Yukiko Yamashita named Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator
Yukiko Yamashita of the Life Sciences Institute is one of 27 biomedical researchers named today as Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigators.
HHMI provides flexible support on renewable five-year appointments to allow scientists to move their research in creative new directions. This year, 1,155 applicants applied to be investigators. Those selected represent 19 institutions from across the United States.
Yamashita, a research assistant professor at LSI and assistant professor of cell and developmental biology in the Medical School, joins five other current U-M faculty members — including one from LSI — on the list of HHMI investigators.
A central question fascinates Yamashita: When stem cells divide, what determines which daughter cell will remain a stem cell and which will differentiate into another tissue type?
Maintaining a balance between stem and differentiating cell populations during so-called asymmetrical cell division is critical because an excess of stem cells can lead to cancerous tumor growth, whereas too many differentiated cells can deplete the stem cell pool and reduce the capacity for tissue regeneration.
"I'm looking forward to designing and carrying out experiments that may yield new examples of asymmetrical stem cell division and perhaps finding unexpected links between those divisions and biological process," Yamashita said.
HHMI provides support for approximately 330 Hughes investigators and members of their research teams. Of the current investigators, 164 are members of the National Academy of Sciences and 15 are Nobel laureates.
"HHMI has a very simple mission," said HHMI President Robert Tjian. "We find the best original-thinking scientists and give them the resources to follow their instincts in discovering basic biological processes that may one day lead to better medical outcomes. This is a very talented group of scientists. And while we cannot predict where their research will take them, we're eager to help them move science forward."
Researchers with five to 15 years of experience as faculty members are eligible to apply to the investigator program. HHMI investigators receive salary, benefits, a research budget and funding for other expenses, including research space and the purchase of critical equipment.
Investigator appointments may be renewed for additional five-year terms, contingent on a scientific review.
"When it comes to research, HHMI takes the long view," said Jack Dixon, vice president and chief scientific officer of HHMI and former director of the Life Sciences Institute at U-M.
"You have to have that in basic research because you have no way of knowing if someone's research is going to be transformative 15 to 20 years down the line. We pick the best people we can find and then provide long-term, stable support so they can act quickly on their best research ideas."