Earlier this year, the Institute for Global Health Sciences (IGHS) adopted a new, more thematic structure, broken out into centers focused by areas of work: the Center for Pandemic Preparedness and Response will encompass all COVID-19 and pandemic readiness work under the new leadership of Michael Reid, MD. The Center for Global Infectious and Parasitic Diseases unites work combatting malaria and Chagas disease. The Center for Global Strategic Information and Public Health Practice is focused on HIV, particularly on the advanced testing and data informatics methods needed for countries to manage what is now a chronic disease.
These are rounded out by the self-explanatory centers for Global Health Diplomacy, Delivery and Economics and for Global Maternal, Newborn and Child Health and the Center for Health Equity in Surgery and Anesthesia. IGHS is considering adding a center focused on chronic diseases as well.
Paul Wesson, PhD, stepped up to serve as associate director for science to help keep these centers collaborating to ensure the most capacity and the best scientific methods. For Wesson, it means entering the center of an institution he has long regarded as the ideal home for his public health ambitions.
“Ever since I got to UCSF – I started off as a postdoc in CAPS – I have always had an eye toward IGHS, the staff and faculty, the diversity of projects and the geographical areas where they take place,” Wesson said.
So, what is the associate director for science role?
Part of it consists of mapping out the diverse research activities and other work within IGHS and helping to bridge efforts – which can become siloed – in order to help support the effectiveness, innovation and rigor of current and future projects.
“As people are looking to apply for new grants, they may have one set of skills, but they may not be aware of another set that’s right here in IGHS,” Wesson said. “A big focus of my time so far has been meeting one-on-one with center directors to learn how they see themselves interacting more with IGHS and what their needs are.”
Some important global health projects may require a mix and match of approaches, skills or subject area expertise. For example, Wesson wondered aloud what “the overlap and synergy” between infectious disease researchers and chronic disease experts might be.
Wesson, whose own research expands the toolkit of epidemiology to better reflect people and issues that are challenging to identify and measure in population health studies, also eventually hopes to bring his methodological expertise to bear in this role.
“Another potential of the role we’re exploring is what new systems I can offer in terms of providing more scientific feedback on proposals and different research projects,” Wesson said. “It would be an ideal scenario for me to bring in my methods knowledge to help with the methods in grant proposals – maybe being able to offer some kind of service, like office hours, where people can bounce ideas off of me.”
The new role has launched with just 5% of Wesson’s allotted work week, but acting IGHS executive director George Rutherford, MD, has every confidence that Wesson will manage to sharpen IGHS’s efforts.
“Paul brings a ton of experience with him in working in public health both with the San Francisco Department of Public Health and with academic public health,” Rutherford said. “He’s a very accomplished investigator and I look to him to be able to help the centers look forward in their science and how they’re pursing the great unanswered questions of the day.”