U of M molecular biologist selected as HHMI investigator

Reuben Harris, Ph.D, was selected by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) as an HHMI Investigator and will receive the flexible support necessary to progress his research in creative new directions.

Harris is a professor of Biochemistry, Molecular Biology and Biophysics in the College of Biological Sciences, associate director of the Institute for Molecular Virology and a member of the Masonic Cancer Center, University of Minnesota. Harris studies the physiological and pathological functions of a family of DNA-mutating enzymes known as “APOBECs,” and his work illuminates the role that these DNA-mutating enzymes play in boosting the effectiveness of immune responses, as well as spurring the growth of cancer cells. The Harris lab will continue to pursue answers to important questions in these areas.

HHMI will provide Harris a full salary, benefits and a research budget over his initial five-year appointment. The Institute will also cover other expenses, including research space and the purchase of critical equipment. Harris’ appointment may be renewed for additional five-year terms, each contingent on a successful scientific review.

“The most important factor in meaningful science is flexibility. I’m thrilled to have HHMI support because it will enable my lab to push current frontiers and explore new paths that are not yet visible,” said Harris. “For instance, we have discovered that at least one of these enzymes promotes tumor evolution, and we are extremely excited about dissecting the underlying mechanism and leveraging this knowledge to improve cancer therapies.”

The Institute selected 26 scientists based on their individual scientific excellence that represent 19 institutions across the United States out of a pool of 894 applicants. The HHMI initiative represents an investment in basic biomedical research of $153 million over the next five years. HHMI encourages its investigators to push their research fields into new areas of inquiry and gives investigators the freedom to explore and, if necessary, to change direction in their research. Moreover, they have support to follow their ideas through to fruition — even if that process takes many years.

Through its flagship HHMI Investigator Program, the Institute has joined with more than 70 distinguished U.S. universities, hospitals, institutes, and medical schools to create an environment that provides flexible, long-term support for approximately 330 Hughes investigators and members of their research teams. HHMI investigators are widely recognized for their creativity and research accomplishments. There are currently 182 HHMI investigators who are members of the National Academy of Sciences and 17 Nobel laureates within the investigator community.

Harris will begin his appointment in September 2015.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is committed to advancing basic biomedical research and science education for the benefit of humanity. Its scientists, located across the country and around the world, have made important discoveries that advance our fundamental understanding of biology. In a complementary program at HHMI's Janelia Research Campus in Ashburn, Virginia, leading scientists are pursuing long-term, high-risk, high-reward research in a campus designed to bring together researchers from disparate disciplines. The Institute also aims to transform science education into a creative, interdisciplinary endeavor that reflects the excitement of real research. For more information, visit www.hhmi.org.

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