Published: May 8, 2000

University of Colorado at Boulder Associate Professor Kristi Anseth has been named an investigator by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, bringing the number of the prestigious appointments on the Boulder campus to four.

Anseth is a faculty member in the chemical engineering department and the first engineer in the nation to be named a Hughes Investigator. Forty-eight new investigator appointments made in 2000 by the Chevy Chase, Md.,-based Hughes Institute brings the total number of Hughes investigators to 353 at 72 medical schools, universities and research institutes nationwide.

Anseth and her research team have developed new techniques and materials that show promise for faster healing of severe bone fractures and the regeneration of cartilage in ailing joints. The process involves the use of ultraviolet light to create repeating chains of complex molecules called polymers into three-dimensional "scaffolds" that can be implanted into areas of bone or cartilage injury.

Although the process has been used in fields like fiber optics, this is the first application of photopolymerization for medical bone and joint problems. Anseth joins chemistry and biochemistry Associate Professor Natalie Ahn, MCD biology Associate Professor Robert Boswell and MCD biology assistant Professor Min Han as HHMI investigators on the CU-Boulder campus. The other three Hughes investigators in Colorado are James Maller of the CU Health Sciences Center and John Kappler and Philippa Marrick of Denver's National Jewish Center for Immunology and Respiratory Medicine.

HHMI spends between $500,000 and $1 million annually for each of its new investigators, including support to the host institutions for graduate training, library resources and other needs. Thomas Cech, a distinguished professor at CU, was an HHMI investigator from 1988 until January 2000, when he was named president of HHMI.

"These new investigators are an incredibly talented group who have begun to make their mark on biomedical research," said Cech. "We were looking for researchers who explore big questions and take risks - people with that special quality that leads to scientific breakthroughs and medical advances."

Hughes investigators conduct basic biomedical research in cell biology and regulation, genetics, immunology, neuroscience and structural biology. In recent years, Hughes investigators have made significant discoveries related to heart disease, cancer, AIDS, tuberculosis, obesity and many other medical problems.

"The appointment of Professor Anseth as a Howard Hughes Medical Investigator underscores the growing national stature enjoyed by our faculty and university," said CU-Boulder Chancellor Richard Byyny. "We certainly are pleased that the Howard Hughes Medical Institute has recognized the challenging work of Professor Anseth and the other Hughes Investigators on campus."

The Institute is a medical research organization that enters into long-term research collaboration agreements with universities and other academic research organizations, where its investigators hold academic appointments. Under the research agreements, HHMI investigators and their teams, who are employees of HHMI, carry out research with considerable freedom and flexibility.

The Institute's endowment is about $13 billion and its total budget for the current fiscal year exceeds $600 million. In addition, HHMI will spend more than $105 million this year on its grants program, which focuses on science education, including $3.8 million to CU-Boulder since 1989 to enhance undergraduate and K-12 programs in biomedical education.