March 31, 2005
Vol. 24 No. 13

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    Pathologist and chemist join HHMI investigators

    By Steve Koppes
    News Office

    Albert Bendelac

    Milan Mrksich

    The Howard Hughes Medical Institute has announced the selection of two University scientists as new HHMI investigators.

    Albert Bendelac, Professor in Pathology, and Milan Mrksich, Professor in Chemistry and the College, are among the 43 investigators nationwide who were selected by the institute in a national competition.

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

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

    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 cell, which is unusual for its targeting of 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.

    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 work in their University laboratories as employees of HHMI, which also will pay for their laboratory space at the University.

    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.

    The aviator-industrialist Howard Hughes established the not-for-profit medical research institute in 1953.

    Headquartered in Chevy Chase, Md., it is one of the largest philanthropies in the world with an endowment of $12.8 billion at the close of its 2004 fiscal year.