Howard Hughes Medical Institute: Grants for Disease

OVERVIEW: "People, not projects" is the mantra for 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: HHMI does not have programs aimed at the study of a specific diseases. Instead, it awards flexible funding grants which allow scientists to explore their research in any manner they see fit, and even change the direction of their research program, if desired. 

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.

The potential applicants for HHMI investigators seem to be drawn from a pool of researchers practicing at large universities and hospitals, such as Duke, Yale, Johns Hopkins, Massachusetts General and Vanderbilt. They're brilliant minds, scientists at the absolute top of their game.

In keeping with its focus on support for researchers, HHMI does not require its investigators to pursue a list of specific diseases, either. In the past, grant recipients have studied cystic fibrosis, colon cancer, HIV, tuberculosis and high blood pressure, among others.  Overall, HHMI “seeks researchers who bring innovative approaches to the study of many different biological problems,” across a number of different biomedical disciplines.

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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