Jack Whitehead and David Baltimore

Jack Whitehead (left) and David Baltimore laid the foundation for the Institute's success.


For more than a decade, businessman and philanthropist Edwin C. “Jack” Whitehead was driven by a single vision: to establish a world-renowned, self-governed research institute dedicated to improving human health through basic biomedical science. He scoured the country for potential partners, believing the institute should be affiliated with a leading research university. Eventually he contacted MIT professor and Nobel laureate David Baltimore.

The two worked with university faculty and forward-thinking administrators to create the basic structure for this new kind of research center. In 1982, they reached an agreement with MIT. Initial faculty were culled from MIT’s biology department and maintained joint status with MIT. Jack Whitehead provided $35 million to construct and equip a new building, as well as $5 million per year in guaranteed income and a substantial endowment in his will (for a total gift of $135 million). When scientists moved into Nine Cambridge Center in the summer of 1984, Whitehead Institute was already a thriving research establishment.

In 1990, the Institute for Scientific Information in Philadelphia identified Whitehead as the top research institution in the world in molecular biology and genetics based on the impact of its scientific publications. With fewer than 20 Members and Fellows, Whitehead Institute emerged as a major force in fields ranging from cancer research to transgenic science. Whitehead scientists shaped the emerging field of genomics by making the single largest contribution to the Human Genome Project.

Faculty and Fellows continue to push the envelope of science into new areas. Currently, they are mapping stem cell circuitry, investigating protein-folding problems, probing newly discovered RNAs and more. These and other findings solidify the Institute’s reputation as a powerhouse of biological discovery.

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