HHMI Funds 28 Young Scientific Stars Abroad

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) today announced the 28 winners of a new $20 million program to jump-start the labs of young biomedical scientists in countries outside of the United States.

The giant biomedical research charity in Chevy Chase, Maryland, created the International Early Career Scientist awards after recognizing that starting a career in science is "even more difficult in other countries" than in the United States, says HHMI President Robert Tjian. The institute invited applications from scientists in 18 countries with an infrastructure to support strong science but inadequate research funding. Applicants must have done graduate or postdoctoral work in the United States and started a lab within the last 7 years. That's because HHMI wants to not only support science globally but also to replenish the "influx of really talented students" who come to the United States, Tjian says.

HHMI received 760 applications and invited 55 to give a 15-minute talk at HHMI's Janelia Farms campus in Virginia last fall. The 28 winners are in fields ranging from virology to plant science. The largest contingent—seven—is from China, followed by Portugal and Spain, each with five winners. One-third of the winners are women.

The researchers will each receive $100,000 a year for 5 years and $150,000 to equip their labs. They will also attend meetings with the 300-some HHMI investigators in the United States. After 5 years, they can apply to renew the awards.

Tjian says he didn't expect southern Europe to sweep up so many awards. But he said it reflects the investments those countries have made in training scientists and building institutes over the past two decades.

Recipient Rui Costa, a neuroscientist at the 1-year-old Champalimaud Centre for the Unknown in Lisbon, agrees that investments by Portugal and neighboring Spain have paid off. "These awards are not a subtle message," he says. "They indicate that we must continuously invest in good people and good science" even in difficult financial times, he says. For details on some of the recipients, see Science Careers on Thursday after 2 p.m.