A little more than 50 years ago, Howard R. Hughes and a cadre of advisors conceived the idea for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI). In creating the Institute, Hughes made certain that its aspirations were bold — its purpose, he said, was "to probe the genesis of life itself."
The promise embodied by Hughes's sweeping statement took decades to be fully realized, decades of challenge and risk for a philanthropy that has evolved in ways Hughes might never have imagined. Today, HHMI is a recognized leader in biomedical research. Discoveries made in HHMI laboratories are fundamentally changing the way we view the world. Ideas born in Hughes laboratories are also improving the understanding of some of society's most vexing health problems, including AIDS, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
At HHMI, the engines of discovery are powered by more than 300 HHMI investigators who direct Institute research laboratories on the campuses of universities and other research organizations throughout the United States.
By appointing scientists as Hughes investigators — rather than awarding research grants — HHMI is guided by the principle of "people, not projects." The Institute solicits nominations from these institutions, with the aim of identifying researchers who have the potential to make significant contributions to science. Since the early 1990s, investigators have been selected through rigorous national competitions. Once selected, they continue to be based at their institutions, typically leading a research group of 10-25 students, postdoctoral associates and technicians, but become Institute employees and are supported by field staff throughout the country.
HHMI values innovation and encourages its investigators to extend the boundaries of science. 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 a very long time.
The Institute also supports scientists through its grants programs. The HHMI professors are a group of researchers with a passion for teaching. They are using their HHMI grants to develop innovative methods of communicating the beauty of science to undergraduate students. In addition, HHMI supports a select group of international research scholars who hail from institutions and universities all over the globe. These scholars are expanding research in countries where funds may be limited.