NYA Front Lawn Aug 2020

Alumni Profile – Dr. John Mills ’96

Alumni Profile

J Mills NYA '96John Mills, PhD ’96
Rochester, MN
Director of the Neuroimmunology Laboratory, Mayo Clinic

When Windham native John Mills ‘96 transferred to NYA to begin his sophomore year, he was “completely unprepared and ill-equipped to succeed academically,” he recalls.  

“During my first semester at NYA, I was a disastrous student with poor grades, and my only real interests were in athletics,” claims Mills who, along with his brother, Bryan ‘90, was a standout on the basketball, cross-county, and track and field teams.   

“By the time I graduated, I was performing much closer to my expectations and, more importantly, had learned how to work hard, set goals, and apply myself to be successful. I credit the staff and teachers at NYA with challenging me and investing in my development.”             

Fast-forward a couple of decades and “it all worked out well,” Mills says in reflection.  

Following his time at NYA, Mills earned B.S. and Ph.D. degrees in biochemistry from McGill University, completed two post-doctoral clinical fellowships at the world-renowned Mayo Clinic, and is now the Director of the Neuroimmunology Laboratory at the Mayo Clinic.  

By the time he graduated from NYA, John had learned how to work hard, set goals, and apply himself to be successful. He credits the staff and teachers at NYA with challenging him and investing in his development.

J Mills in Lab

In his current role, Dr. Mills is transforming how clinical laboratories screen, diagnose, monitor, and test for autoimmune central and peripheral nervous system disorders. These rare disorders cover a broad category of diseases in which the immune system attacks the nervous system resulting in irreversible damage if not caught early. More common forms of these disorders include multiple sclerosis, autoimmune encephalitis, and autoimmune peripheral neuropathies. If identified early and treated appropriately, there can be much more favorable outcomes. The Mayo Clinic Laboratory, co-directed by Dr. Mills, studies the underlying disease and works to find antibody biomarkers that can help distinguish these disorders from non-treatable disease mimics. These biomarkers are then offered as clinical tests.  

Because of his expertise, Dr. Mills was called upon early in the current pandemicto support a groundbreaking national study on the use of convalescent plasma in the fight against COVID-19.  Dr. Mills and his team at the Mayo Clinic helped develop a test that determines how well the antibodies a person produces once exposed to coronavirus are at blocking the virus. The test is also critical in judging the viability of vaccines for COVID-19.  

“I am so proud of the team at the Mayo Clinic for working urgently to develop this test,” he said. “We had individuals in our lab volunteer to work over 20 days straight, 80 hours a week, to get this done not because it was required of them, rather it’s been their passion to support ongoing vaccine trials and contribute to the health of our nation as a whole.”  

As a professional on the frontline supporting the development of COVID-19 treatments and helping patients with rare autoimmune neurological disorders, Dr. Mills says that [as a student], he never imagined all this would be possible. “NYA broadened my horizons, and I’m grateful,” he remarked.   

Alumni are invited and encouraged to share their stories and updates with the Academy by reaching out to alumni@nya.org.