Vence Bonham to be appointed acting NHGRI deputy director
On May 17, NHGRI announced plans to appoint Vence Bonham Jr., J.D. as acting deputy director. Vence, who joined NHGRI in 2003, is currently senior advisor to the NHGRI director on genomics and health disparities as well as head of the Health Disparities Unit in NHGRI’s Social and Behavioral Research Branch. His appointment as acting deputy director will expand on his current roles, in which he has made major contributions to the Institute’s research on diversity, inclusion, and health equity. In this new role, Vence will assume a more elevated position at the Institute, helping the NHGRI leadership advance NHGRI’s mission and priorities.
The NHGRI deputy director position has been vacant since Mark Guyer, Ph.D., retired in 2014. The upcoming appointment of Vence as the NHGRI acting deputy director reflects the Institute’s desire to have a leader at the highest possible level to guide programmatic activities to advance work related to diversity, inclusion, and health equity at the national level, but also lead NIH and NHGRI’s efforts to address anti-racism and social justice. These are significant priority areas for NHGRI, and Vence’s leadership will be invaluable.
One of Vence’s first responsibilities as acting deputy director will be 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 Vence 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 is familiar with NHGRI’s long-standing leadership on issues related to diversity in genomics. Most recently, he led the NHGRI Genomic Workforce Diversity Working Group that established an action agenda for enhancing the diversity of the genomics workforce, which was published earlier this year. Vence and NHGRI’s Director, Dr. Eric Green, also co-authored a commentary in the American Journal of Human Genetics, which described the imperative to enhance the diversity of the genomics workforce for achieving the promise of genomics. In his new role, Vence will focus on implementing this action agenda and will continue to be one of three NHGRI leaders serving on key NIH-wide committees as part of the NIH UNITE Initiative, which aims to end structural racism in biomedical research.
Vence also has a long history of starting successful initiatives at NHGRI. He established the Education and Community Involvement Branch and served as its inaugural chief. The branch thrived under his leadership, including the creation of the Smithsonian-NHGRI exhibition, Genome: Unlocking Life’s Code.
His research program focuses primarily on the social implications of new scientific knowledge, particularly in communities of color. He and his group 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. They also study sickle cell disease, a condition that is affected by emerging curative genomic technologies and that faces significant health disparities both in the US and worldwide.
Vence’s appointment as the NHGRI acting deputy director is anticipated to begin in early summer.