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Venomous cone snail biologist named to Institute of Medicine

Oct. 9, 2006 Baldomero "Toto" Olivera a University of Utah biologist who seeks new medications from the toxins of poisonous cone snails won one of medicine's top honors Monday when he was named as a new member of the Institute of Medicine.

The honor makes Olivera at least the 30th present or former University of Utah researcher to have been elected to membership in one or more of the three groups under the umbrella organization known as the National Academies: the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering and the Institute of Medicine.

"It's great," says Olivera, a distinguished professor of biology. "I'm a basic researcher, so it was both unexpected and gratifying for our basic research to have medical applications. We certainly didn't expect that when we got started. We just wanted to understand why cone snails were capable of killing people in certain circumstances. We never dreamt at the time it would have some direct medical application. I'm very, very pleased."

Olivera was among 65 new members and five foreign associates elected to the Institute of Medicine, the organization announced Monday.

"It is a great pleasure to welcome these distinguished and influential individuals," said Institute of Medicine President Harvey V. Fineberg. "Members are elected through a highly selective process that recognizes people who have made major contributions to the advancement of the medical sciences, health care and public health. Election is considered one of the highest honors in the fields of medicine and health."

Election to the institute is Olivera's second big honor this year. In April, he won a four-year, $1 million award as one of 20 new "Million-Dollar Professors" named by the Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

Olivera grew up in the Philippines, where cone snails were sold in seafood markets and where fishermen occasional
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