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What is the Howard Hughes Medical Institute?

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  • Written By: M. McGew
  • Edited By: A. Joseph
  • Last Modified Date: 06 November 2016
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The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) is a nonprofit medical research organization dedicated to biomedical research and education. The institute is one of the largest philanthropic organizations in the United States, and it typically distributes hundreds of millions of US Dollars (USD) each year to support scientific research. Its mission is to bring humankind closer to understanding fundamental questions about life.

Born in 1905, Howard Hughes was considered a brilliant and eccentric man, and he became a billionaire. He took a modest inheritance and turned his own company, Hughes Aircraft Company, into one of the United States' largest defense contractors. His crowing achievement was establishing the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, which is based in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

Hughes founded the institute in 1953 and charted the organization with specific fields of biomedical research that would be supported by the it. The initial areas of focus included genetics, cell biology, structural biology, neuroscience, and immunology. In 1987, the institute became the largest private organization dedicated to improving science education in the U.S. It has continued to expand and has begun to include studies in transformational scientific programs.

One of the primary missions of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute is to provide grants to individuals and institutions in the scientific community. The goal of these grants is to change the way scientific research is conducted and science is taught and understood. Since 1988, the institute has awarded more than $1.4 billion USD in grants.

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Its other primary mission is to push the boundaries of scientific research in various areas, including the study of diseases such as tuberculosis (TB) and of the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Programs established by the institute include the Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators, Early Career Scientists, the Janelia Farm Research Campus, the Collaborative Innovation Awards, the International TB/HIV Initiative, and the International Research Scholars.

The Investigators program is the institute's flagship biomedical research program, and several hundred full-time investigators are employed by it. Each is tasked with developing a specific biomedical research program. The investigators have included more than a dozen Nobel Prize winners.

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