Appreciating Dr. Jack Whitescarver’s Many Contributions to HIV/AIDS Research

Content From: Ronald Valdiserri, M.D., M.P.H., Deputy Assistant Secretary for Health, Infectious Diseases, and Director, Office of HIV/AIDS and Infectious Disease Policy, U.S. Department of Health and Human ServicesPublished: June 29, 20153 min read


photo whitescarver
Dr. Jack Whitescarver

At the end of this month, we bid a fond farewell to a colleague who has played a key role in leading Federal research efforts in response to HIV/AIDS since the earliest days of the epidemic. As NIH previously announced, on July 1, 2015, Dr. Jack Whitescarver is retiring and stepping down as NIH’s Associate Director for AIDS Research and Director of the NIH Office of AIDS Research (OAR). During his 27-year tenure with OAR, Jack has helped foster many important scientific discoveries arising from NIH-funded research that have led to significant improvements in our understanding of the virus and its disease progression, substantial advances in HIV prevention and treatment, and have opened new avenues for investigations to pursue critical research questions that will eventually lead to a cure for HIV.

Though not often in the headlines, NIH’s OAR plays a vital role in the global response to HIV/AIDS, coordinating the scientific, budgetary, legislative, and policy elements of the NIH AIDS research program, which spans research and training projects in more than 100 countries. AIDS research represents approximately 10 percent of the total NIH budget—the largest and most significant public investment in AIDS research in the world. Because HIV/AIDS encompasses every area of clinical medicine and basic scientific investigation, the NIH AIDS research effort involves each of NIH’s 27 Institutes and Centers. Through its annual comprehensive trans-NIH planning, budgeting, and portfolio assessment processes, OAR—a component of the Office of the NIH Director—sets scientific priorities, enhances collaboration, and ensures that research dollars are invested in the highest priority areas of scientific opportunity that will lead to new tools in the global fight against AIDS and improved outcomes for persons at risk for or living with HIV infection.

Jack’s tenure with NIH began in 1977, when he became the Special Assistant to the Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID). A few years later, in 1981, the first cases of what would become known as AIDS were reported, and Jack helped develop the initial Federal response for research on AIDS. (You can read his recollections from this time in NIH’s In Their Own Words: Researchers Recall the Early Years of AIDS.)

After a four-year tour of duty in academic medicine at Emory University School of Medicine, where he was Associate Dean for Research Development, Jack returned to NIH in 1988 to serve as Deputy Director of the newly created OAR. Later, he served as Acting Director of OAR from October 2000 until June 2002, when he was named Director, the position he leaves at the end of this month.

Jack’s work has been recognized with numerous awards, including the Award for Distinguished Service from the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. In recognition of his tireless work to advocate for HIV research and ensure that scientific advances translate into actual benefits for the millions of people infected with HIV and AIDS throughout the world, in 2010 he was awarded the first-ever Presidential Award by the International AIDS Society.

On his retirement, we salute and thank Jack for his unwavering commitment to advancing HIV/AIDS science—science that one day soon will lead us to achieving an AIDS-free generation.

At the same time Dr. Whitescarver departs, we also say farewell and extend our appreciation to his long-time colleague Wendy Wertheimer who has served as the OAR Senior Advisor, responsible for planning, policy, legislation and communications in OAR since 1992. She previously served as Legislative Assistant for Health on the staff of the late Senator Jacob Javits; as Deputy Executive Director of the American Social Health Association, one of the first organizations to address HIV/AIDS; and as Special Assistant to Dr. Jonathan Mann in the Global Programme on AIDS at the World Health Association in Geneva.

Our best wishes to both Jack and Wendy. We salute your accomplishments with this quotation from Antoine de Saint-Exupery:

“True happiness comes from the joy of deeds well done, the zest of creating new things.”