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HHMI Gives Research Training Awards
by Andrea Widener
In 1985, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute first gave medical students the chance to spend a year working in a research lab on the Bethesda campus of the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
Twenty-five years and more than 2,000 students later, HHMI remains committed to encouraging medical students, including dental and veterinary students, to hone their scientific skills and prepare for possible careers in research. This year, 112 students from 44 institutions will spend a year in the laboratory, either at the NIH through the HHMI—NIH Research Scholars Program or at a research center anywhere else in the United States through the HHMI Research Training Fellowships Program. This year, HHMI has joined in a partnership with the Ben and Catherine Ivy Foundation to support four HHMI–Ivy research training fellows who are studying glioma, a deadly and incurable brain cancer.
“These programs give the students a chance to immerse themselves in research,” says Peter J. Bruns, HHMI's vice president for grants and special programs. “For many, this will be a pivotal experience that helps them decide whether to pursue a career in research.” And many do: nearly 45 percent of alumni are still doing research 15 years or more after participating in the scholars or fellows program.
Scholars and fellows who pursue an academic research career have a chance for more HHMI support. Since 2006, former fellows and scholars have been eligible for Early Career Physician-Scientist awards, grants totaling $375,000 over five years. The funds help these researchers set up their labs and commit to science at a vulnerable time in their careers, when many are pushed to abandon research so they can spend more time seeing patients.
More than 50 physician-scientists have received HHMI support through the program. And it appears to be working—among the 2006 award recipients half of them later successfully competed for an RO1 award, the NIH's main research funding vehicle. This year, 11 new early career physician-scientists from seven institutions were chosen, with research interests ranging from cancer to obesity to autoimmune diseases.