WHITEHEAD INSTITUTE DIRECTOR DAVID C. PAGE
David Page understands what Whitehead can do for talented young scientists. He arrived here in 1984 as the Institute’s first Whitehead Fellow. A graduate of Harvard Medical School, he established an independent research program with Whitehead funds and began publishing groundbreaking studies on the Y chromosome.
After becoming a Whitehead Member in 1986, Page continued to make important discoveries about sex determination. He was appointed a Howard Hughes Medical Institute investigator and elected a member of the National Academy of Sciences and the Institute of Medicine. He also received the MacArthur Foundation Prize Fellowship (1986), the Searle Scholar’s Award (1989), the Amory Prize from the American Academy of Arts and Sciences (1997), and the Curt Stern Award from the American Society of Human Genetics (2003). His scientific prowess and thoughtful nature made him an ideal candidate to assume Whitehead’s directorship. After a year of interim service in the post, he was officially elected Director in December 2005.
MESSAGE FROM THE DIRECTOR
“We don’t know what we don’t know.” This truism-cum-cliché reminds us how far we have to go.
Yet, outside the realms of science and medicine, there is a growing sense that scientists and physicians collectively know, or imminently will learn, everything about the physical world and the human body; that the era of discovery is ending and the time has come to focus on practical application of basic knowledge. It’s a falsehood, of course, but such thinking has surfaced throughout history—following the charting of new territories by the great explorers in the 15th and 16th centuries, Jenner’s experiments with smallpox vaccination in the 18th century, or Roentgen’s discovery of the X-ray in the 19th century. Fortunately for humanity, these great investigators and those who have followed never stopped seeking fundamental scientific truths in the wake of successes.
Today, we avail ourselves of extraordinary technologies that allow us to probe and expand our base of biological knowledge in ways once unimaginable. Our grasp of biology has never been stronger, our technical capacity never deeper. Thus, in our impatience for medical progress, it is tempting to hit the fast-forward button, not knowing what we’re sacrificing by perhaps skipping a basic step or two. But shortcuts often lead to dead ends.
Whitehead Institute was founded on the belief that basic biomedical research offers our best hope for improving human health. While on occasion we may have been poorly served by unfortunate semantics—as our research is anything but basic—our faculty, their laboratories, and the scientists expertly trained in them have contributed some of the most important advances in their fields. That’s why we’re here: to deliver fundamental understandings that eventually lead to the therapeutic breakthroughs and cures society so desperately needs.
Because our commitment to basic science remains firm, I am heartened by the thematic query posed in our recent annual report: “Why not?” It is an exhortation to our scientists, a rejoinder to skeptics, and a reminder of the risk-taking approach that has made Whitehead Institute so successful. It’s truly gratifying that our faculty, staff, friends, and supporters join me so enthusiastically in calling the question.
David C. Page
Whitehead Institute Director David C. Page