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Thursday, April 12, 2007

HHMI opens competition for 50 scientists and $600m

At at time when federal funding for scientific research is harder to come by, the Howard Hughes Medical Institute is opening up a competition today to select 50 new investigators who will share $600 million for biomedical research.

For the first time scientists can apply directly to become HHMI investigators rather than needing their institutions to nominate them.

The researchers must belong to eligible institutions. In Massachusetts, 10 qualify: Boston Biomedical Research Institute, Boston College, Boston University, Brandeis University, Harvard Medical School and associated hospitals, Harvard University, the Marine Biological Laboratory, MIT, Tufts University School of Medicine, and the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

The competition comes at a time when funding from the National Institutes of Health, which is based on individual grant proposals, is declining, when inflation is taken into account. Established researchers worry about sustaining their work while younger investigators are taking longer to win approval for their first grant applications.

HHMI, which has spent $8.3 billion over 20 years on biomedical research and science education, won’t be filling that gap, senior scientific officer Dr. Josephine Briggs said in an interview yesterday.

"Our resources are very sizable, but they do not in any way compensate for the problem of the shrinking NIH budget," she said. "The support that Hughes is able to offer is something that the scientific community will of course welcome with delight, but at the same time all of us hope we can see a reversal in the decline in federal funding."

HHMI holds competitions every three or four years. This time, it's looking for people in the earlier stages of their careers, Briggs said.

HHMI investigators receive initial five-year appointments that come with support for their own salaries as well as flexible budgets they can use to pay for personnel and some equipment. Appointments can be renewed.

To be eligible to apply, a candidate must hold a Ph.D., M.D. or equivalent degree; have a tenured or tenure-track position as assistant professor or higher at one of about 200 eligible host institutions; and be the principal investigator on one or more active, national, peer-reviewed research grants at least three years long, such as an NIH R01 award.

The deadline for applications is June 13; expert panels will convene to review them in January, and decisions will be made in March.

"The charge is that they be addressing fundamental and important biological questions. It can be for any discipline, and in this new competition we hope to see chemists, mathematicians, engineers and anybody who’s doing something truly special in addressing biological questions," Briggs said.

"We expect a very hefty Boston response."

Posted by Elizabeth Cooney at 08:10 AM
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