Howard Hughes Medical Institute: Grants for Brain Research and Treatment

OVERVIEW: "People, not projects" is the key mantra with Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). That means brilliant scientists doing brilliant things will attract the money, and be able to keep it even if they change course mid-research.

IP TAKE: Many of the HHMI's investigators are researching topics that involve both neuroscience and genetics—a sort of Renaissance model of scientific inquiry that reverberates throughout HHMI's other initiatives.

PROFILE: Before you can receive an HHMI grant, you must first become an HHMI investigator. This group includes more than 300 members nationwide. HHMI solicits applications from individual researchers, medical institutions and universities around the country, seeking scientists eager to become HHMI investigators through its open competition process.

This competitive process may be a bit more involved than at other grantmaking foundations, but at HHMI, it's worth it. Not to mention, once appointed, investigators hold their seat at HHMI for five years.

HHMI grants are awarded to fund the study of a number of different brain and mental health-related disorders, including underlying neurodegeneration, molecular neuro-oncology and developmental brain disorders. HHMI awards flexible funding grants that allow scientists to explore their research in any manner they see fit, even enabling them to change the direction of their research, if need be.

The majority of the institute's current neuroscience investigators work in genetics, and many of them study neurodevelopment. Other areas of interest include neurological diseases, gene expression, sensory neurobiology and systems neuroscience. Most of the neuroscience researchers hail from California, Massachusetts and New York, with scientists from those three states making up more than half the group.

Applicants must hold a PhD or MD, and have between 5 and 15 years professional experience. HHMI will rarely, if ever, fund unsolicited proposals and does not encourage their submission.

HHMI does have several open competitions for fellowships for students and postdocs. These include:

  • Hanna H. Grey Fellows Program - This program funds postdoctoral scholars in the life sciences from underrepresented communities. Fellows receive $80,000 per year for up to four years.
  • Exceptional Research Opportunities Program - This program provides undergraduate students from disadvantaged backgrounds ten weeks of full-time mentored research in an HHMI scientist's lab. A $5,000 stipend is also provided.
  • Medical Research Fellows Program - This program provides a year of full-time mentored research training to students with demonstrated interest in the biomedical sciences but who have not yet enrolled in a PhD or MD program. It includes a $32,000 stipend and benefits allowances.

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