The Howard Hughes Medical Institute will distribute $80 million over the next four years to 30 U.S. medical schools -- including $3.4 million to the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine -- to shore up their research facilities, the institute announced today.
Officials at the Chevy Chase-based research philanthropy intend the money to help support younger faculty members, pilot studies and communication technology.
"Academic medical centers across the country are being squeezed by reductions in patient-care revenues and restrictions on government research spending," Dr. Purnell W. Choppin, the institute's president, said in a written statement. "Even some of the best researchers at these schools are now searching for resources to carry out experiments and advance scientific knowledge."
Medical officials said the move's symbolic importance overshadows its likely impact. Medical research funding would increase this year under proposed federal allocations for the National Institutes of Health, but medical schools linked to hospitals have been battered by the move toward managed care and by government reform in Medicare and Medicaid policy.
"The magnitude of federal support is such that the foundations simply can't step in and pick up whatever slack there is," said Donald N. Langenberg, chancellor of the University of Maryland System. But he added that the contribution was "a very important symbolic act. It does say that basic research in the bio-medical sciences . . . is a terribly important investment in the future of our society and it needs to be continued."
"It says that the institute recognizes that biomedical science needs some core support that will allow many scientists to do their work," said Dr. Daniel Nathans, president of Hopkins.
A Hopkins spokesman said the medical school will use the money to create five faculty positions in basic research, particularly in biological chemistry and pharmacology. Some money also will be used to expand core laboratories and computer systems.
The list of 30 recipients reads like a Who's Who of academic research centers, from Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York City to the University of California at San Francisco. Awards ranged from $550,000 to $1 million annually for four years.
The move comes in addition to Hughes' sponsorship of 280 scientists and research teams at 62 U.S. universities.
The Howard Hughes Institute is the nation's largest private philanthropy. It has awarded $548 million in grants since 1988 to boost science education and biomedical research.