From the Director


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. 



Where safety doesn’t always come first

Four years ago, we concluded an exhaustive search for new junior faculty members by hiring two exceptional young scientists: Piyush Gupta and Mary Gehring. One could certainly have predicted that we would select individuals of their caliber, but what surprised many in the greater scientific community is that Mary just happens to be a plant biologist.

Whitehead Institute hadn’t been a major player in plant biology in more than a decade. In fact, at the time of our search, we were considering converting the empty greenhouse on our seventh floor into new lab or core facility space. And yet, in Mary and her proposed research program, we saw an opportunity for our Institute that, though seemingly unorthodox, could not be missed. Knowing that Mary’s work in epigenetic reprogramming in Arabidopsis thaliana has implications far beyond the plant world, we were convinced that we had placed the right bet. Within a year of her start here, Mary was named a Pew Scholar in the Biomedical Sciences, receiving four years of funding from a prestigious program that supports risk-taking research by creative young investigators. Apparently we weren’t alone in our assessment.

This past year, we did it again, welcoming plant biologist Jing-Ke Weng as our newest junior faculty member. Jing-Ke, who can also be described as a natural products chemist, is studying how certain plant-derived products can be effective in treating human diseases. It’s a somewhat unexpected approach, but the Pew Charitable Trusts has high expectations and, accordingly, has now named Jing-Ke a Pew Scholar as well.

Throughout 2013, Whitehead scientists at very different stages of their careers saw this kind of embrace of the unconventional validated in meaningful ways. Our two newest Whitehead Fellows, Sebastian Lourido and David Pincus each received a National Institutes of Health (NIH) Director’s Early Independence Award (EIA), aimed at accelerating the careers of exceptionally creative junior scientists. (It’s worth adding that Whitehead Fellow Gabriel Victora was an EIA recipient in 2012.) The EIA is a part of the so-called High Risk–High Reward program supported by the NIH Common Fund.

In the meantime, Whitehead Founding Member Bob Weinberg received an inaugural Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. Sponsored by a group of entrepreneurs that includes Google co-founder Sergey Brin and personal genetics information pioneer Anne Wojcicki, the prize recognizes research excellence. As Wojcicki put it: “We are thrilled to support scientists who think big, take risks and have made a significant impact on our lives.”

Is there a pattern here? Absolutely, and it’s one that mirrors this report’s theme: “Not safe. Not sorry.” We have never played it safe here, and, given our track record of scientific achievement, we’re certainly not sorry. We are, however, exceedingly grateful to our friends, faculty, staff, and supporters for helping us live this philosophy daily.

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David C. Page


Director David Page

Whitehead Institute Director David C. Page

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