The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) announced today that 27 of the nation’s top biomedical researchers will become HHMI investigators and will receive the flexible support necessary to move their research in creative new directions. The initiative represents an investment in basic biomedical research of approximately $150 million over the next five years.
The scientists represent 19 institutions from across the United States, including one—the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California—that is adding an HHMI investigator for the first time. The new group of HHMI investigators—which includes 10 current HHMI Early Career Scientists—were selected for their individual scientific excellence from a group of 1,155 applicants.
“HHMI has a very simple mission,” says HHMI President Robert Tjian. “We find the best original-thinking scientists and give them the resources to follow their instincts in discovering basic biological processes that may one day lead to better medical outcomes. This is a very talented group of scientists. And while we cannot predict where their research will take them, we’re eager to help them move science forward.”
HHMI will provide each investigator with his or her full salary, benefits, and a research budget over their initial five-year appointment. The Institute will also cover other expenses, including research space and the purchase of critical equipment. Their appointment may be renewed for additional five-year terms, each contingent on a successful scientific review.
The new investigators represent a variety of disciplines, including biochemistry, biophysics, cell biology, computational biology, experimental evolutionary biology, immunology, molecular biology, and neuroscience. Some of the questions they are asking include:
- How do viruses that live within the human body affect the immune system?
- What is the relationship between cells’ resistance to degeneration and their susceptibility to cancer?
- How do songbirds learn how to sing?
- Can we identify new proteins that help neurons survive or fend off damage?
- What enables some animals to regenerate lost tissue and body parts?
- How do cells sense mechanical forces such as pressure or stretching?
- What can studies of ancient DNA teach us about human evolutionary history?
HHMI encourages its investigators to push their research fields into new areas of inquiry. By employing scientists as HHMI investigators—rather than awarding them research grants—the Institute is guided by the principle of “people, not projects.” HHMI investigators have the freedom to explore and, if necessary, to change direction in their research. Moreover, they have support to follow their ideas through to fruition—even if that process takes many years.
“When it comes to research, HHMI takes the long view,” said Jack E. Dixon, vice president and chief scientific officer. “You have to have that in basic research because you have no way of knowing if someone’s research is going to be transformative 15-20 years down the line. We pick the best people we can find and then provide long-term, stable support so they can act quickly on their best research ideas.”
Mid-career researchers with 5 to 15 years of experience as faculty members at more than 200 institutions were eligible to apply. Applications from the 1,155 applicants were evaluated by distinguished biomedical researchers, who narrowed the field to 59 semifinalists. The semifinalists attended a scientific symposium at HHMI’s Janelia Farm Research Campus in April 2013 and presented a brief research talk to members of the review panel. The 27 new HHMI investigators were selected shortly after the scientific symposium.
Through its flagship HHMI Investigator Program, the Institute has joined with more than 70 distinguished U.S. universities, hospitals, institutes, and medical schools to create an environment that provides flexible, long-term support for approximately 330 Hughes investigators and members of their research teams. HHMI investigators are widely recognized for their creativity and research accomplishments: More than 160 HHMI investigators are members of the National Academy of Sciences and there are currently 15 Nobel laureates within the investigator community.
The new HHMI investigators will begin their appointments in September 2013.
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute
The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is committed to advancing basic biomedical research and science education for the benefit of humanity. Its scientists, located across the country and around the world, have made important discoveries that advance our fundamental understanding of biology. In a complementary program at HHMI’s Janelia Farm Research Campus in Loudoun County, Virginia, leading scientists are pursuing long-term, high-risk, high-reward research in a campus designed to bring together researchers from disparate disciplines. The Institute also aims to transform science education into a creative, interdisciplinary endeavor that reflects the excitement of real research. For more information, visit www.hhmi.org.
During fiscal year 2012, the Institute made disbursements of $919 million, including $800 million for biomedical research and $119 million in grants to support science education and international science. The Institute’s endowment at the close of fiscal year 2012 stood at about $16.1 billion. HHMI’s headquarters are located in Chevy Chase, Maryland, just outside Washington, D.C.