Dr. James Lawler is an infectious disease physician trained in tropical medicine and public health whose career has focused on emerging infectious diseases, pandemic threats, and health system and public health preparedness. His contributions span applied science research, national and international policy, and field operations. Dr. Lawler currently serves as Executive Director for International Programs and Innovation for the Global Center for Health Security as well as the Deputy Medical Director for the Nebraska Biocontainment Unit at the University of Nebraska Medical Center (UNMC). Before joining the UNMC team in November 2017, he served 21 years in the US Navy Medical Corps.
Dr. Lawler has responded to multiple infectious disease emergencies, including Ebola and Marburg in Africa and COVID-19 domestically and abroad. He is a recognized authority on health system and field management of high-consequence infections and has consulted on the topic for multiple non-governmental organizations, national ministries of health, the World Health Organization, and the US Government. In 2014, he was the principal subject matter expert for the US military’s planning process for West Africa Ebola response (Operation United Assistance), briefing the Chairman, Joint Chiefs, and senior Pentagon officials. He subsequently led efforts standing up the Department of Defense (DoD) Ebola Medical Support Team and served as the team’s principal technical expert. His field medical experience also includes duty as a Marine infantry battalion surgeon, in disaster relief operations aboard the hospital ship USNS Comfort, and with the NATO Role 3 Hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan.
As a junior investigator at the US Army Medical Research Institute for Infectious Diseases (USAMRIID), Dr. Lawler became one of the few uniformed physicians ever to become qualified in biosafety level-4 (BSL-4) laboratory operations, directing animal model research for highly dangerous pathogens while developing and teaching curricula in biological consequence management. He also assisted in initiating some of the first collaborative clinical research programs for DoD Cooperative Threat Reduction efforts in the Caucasus. He later helped establish BSL-3/4 laboratory safety systems and strategic research plans as Chief Medical Officer of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease Integrated Research Facility at Fort Detrick. During the last five years of his military career, Dr. Lawler founded and led the Austere Environments Consortium for Enhanced Sepsis Outcomes (ACESO), an international network developing practical solutions for management of severe infectious diseases in resource-limited settings.
Dr. Lawler served on the White House staff in the Homeland Security Council Biodefense Office during the George W. Bush administration and the National Security Council (NSC) Resilience Directorate under the Obama administration, where he led development and coordination of national policy related to medical and public health preparedness, pandemic and public health emergency response, medical countermeasure R&D, biosurveillance, and clinical care for domestic and international health threats. While at NSC, he co-led White House activities to coordinate national policy in response to the 2009-H1N1 influenza pandemic.
In response to the COVID-19 pandemic, Dr. Lawler has made a number of early contributions in research, training, and clinical operations. He assisted in leading a small team that deployed to Yokohama, Japan, to repatriate American citizens quarantined aboard the cruise ship Diamond Princess, coordinated quarantine and isolation care for some of the first cohorts of exposed/infected Americans returned from Wuhan and Yokohama, assisted in standing up the first hospital to conduct a randomized-controlled trial of remdesivir for COVID-19, and characterized environmental contamination related to the care of COVID-19 patients. Dr. Lawler advises local, state, and national leadership on COVID-19 response as well a variety of entities in the public and private sectors.
Dr. Lawler graduated from Georgetown University School of Medicine after receiving his undergraduate degree in biomedical engineering from Duke University. He resides on the outskirts of Omaha, Nebraska, with his wife, Meredith, their three children, and multiple animals, wild and domestic.