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Release: Immediate


Howard Hughes Medical Institute appoints UI researcher as investigator

IOWA CITY, Iowa -- The Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI) has appointed Dr. Val C. Sheffield, associate professor of pediatrics at the University of Iowa College of Medicine, as one of its investigators.

Sheffield's work focuses on the molecular genetics of diseases, especially of hereditary blindness. He was part of a UI research team that recently discovered the gene which, if mutated, causes the most common form of glaucoma, the second leading cause of blindness in the U.S. He also has done extensive research on the genetic basis of a broad range of inherited diseases.

Sheffield is one of 70 scientists nationwide to receive the coveted appointment this year. The appointments are the first to be made since 1994, when 44 investigators joined the HHMI ranks.

"These outstanding scientists are being invited to join one of the most creative and productive groups of researchers in the world," said Dr. Purnell W. Choppin, president of the institute. "Their selection was the result of an intensely competitive process and is a tribute to their ability and promise as research scientists."

Sheffield joins UI researchers Dr. Kevin P. Campbell, professor of physiology and biophysics, and Dr. Michael J. Welsh, professor of internal medicine, as HHMI investigators. Campbell's work focuses on muscular dystrophy, and Welsh's team is investigating cystic fibrosis.

"This appointment is a great honor for Dr. Sheffield and for the University of Iowa and its College of Medicine," said UI President Mary Sue Coleman. "It is a recognition of the excellence of our faculty and of the biomedical research being conducted in our laboratories."

Dr. Robert P. Kelch, dean of the College of Medicine, said Sheffield's appointment will advance the UI's work in both genetics and eye research.

"We are known world-wide for our genetic research and for our Eye Institute," Kelch said. "This is an honor of which the entire state should be proud."

HHMI provides salaries, laboratory space and equipment for its investigators and their research teams.

Sheffield came to the UI in 1990. He holds a bachelor's degree in zoology from Brigham Young University, a master's in developmental biology from BYU, and a doctorate in developmental biology and a medical degree from the University of Chicago. He is the director of the Division of Medical Genetics in the UI department of pediatrics and director of the Interdepartmental Research Program in Human Molecular Genetics.

The Howard Hughes Medical Institute is the largest philanthropic organization in the country with a total endowment of about $9.6 billion. It supports medical research in five scientific areas: cell biology, genetics, immunology, neuroscience and structural biology. Its biomedical research expenditures this year will total about $338 million.

It was founded in 1953 by the wealthy aviator/industrialist to promote basic sciences and the effective application of findings to the benefit of humankind. It supports some 330 investigators at 72 academic medical centers and universities. The institute's headquarters are in Chevy Chase, Md.