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Published in CenterView on September 27, 2010

Wilson leads UMMC faculty's expansion into clinical, translational research

By Jack Mazurak

In the middle of the University of Mississippi Medical Center's resolution to kindle more population studies and clinical trials stands Dr. Jim Wilson, a physician-researcher who perhaps most embodies those goals.


Wilson, who spent 24 years as a staff physician at the G.V. (Sonny) Montgomery Veterans Affairs Medical Center and tracks an even longer record in research, in July took a newly created position as UMMC director for clinical and population studies.

His work promises new hires for the Medical Center, added grant revenue and, most importantly, more investigations into the diseases that affect Mississippians most and the methods to alleviate them.

Wilson said the climate is right for UMMC to make its move.

"It's a challenge in that a relatively small number of our faculty members are involved in clinical and translational research," he said.

But great funding opportunities, ties to national partners and even Mississippi's vast health needs, offer possibilities to advance medical research, he said.

Dr. John Hall, associate vice chancellor for research, said UMMC has the greatest opportunity in the country to expand its research and Wilson will be integral to making it happen.

"He has the background and interest for this position. We were delighted when he decided to come here full time from the VA to drive forward this initiative," Hall said.

An agreement signed in July with the Mayo Clinic laid a foundation for more research collaborations, faculty exchanges and training opportunities between the two institutions. Two new nationwide population studies, the Atherosclerosis Risk in Communities Neurocognitive Study, and the National Children's Study, will provide more momentum.

Wilson said the federally backed move to electronic health records will provide more research opportunities.

Mississippians' poor diets, poverty, poor-quality education, lack of exercise in urban areas and lack of access to health care make the population ideal for study, he said.

Wilson wants to connect current basic science research with new clinical studies and trials. Target areas include maternal-fetal medicine, preeclampsia, behavioral disorders, hypertension, diabetes, AIDS and other common diseases.

"It will be my job to work across departments to identify additional people who can contribute to such studies," Wilson said.

All this will create jobs, potentially hundreds of them across the entire UMMC faculty, he said.

Wilson, a Jackson native, majored in English at Rice University and earned his M.D. at the University of Mississippi School of Medicine. He completed an internal medicine residency at Duke University and practiced rheumatology at Brigham and Women's Hospital while on faculty at Harvard University.

In 1986, he took a position at the Jackson VA and maintained a co-appointment as a professor in the School of Medicine. He's involved himself in population science since the 1970s, helped recruit for the 5,300-member Jackson Heart Study starting in 2000, and now works in national and international consortia involving more than 100,000 participants.

Wilson plans to continue his research in addition to his new position.