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The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) is a United States non-profit medical research institute based in Chevy Chase, Maryland]] and originally founded by the aviator and engineer Howard Hughes in 1953.
As of 2005 it is one of the largest private funding organizations for biological and medical research in the United States. According to the institute's current president, Thomas R. Cech, the HHMI spends about $1 million per investigator per year, which amounts to annual investment in biomedical research of about $483 million. As of September 2005 the endowment of the Institute was valued at approximately $14.8 billion, making it the second-wealthiest philanthropic organization in the United States, behind the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the second best endowed medical research foundation in the world after the United Kingdom's Wellcome Trust.
Initially, the institute was formed with the stated goal of basic research including trying to understand, in Hughes' words, "genesis of life itself". Despite its lofty principles, in the early days it was generally viewed as largely a tax haven for Hughes' huge personal fortune. Hughes was the sole trustee of HHMI and transferred all his stock of Hughes Aircraft to the institute, in effect turning the large defense contractor into a tax-exempt charity. For many years the Institute grappled with maintaining its non-profit status; the Internal Revenue Service challenged its "charitable" status which made it tax exempt. Partly in response to such claims, starting in the late 1950s it began funding 47 investigators researching at eight different institutions; however, it remained a modest enterprise for several decades. In fact it was not until after Hughes' death in 1976 that the Institute's profile increased from an annual budget of $4 million in 1975 to $15 million by 1978. In this period it refocused its mission on genetics, immunology and the rapidly growing field of molecular biology.
Since Hughes died without a will as the sole trustee of the HHMI, the Institute was involved in lengthy court proceedings to determine whether it would benefit from Hughes fortune. In 1984, a court appointed new trustees for the institute's holdings. These trustees sold Hughes Aircraft to General Motors and the $5.2 billion proceeds caused the institute to grow dramatically.
HHMI has recently completed building a new research campus in Ashburn, Virginia called Janelia Farm Research Campus. It is modeled after AT&T's Bell Labs and the Medical Research Council's Laboratory of Molecular Biology.
- Howard Hughes Medical Institute website
- Howard Hughes Medical Institute Online Companion to NOVA scienceNOW
- 60 Minutes news feature "Howard Hughes: Patron Of Science?"
- Janelia Farm Research Campus website
- Howard Hughes Medical Investigators
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