National Human Genome Research Institute (NHGRI) Director Eric Green, M.D., Ph.D., plans to appoint Vence Bonham Jr., J.D., as acting deputy director. In addition to helping oversee NHGRI-wide activities, Bonham will lead programmatic activities to advance the Institute’s work related to diversity, inclusion, health equity, anti-racism and social justice.
This appointment will expand upon Bonham’s roles as senior advisor to the NHGRI director on genomics and health disparities and as head of the Health Disparities Unit in NHGRI’s Social and Behavioral Research Branch. In these roles, Bonham has made major contributions to the Institute’s research on diversity, inclusion and health equity.
“Vence’s well-honed leadership skills and excellent judgement makes him a valuable partner to help me lead NHGRI at this important time,” Dr. Green said. “He is unequivocally the best-suited person to lead NHGRI’s efforts in diversity, inclusion, health equity and related areas, especially in light of his vast expertise as a researcher and social scientist, and his ability to coordinate efforts across groups to bring change.”
One of Bonham’s first responsibilities as acting deputy director will be to develop a plan to create a new Office of Workforce Diversity and Health Equity within the NHGRI Office of the Director.
The new office will work towards NHGRI’s goals of championing a diverse genomics workforce, addressing health disparities and reaching a more equitable and healthy society. Bonham will work closely with other NHGRI leaders to develop the office’s mission and vision, establish a staffing plan and lead efforts to recruit its first director.
Vence’s well-honed leadership skills and excellent judgement makes him a valuable partner to help me lead NHGRI at this important time. He is unequivocally the best-suited person to lead NHGRI’s efforts in diversity, inclusion, health equity and related areas, especially in light of his vast expertise as a researcher and social scientist, and his ability to coordinate efforts across groups to bring change.
“In this role, I intend to build on the incredible work already being done across the Institute, including cultivating a diverse genomics workforce and promoting health equity in genomics,” Bonham said. “I am particularly excited about establishing the new Office of Workforce Diversity and Health Equity, which will serve as the nexus for the Institute’s accelerated emphasis on these important issues. These plans are so substantial and so critical that it will require the efforts of every single one of us at the Institute to be fully engaged.”
As part of NHGRI’s long-standing leadership on issues related to diversity in genomics, Bonham led the NHGRI Genomic Workforce Diversity Working Group that established an action agenda for enhancing the diversity of the genomics workforce, published earlier this year. In addition, he and Dr. Green co-authored an associated commentary in the American Journal of Human Genetics on the imperative to enhance the diversity of the genomics workforce in order to achieve the promise of genomics to improve human health.
“To tackle the many interconnected issues related to diversity, inclusion and health equity as they pertain to NHGRI and genomics, I am putting a true expert in the strongest possible leadership position,” Dr. Green said. “This is a historic time in the U.S. — with the rapidly growing attention to these issues at the trans-NIH and national levels — to effect meaningful change and to take action to narrow the gaps in health equity.”
The last NHGRI deputy director was Mark Guyer, Ph.D., who retired from NHGRI in 2014. The position has been vacant since his departure.
Bonham joined NHGRI in 2003 to investigate the equitable integration of new genomics into medicine. His research focuses primarily on the social implications of new knowledge, particularly in communities of color. He and his team study how genomics influences the use of the constructs of race and ethnicity in biomedical research and clinical care, as well as how genomics worsens or improves health inequities. Bonham’s group also studies sickle cell disease, a condition that is impacted by emerging curative genomic technologies and that faces significant health disparities both in the U.S. and worldwide.
In 2003, Francis Collins, M.D., Ph.D., former director of NHGRI and current NIH director, asked Bonham to serve as senior advisor to inform discussions and decisions about contemporary genomic science and policy developments. In 2012, Dr. Green appointed Bonham as senior advisor to the director on genomics and health disparities.
Bonham received a bachelor’s degree from James Madison College at Michigan State University and his juris doctor degree from the Moritz College of Law at Ohio State University. He has authored numerous peer-reviewed publications.
Before coming to NHGRI, Bonham was a fellow in the American Association of Medical Colleges Health Services Research Fellowship Program and a tenured faculty member at Michigan State University with appointments in the Colleges of Medicine and Law.
NHGRI expects to appoint Bonham in early summer.