CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (CBS19 NEWS) -- University of Virginia School of Medicine Professor Dr. Jochen Zimmer has been awarded $9 million from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

The HHMI is the largest private biomedical research institution in the nation.

Zimmer studies how cells work and how they form certain structures. He will use the funding over a seven-year term while he is an HHMI Investigator.

The money can be used for any scientific research or projects. Zimmer says the money will go toward current projects like how plants produce cell walls and how bacteria produce bio-foams, which are responsible for hospital infections.

He says he couldn't have earned this honor if it wasn't for the people with whom he works.

"It's a great opportunity. I really consider this award and recognition what the lab, as a group, has achieved,” Zimmer said.

Zimmer says the lab's research could help fight diseases, hunger and reduce the effects of climate change in the future.

Researchers who achieve this honor have a great chance of winning a Nobel Prize, as 32 current or former HHMI Investigators have won one during their tenures.

Zimmer is one of 33 scientists from across the country to be selected. There were 800 applicants.

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