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June 2, 2017
Wilson Is First Director of Tribal Health Research Office

Dr. David R. Wilson is the first director of the Tribal Health Research Office. The office coordinates trans-NIH research and activities related to the health of American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) and was established in 2015 within the Division of Program Coordination, Planning and Strategic Initiatives. “We are pleased to have Dr. Wilson leading this important office,” said DPCPSI director Dr. James Anderson.

Dr. David R. Wilson

“As the first NIH office focused on tribal health, we can target research efforts where the needs are greatest within native communities,” said Wilson. “We can establish consistent research protocols with the ICs that will ultimately benefit research in tribal communities and investigators alike.”

A primary purpose of THRO is to ensure that input from tribal nations is received on NIH research, activities and policies. Wilson’s priority is to “establish a tribal community presence and develop the strategic plan with their input. I want the tribes to be engaged and know this is a collaborative effort.”

THRO supports the tribal advisory committee, which provides a forum for meetings between elected tribal officials (or their designated representatives) and NIH officials to exchange views and share information. “The TAC is composed of 17 individuals whose breadth and depth of knowledge provides a good cross-sectional representation of the 567 federally recognized tribes,” said Wilson. “Their input is important in addressing the research needs of tribal nations.”

Wilson is looking to the NIH ICs for opportunities to leverage resources and build collaborations through the research portfolio. “I am excited about the Native American Research Centers for Health program, the All of Us initiative and the Science Education Partnership Awards program, among others. THRO will aim to expand research collaborations and training opportunities and build an NIH unified presence with tribal nations.”

Wilson credits his HHS career with preparing him to fill this unique position. He began his career as a postdoc at the National Institute on Aging and later was a senior research scientist.

“When I came here from the Southwest, I was the only Native American in the institute,” said Wilson. With the help of NIA leadership, he recruited additional students from the Southwest for summer internships.

“The experience gave me clarity about my career goals,” Wilson explained. “My interests were a combination of science, policy and advocacy and encouraging underrepresented minorities to pursue science careers.”

Before returning to NIH, Wilson served as a public health advisor for the HHS Office of Minority Health and as the AI/AN policy lead.

Asked about his long-term goals, Wilson said, “I would like to see the NIH play a larger role in the recruitment, training and retention of AI/AN research scientists. Additionally, I would like to see a day when tribal leaders would approach this office, present their community’s research needs and have confidence that the NIH will develop a plan to meet their needs.”—Cynthia Schoonover

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