April Carson, Ph.D Director and Principal Investigator, Jackson Heart Study

The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI), part of the National Institutes of Health, has announced April P. Carson, Ph.D., as the new director of the Jackson Heart Study (JHS). The JHS is the nation’s largest and longest-running longitudinal study of cardiovascular health in African Americans, involving more than 5,300 participants in Jackson, Mississippi since it began in 1998.

Carson, an associate professor of epidemiology and associate dean for diversity, equity, and inclusion at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB) School of Public Health, will succeed Adolfo Correa, M.D., Ph.D., who served as JHS director since 2016. Carson will start her new position on September 20, 2021.

Carson has a long history of studying the disproportionate effects of disease in African Americans. As an epidemiologist at UAB, she has worked to identify and address the root causes of disparities associated with diabetes and cardiovascular disease. She also has been actively engaged in the NHLBI-funded Coronary Artery Risk Development in Young Adults (CARDIA) study, which looks at the factors that contribute to the development of cardiovascular disease over adulthood in African Americans and non-Hispanic white Americans. Carson served as a member of the study’s Publications and Presentations Committee and Laboratory Committee. She also served as chair of its New Investigators’ Committee, where she guided study operations, provided scientific expertise, and played a pivotal role in integrating early career scientists into the study.

Carson will come to JHS with notable experience working with community partners and organizations as part of her previous work experience in state government and her research and administrative roles. She has a history of working closely with state agencies, non-profit organizations, and community advisory boards and has collaborated across multiple academic institutions.

Launched more than 20 years ago, the JHS is the largest study ever to investigate how biological, genetic, and environmental risk factors lead to a disproportionate burden of cardiovascular disease in African Americans. Jointly funded by the NHLBI and the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities, the study focuses on the cardiovascular health of African Americans in Jackson, Mississippi, because this community, like many others in the southeastern United States, has long experienced high rates of death and disability from cardiovascular disease.

The study includes community education and outreach activities that promote healthy lifestyles and help lower the risks of chronic disease. It also conducts undergraduate- and graduate-level training programs, as well as high school science and math enrichment programs, to prepare and encourage underrepresented minority students to pursue biomedical careers.

Recently the JHS named Sharon Smith, Ph.D., as its latest NHLBI program director. In 2018, NHLBI awarded new contracts for the study’s 2018-2024 phase. Those went to the University of Mississippi Medical Center, Jackson State University, Tougaloo College, and the Mississippi State Department of Health.