Dr. Jack Whitescarver, the longest serving director of the Office of AIDS Research at the National Institutes of Health will soon step down from his post, following a career at the NIH that started at the beginning of the AIDS epidemic. His tenure as OAR director oversaw progress in HIV cure research and combatting HIV in minority populations and women and girls.
Whitescarver, who also serves as NIH associate director for AIDS Research, became director of the OAR in 2000 after serving as deputy director since 1988 when the office was established. He was preceded by Dr. Neal Nathanson, Dr. William Paul, and Dr. Anthony Fauci who acted as the first director in 1988.
He began working in the NIH in 1977 when he became special assistant to the director of the National Institute of Allergies and Infectious Diseases after completing a year in the NIH Grants Associates Program. Prior to his time at the NIH, he received his doctorate in medical microbiology in 1974 and pursued post-doctoral research at the Harvard School of Public Health. In 1981, he was directly involved in the recognition of the emergence of HIV/AIDS, and helped organize meetings across the country to educate people about AIDS – at a time when the NIH had no mandate or funding for outreach activities – before going on to develop the initial federal response for AIDS research.
“The goal was to get the truth out about AIDS, and to get rid of the myths associated with it,” he said in an interview about the early days of the epidemic. “There were people being kicked out of restaurants, losing their jobs . . . Physicians wouldn’t work with them and ambulance drivers wouldn’t pick up anybody whom they thought looked like an AIDS patient.”
A release from the NIH says Whitescarver “contributed significantly to the effort to expand the NIH research portfolio” in the area of cure research. He is co-chair of the International AIDS Society “Towards a Cure” initiative. Whitescarver was also the first person to receive the International AIDS Society Presidential Award for his pioneering work in the field.
“Jack has dedicated his life’s work to supporting research to prevent and treat, and ultimately find a cure for HIV/AIDS. He has been instrumental in identifying the most important scientific priorities across NIH institutes and centers toward this effort,” said NIH Director Francis S. Collins, M.D., Ph.D in the NIH release. “While we have made significant strides in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, many research challenges remain. But Jack’s dedicated efforts have moved us substantially closer to the ultimate goal of ending the AIDS pandemic.”
Whitescarver, a member of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, which produces this blog, will step down on July 1st. An acting director will be appointed while the NIH recruits a new director.