For over two years, Dr. John Hall has conducted a national search for the right person to lead the development of clinical obesity research programs at the University of Mississippi Medical Center.
He interviewed five high-profile scientists, but the search stalled. Then it occurred to him that the person whom he describes as "uniquely qualified" to fill the role was closer than he could have ever imagined: University of Mississippi Chancellor Dan Jones.
Hall, the Arthur Guyton Professor and Chair of Physiology and Biophysics and director of the Mississippi Center for Obesity Research (MCOR), announced today that Jones will join the Medical Center faculty next fall as the MCOR's director of clinical and population sciences.
In that role, Jones will be asked to tackle Mississippi's most pernicious and consequential health problem, one that costs the state an estimated $1 billion in annual direct health-care expense. And yet the science of obesity is still poorly understood, and the means of preventing it or safely treating it have proven largely ineffective.
An internal medicine physician by training and a tenured professor at UMMC, Jones is currently on leave from his position as UM chancellor and will officially end his tenure after six years at the helm when his contract expires Sept. 14. He will join UMMC on Sept. 15, Hall said.
"Because Dan Jones has been in university administration for the last 13 years, not everyone remembers that he is an eminent physician-scientist who was the original principal investigator of the Jackson Heart Study and served as president of the American Heart Association," said Hall. "He is uniquely qualified for this position in so many different ways."
A graduate of its medical school, Jones joined the UMMC faculty in 1992 and was heavily involved in clinical and population research related to hypertension and other cardiovascular risk factors until he became associate vice chancellor for health affairs in 2002. He was named vice chancellor and dean of the medical school in 2003 and left Jackson to become chancellor of the university in 2009.
"This is a welcome opportunity for the next stage of my career," said Jones. "Over the last several weeks, I have explored several good opportunities in universities outside Mississippi. As I examined options, it became clear to me that my first priority was to seek a position where I could work on important issues where there was a real need. The invitation from Dr. Hall to fill this position in the center allows me to do this in the state of Mississippi I love so much."
Jones' primary faculty appointment will be in the Department of Physiology and Biophysics reporting to Hall, with a joint appointment in the Department of Medicine. Jones will be the first person to hold the Mr. and Mrs. Joe F. Sanderson, Jr. Endowed Chair in Obesity, Metabolic Diseases and Nutrition.
Hall said although Jones is best known in the scientific community for his work in hypertension, obesity and weight management are common threads in his published papers and the clinical trials he has overseen.
"He has great expertise on clinical aspects of obesity management and why this is an effective approach to preventing and treating many chronic diseases such as hypertension, heart attack, stroke, kidney disease, diabetes and dementia," Hall said.
Beyond his scientific and research expertise, Jones has a proven ability to build programs, win grant support and private funding, and establish collaborative relationships that will be critical to making inroads against obesity in Mississippi and elsewhere, Hall said.
"When I worked as an administrator on the formation of this center, I never dreamed I would have the opportunity to return to the Medical Center in my role as a physician scientist," Jones said. "I'm grateful to Dr. Hall and Dr. LouAnn Woodward for their confidence in asking me to fill this role and to make a difference in Mississippi."
"I completely support Dr. Hall's decision and consider this a crucial step forward in our state's efforts to battle the public health epidemic of obesity," said Woodward, vice chancellor for health affairs and dean of the School of Medicine at UMMC. "This is a difficult, challenging job, and we are extremely fortunate that a scientist and leader of Dr. Jones' caliber is willing to take it on."