and medical body in Addiction. His work has been cited over 17,000 times and his scientific h-index is 58, a ranking as a leading scientist.
As a child, Professor Dr. Johnson was usually found tucked up in bed with his grandmother, where he went after school as his parents were still at work, listening to her giving advice and consoling others. His grandmother was renowned for both her patience and her wisdom but had become bed-bound in her older years due to disease. The Professor believes that he learned much about compassion, empathy, and giving others their space from her. It was, perhaps, those early childhood experiences that guided him into his present career as a psychiatrist.
With both parents working in the medical field, it is no surprise how the Professor ended up dedicating his life to helping others. His mother, Hilda Omolola Johnson was a midwife and serial entrepreneur. She owned her own hospital in the capital city of Lagos, and to his recollection, was the only woman who owned a hospital in those times. She embodied hard work, a characteristic that has stayed with the Professor to this very day. His mother’s greatest source of pride was providing free services to uneducated and poor women who worked at a nearby market, who often relied on her protection against their abusive husbands, and to whom she provided early pediatric care. His father, Dr. Babatunde Johnson was a physician with a specialty in nutrition. He was the deputy minister of health in Nigeria, and, like his wife, was of noble birth. This mixture of strong, capable, and successful women in his family, who were more than a match in every way to their male counterparts, has shaped the Professor’s drive to empower women in the workplace and all walks of life.
The Professor’s parents passed away eight weeks apart, over thirty-eight years ago, both, from Cancer. His mother died while he was taking his final exams at medical school. The Professor carries with him the pain of his mother never seeing him graduate from medical school at the young age of 22 years. The Professor says his mother’s love endures to this day, and he prays to be more like her each and every day, and to celebrate her life by being kind to others.
The Professor has many groundbreaking accomplishments that have changed and modernized the field of addiction. Here are three notable examples. During 2003 in The Lancet, the prestigious weekly peer-reviewed general medical journal, Johnson and his research group published Oral Topiramate for Treatment of Alcohol Dependence: A Randomised Controlled Trial. That 12-week, single-site clinical trial examined the effects of the anti-epileptic medication topiramate, in doses up to 300 mg per day. Furthermore, it documented how topiramate improved drinking outcomes significantly compared with placebo among 150 alcohol-dependent individuals. Uniquely, this study enrolled individuals who were drinking heavily and is notable for demonstrating that detoxification or abstinence was not necessary to commence effective treatment for alcohol use disorder. Indeed, this model is, perhaps, the most prevailing model in the treatment of alcohol use disorder today.
The Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) published the Professor’s study called Topiramate for Treating Alcohol Dependence: A Randomized Controlled Trial in 2007. The study bolstered the results of his 2003 research. It demonstrated in a much larger, 14-week, multi-site trial that topiramate was significantly more effective than placebo at reducing the percentage of days that participants drank heavily over the course of the study.
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Furthermore, the Professor was a critical member of the multi-site research group that in 2006 published (in JAMA) the landmark 16-week study titled Combined Pharmacotherapies and Behavioral Interventions for Alcohol Dependence—The COMBINE Study: A Randomized Controlled Trial. The study found that among 1,383 participants, naltrexone, but neither acamprosate nor a combination of the two, showed efficacy in treating alcohol dependence.
In 2011, the Professor and his colleagues unveiled the first prospective study in the alcoholism field whereby individuals were selected for treatment with ultra-low dose ondansetron based upon their specific genetic profile. This is the first clear demonstration in the alcoholism field that a personalized medicine approach (i.e., identifying potential treatment responders by virtue of their genetic profile) can be applied effectively and successfully to the treatment of alcohol dependence. That study, entitled Pharmacogenetic Approach at the Serotonin Transporter Gene as a Method of Reducing the Severity of Alcohol Drinking, published in March 2011 in The American Journal of Psychiatry, was funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Presently, that line of work is being tested in Phase 3 European studies, the final step before approval. Imagine a treatment for alcohol use disorder whereby your doctor takes a drop of blood, and if your genetic profile fits, you can get ultra low dose ondansetron to treat your alcohol use disorder, with a high probability of success. No detox, no rehab, no long therapy sessions or confessions. Just a treatment between you and your health practitioner with brief (about 15 min/week) support. The Professor believes that the approval of this treatment method will not only save millions of lives but change the way alcohol use disorder is perceived for the better by encouraging the seeking of treatment, and de-stigmatizing the disease.
Prof. Dr. Johnson believes that — as is the normal course of drug development — the commercialization of his inventions is the most direct way in which the discoveries can be brought to people all around the world in an organized, efficient, and safe manner. To that end, and as a demonstration of combining medicine with entrepreneurship, the Professor founded Adial Pharmaceuticals, which is now listed on the NASDAQ. Few scientists have been so successful in commercializing their discoveries. The Professor believes that the development of new medicines shall come about through greater knowledge of the neuroscientific basis of the brain and of the underlying mechanisms of addiction.
With so many discoveries in science, the Professor now brings all that knowledge to develop a new exclusive clinic, Privée Clinics, which will open in the fall. That highly specialized clinic will offer the very latest and modern techniques to optimize brain wellness, even in those without brain disease, who simply wish to be the very best that they can be. Of course, that clinic also will be there to help individuals with any kind of mental disorder, or who overindulge in alcohol, drugs, or both. The fundamental basis of the Professor’s approach is to minimize the negative influences of stress, alcohol, or drugs whilst boosting brain performance. The combination of techniques that will be employed in this clinic shall be truly first-in-the-world.
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Finally, to bring his novel treatment approaches to life, the Professor will soon be publishing a new book called the Six Rings, which you will hear more about in a few weeks. The book blends a collection of allegorical stories to explain to an educated lay audience the importance and ways in which various brain optimization techniques can be used to alleviate stress, mental disorders, addictions to alcohol, drugs, food or sex as well as bring about a sense of full brain wellness and awareness.