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Howard Hughes Medical Institute

From Academic Kids

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) is a United States non-profit medical research institute based in Chevy Chase, Maryland and originally founded by the aviator and engineer Howard Hughes in 1953.

As of 2003 it is one of the largest private funding organizations for biological and medical research in the United States. According to the institute's current president, Thomas R. Cech, the HHMI spends about $1 million per investigator per year, which amounts to annual expenditure of about $450 million. As of early 2002 the endowment of the Institute was valued at approximately $11 billion, making it the second-largest philanthropic organizations in the country, behind the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

Initially, the institute was formed with the stated goal of basic research including trying to understand, in Hughes' words, "genesis of life itself". Despite its lofty principles, in the early days it was generally viewed as largely a tax haven for Hughes' huge personal fortune. Hughes was the sole trustee of HHMI and transferred all his stock of Hughes Aircraft to the institute, in effect turning the large defense contractor into a tax-exempt charity. For many years the Institute grappled with maintaining its non-profit status; the Internal Revenue Service challenged its "charitable" status which made it tax exempt. Partly in response to such claims, starting in the late 1950s it began funding 47 investigators researching at eight different institutions; however, it remained a modest enterprise for several decades. In fact it was not until after Hughes' death in 1976 that the Institute's profile increased from an annual budget of $4 million in 1975 to $15 million by 1978. In this period it refocused its mission on genetics, immunology and the rapidly growing field of molecular biology.

Since Hughes died without a will as the sole trustee of the HHMI, the Institute was involved in lengthy court proceedings to determine whether it would benefit from Hughes fortune. In 1984, a court appointed new trustees for the institute's holdings. These trustees sold Hughes Aircraft to General Motors and the $5.2 billion proceeds caused the institute to grow dramatically.

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