Allen Distinguished Investigators named Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators

May 31, 2018

Two Allen Distinguished Investigators are among the 19 new scientists appointed to the Howard Hughes Medical Institute in 2018. Ed Boyden, Ph.D., and Feng Zhang, Ph.D., both faculty members at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, will receive approximately $8 million in research funding over seven years, the HHMI announced last week.  

Unlike federal grants, which traditionally usually support specific research projects, HHMI funds its investigators' overall work, giving them the flexibility to pursue untested ideas.

Because HHMI funding can be used to drive risky but innovative research, it has parallels to the goals of The Paul G. Allen Frontiers Group, said Kathy Richmond, Ph.D., assistant director of the Frontiers Group.

"At the Frontiers Group, we know that transformative scientific advances can come from funding creative, early-stage research," Richmond said. "We're so proud of our investigators who are making waves in their fields - and being recognized for their incredible achievements."

Both Boyden and Zhang have created new scientific techniques that are now broadly used in research labs. The two were both involved in the development of optogenetics, a research approach that uses light to specifically manipulate and study neurons in a living system. Zhang also discovered how to apply the CRISPR-Cas9 bacterial gene editing tool to mammalian cells, spurring its widespread use across a variety of biomedical research projects. 

Boyden was named an ADI in 2010 to develop a system to study neural activity through the entire brain in three dimensions with high precision. Zhang was awarded the ADI title in 2015 to apply genome engineering to better understand how different neuronal cells develop their unique identities.