Franklin & Marshall College received a four-year, $1.4 million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) in May. It was one of 43 that HHMI awarded nationwide, totaling a combined $50 million, announced by the institute in the spring. It is F&M’s second consecutive successful HHMI grant application and the College’s fourth grant from the institute in the past 15 years. This year, HHMI funded only about a quarter of the 187 proposals it received, and F&M’s grant was among the eight largest.
F&M’s grant will support expansion of the College’s research curriculum and build upon a distinctive and fruitful collaboration with the Clinic for Special Children, a nonprofit medical and diagnostic center for Lancaster County children who have inherited genetic disorders. The clinic, founded by Dr. Holmes Morton and based in Strasburg, Pa., serves Amish and Mennonite families. Because the families are descended from such a small number of Swiss-immigrant founders—between 50 and 200—they are much more likely to inherit recessive diseases than are children outside their closed communities.
F&M has maintained a partnership with the clinic since 2007, but during fall 2010, Associate Professor of Biology Rob Jinks took the partnership to a new level by involving 13 students from his “Neurochemistry” course in the research being conducted at the clinic.
A previous $1.3 million HHMI grant that F&M received in 2008 helped the College establish its program in bioinformatics, the computer-based analysis of biological data sets. Jinks said the latest grant is a validation of the work done by the students and a host of faculty and administrators at F&M, including 2008 grant preparers Richard Fluck, F&M’s Dr. E. Paul and Frances H. Reiff Professor of Biology (emeritus) and former dean of the faculty, and Ryan Sauder, senior director of college grants and foundation and corporate relations. “This grant means we are doing something right in building upon the foundation of our previous three HHMI awards,” Jinks said. “I was ecstatic when I heard the news. We’re all pretty enthusiastic that we can continue to do the things we love to do: work with students, build on our partnership with the clinic, and get students more excited about translational medicine (the bridging of medical research and patient care).”
Erik Puffenberger, laboratory director at the clinic and adjunct associate research professor of biology at F&M, is equally excited to see what the next four years will bring.
“What’s unique here is that the problems the students are working on are human problems,” he said. “It’s very unusual for undergraduates to be working on these types of real, human problems. We are offering something that cannot be found elsewhere. And that is energizing our students.”