CHEVY CHASE, MD.--What's it like to lead the largest private supporter of basic biomedical research in the nation? "Very stimulating," replies Thomas R. Cech with a wry smile. "Sometimes I have trouble sleeping at night because it's so intense."
Last January, Cech (pronounced "check") became president of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute (HHMI), which spends more money on fundamental biomedical science than any other organization in the U.S. besides the federal government. In his post, he commands a research enterprise that includes a select group of 350 scientists sprinkled across the country who are generally considered to be the cr¿me de la cr¿me in their respective fields. He also oversees the distribution of millions of dollars every year in grants, primarily for science education at levels ranging from elementary school to postdoctoral training. Those two responsibilities, plus his own notable scientific findings, arguably make Cech one of the most preeminent people in biomedicine today.