CWRU med school snares $3 million Howard Hughes Institute grant to build structural biology program

December 28, 1999

One of the nation's largest philanthropies and a leading supporter of medical research has awarded Case Western Reserve University's School of Medicine a $3 million, four-year grant to boost its recruitment efforts for new research faculty.

The grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), located in Chevy Chase, Maryland, will allow the medical school to support a major initiative in structural biology which will serve as a crucial underpinning for development of its research programs in the next century.

The structural biology field is emerging with a set of powerful tools, such as nuclear magnetic resonance and x- ray crystallography, for studying biologic and disease processes at the molecular level.

With the grant, the medical school will recruit four researchers in the area of structural biology to work under the direction of Michael Weiss, a leading authority in the field and the new chair of biochemistry at CWRU.

As the Human Genome Project's initial phase nears completion and provides a map of all human genes, structural biologists will work to unravel the steps that occur on a molecular level that lead from genes to proteins, to cells, to organisms and disease. Their work will have broad applications in diabetes, cancer, aging, and human development.

In addition, two researchers will be recruited into the Department of Genetics, chaired by Huntington F. Willard III. With one of the strongest genetic departments in the nation, the School of Medicine is well-poised to gain a greater understanding of genes in complex biological processes in health and disease.

Two researchers will also be recruited in the Department of Neurosciences, chaired by Lynn Landmesser, a well-recognized leader in developmental neuroscience. The School of Medicine has committed to move the department into a new level of excellence and will seek to take advantage of the power of genetics for understanding the nervous system.

"The recruitment of new research faculty is part of our bold new initiative to significantly expand and enhance the medical school's research enterprise by building on recent accomplishments in basic and clinical science," said Nathan A. Berger, dean of the School of Medicine and vice president for medical affairs. "With HHMI's support, we will be able to recruit faculty who are at the beginning of their careers and help them develop research projects that will then have the potential for scientific breakthroughs and cures for disease."

Berger said the HHMI grant represents an important step in realizing the goal articulated at the October announcement of the School of Medicine's $300 million campaign to support education and research. At the time, Berger said that he wished to recruit 125 new research faculty members.

"It is the support of organizations like the HHMI, as well as generous individuals and taxpayers through the National Institutes of Health, that make our nation's medical research system the best in the world," he said.

The medical school's grant was one of the larger grants which HHMI announced December 15 to help 41 U.S. medical schools find new ways to combine basic biomedical research and clinical treatment of patients.

The awards, chosen from 105 proposals, are the second in a series of HHMI grants to medical schools to help strengthen their ability to do research at a time when managed care and other changes in traditional funding present challenges to that important role.

In this series of grants, HHMI awarded a total of $92 million, with grants ranging from $1.6 million to $4 million.

Founded in 1953 by the late aviator-industrialist Howard R. Hughes Jr., the institute has an endowment valued at more than $11 billion.

More than 320 Hughes investigators, including Sanford Markowitz at the CWRU School of Medicine, conduct medical research with HHMI support.

Markowitz represents the kind of potential that the medical school will seek in new researchers. He was recruited in 1987 by Berger and CWRU as a junior faculty member and today is a well-established researcher whose work is supported by multi-million-dollar NIH grants. He is the co- discover of a gene defect that causes cancer on the right side of the colon.

Case Western Reserve University

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