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Howard Hughes Medical Institute commits support to two University of Chicago scientists

March 21, 2005

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute today announced the selection of two University of Chicago scientists as new HHMI investigators. Albert Bendelac, Professor in Pathology, and Milan Mrksich, Professor in Chemistry, are among 43 investigators nationwide chosen by HHMI in a national competition.

“We are committed to providing these scientists—and the nearly 300 scientists who are already part of HHMI—with the freedom and flexibility they need in order to make lasting contributions to mankind,” said Thomas R. Cech, HHMI’s president. “We want and expect them to be daring.”

Bendelac and Mrksich bring to eight the total number of HHMI investigators at the University of Chicago.

Albert Bendelac Albert Bendelac, MD, PhD

At a relatively young age, Bendelac made a discovery that caused a stir among immunologists around the world. He characterized a type of T cell, called a natural killer T (NKT) cell, which is unusual because it targets lipids instead of proteins. His findings pointed to a new role for T cells--one indicating that NKT cells serve as a bridge between innate and adaptive immunity.

Bendelac received his M.D. and his Ph.D. in immunology from the University of Paris VI.

Milan Mrksich Milan Mrksich, PhD

Mrksich is considered a world leader in the realm of engineering the interface between cells and surfaces. As a postdoctoral fellow, he helped transform an inexpensive process for making computer microchips into a method to control the shape, position and function of living cells. This method was used to gain insight into how mammalian cells decide to grow, differentiate, move or die.

Mrksich received a B.S. in chemistry from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a Ph.D. in chemistry from the California Institute of Technology.

As HHMI investigators, Bendelac and Mrksich will continue to be based at the University of Chicago, but will become HHMI employees. The institute also will pay the University for their laboratory space. Their five-year appointments will enable Bendelac and Mrksich to receive long-term funding with no requirement of annual reports or grant renewals. Investigators are thus free to follow their scientific instincts and to pursue new opportunities as soon as they arise.

A non-profit medical research organization, HHMI was established in 1953 by the aviator-industrialist. The Institute, headquartered in Chevy Chase, Md., is one of the largest philanthropies in the world with an endowment of $12.8 billion at the close of its 2004 fiscal year.

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