December 23, 1999

WORCESTER, Mass. – UMass Medical School (UMMS) will receive a four-year, $1.6 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) to establish and develop a Program in Chemical Biology. According to co-principal investigator Michael Czech, PhD, director of the UMMS Program in Molecular Medicine, the funding will help recruit new faculty, trained in chemistry and medicinal chemistry, as well as purchase core equipment for these chemists to perform their own research.

"Our vision is to apply the power of chemistry to the molecular basis of disease, bringing basic research from the bench to the bedside," Czech said. "We will therefore use these dollars to supplement and complement funds from the Medical School to attract the best and the brightest faculty who can apply their technology to some of the most exciting biological questions."

Czech explained that monies from the grant will also be used to assist the Medical School in establishing the necessary infrastructure to recruit the most talented chemists. Currently, like most medical schools, UMMS does not have a chemistry department; this grant will help build an excellent foundation for future growth in chemical biology at UMMS while moving the Medical School to the forefront of this emerging field of research.

"Providing a state-of-the-art set of instruments that allows chemists to work at the leading edge of their own fields will help the Medical School engage chemistry as a powerful force in pursuit of biomedical science," he added.

According to Medical School Chancellor and Dean Aaron Lazare, MD, this application of funding to an innovative new program that combines basic biomedical research and clinical treatment of patients complements UMMS plans to expand its research capabilities with a $100 million research laboratory building, slated for completion in September 2001. "One key to the Medical School's success has been its ability to retain and recruit leading researchers - researchers who in turn attract external funding," explained Dr. Lazare. "UMMS must continue to retain its current scientists, who are highly sought by other institutions, and also recruit additional faculty investigators." UMass Medical School was one of 41 medical schools chosen to receive the $92 million distributed by HHMI. The new grants bring to $172 million the awards made by HHMI to medical schools for biomedical research since 1995, when the first awards were distributed. At that time, UMMS received a $2.2 million, three-year grant to expand its genetics research and training programs. It also brings to five the number of HHMI grants awarded to the Medical School to date.

"Recognition by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute is another indication of the rising stature of the University of Massachusetts Medical School among the best medical schools in the country," said John Sullivan, MD, director of the Office for Research. "This grant will help us implement our vision of a research enterprise that uses chemical biology to discover abnormal proteins responsible for diseases like cancer, diabetes and Alzheimer's disease, and to develop drugs for the treatment of these disorders." The University of Massachusetts Medical School is one of the fastest growing academic health centers in the country, attracting more than $92 million in research funding annually. A perennial top-ten finisher in the annual US News & World Report ranking of primary care medical schools, UMMS comprises a medical school, graduate school of nursing, graduate school of biomedical sciences and an active research enterprise, and is a leader in health sciences education, research, clinical care and public service. In 1998, the UMMS system of hospitals and clinics merged with Memorial Health Care to form UMass Memorial Health Care, the clinical partner of the University of Massachusetts Medical School.

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