David Baltimore (1982–1990)
As the first director of Whitehead, Nobel laureate David Baltimore initially worked from temporary quarters at MIT, gathering faculty and laying a foundation for the future. The first four recruits remained at their respective institutions until the new Whitehead building opened in 1984. These Founding Members helped Baltimore design an environment that would foster creativity and collaboration.
When the new building opened, the Institute was already a thriving research establishment. Scientific papers from Whitehead laboratories appeared with ever-increasing frequency in the world's leading biomedical research journals. By 1990, Jack Whitehead's dream had become a reality. The Whitehead Institute was a major force for change and innovation in biomedical research.
The next challenge was to make the transition from a novel experiment in American science to a fully mature research institution.
Gerald R. Fink (1990-2001)
Gerald R. Fink, who succeeded Baltimore as director in 1990, met this challenge with a strategic plan designed to respond to dramatic shifts in the practice of biomedical science and a broad outreach effort to create a new constituency for the Institute.
“Biology experienced unexpected challenges in the 1980s,” Fink explains. “Outbreaks of new infectious diseases, the emergence of structural biology, and the leap forward in human and mouse genetics had created urgent needs for new space and facilities at research institutions around the world. At the same time, science funding was changing. One of the reasons behind the meteoric rise of the Whitehead was its ability to support new ideas at the very earliest stage of development—taking a chance on brilliant young scientists eager to extend the boundaries of their chosen fields. We knew that maintaining this entrepreneurial spirit would require new funding sources, people who understood the mission of the Institute and shared our goals.”
Plans emerged for a state-of-the-art research wing with expanded biologic containment laboratories for research on HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis, common fungal diseases and bacterial infections; a Center for Structural Biology; a Center for Genome Research; an expanded animal facility for transgenic science; and increased space for young Whitehead faculty who were rapidly becoming leaders in their respective fields.
Susan L. Lindquist (2001–2004)
When Susan L. Lindquist took the helm, Whitehead was in a state of flux. During the late 1990s, the Institute had received massive grants from the National Institutes of Health to participate in the Human Genome Project. The annual operating budget of the Whitehead/MIT Center for Genome Research climbed to nearly $100 million, as more than 300 staff members worked to sequence pieces of the human genome.
“When I arrived, more than half of Whitehead’s budget and staff were dedicated to the Center,” recalls Lindquist.
After an international consortium published a complete draft of the genome in 2001, focus shifted to the function of the sequence.
“The Center had become a powerhouse in genomics and was ready to launch visionary new projects,” says Lindquist. “Like proud parents, we realized it needed the freedom to realize its best potential. It also seemed the right time to refocus on Whitehead’s core mission.”
In November of 2003, the Whitehead/MIT Center for Genome Research became the cornerstone facility of the Broad Institute, a research venture between Whitehead, MIT, and Harvard University. After the launch, Whitehead returned to its roots, allocating resources to core facilities, a stem cell initiative, and faculty recruitment. Lindquist steered the Institution during this transition, supporting individual researchers while encouraging interdisciplinary work.
David C. Page (Interim Director, 2004-2005; Director, 2005–present)
David C. Page accepted the next challenge: to navigate the post-genomic era.
“The Institute has entered the post-genomic era in more ways than one,” Page explains. “First, scientifically, we are now assuming knowledge of the genome. Second, Whitehead Institute was the place—as much as any institution in the world—that generated that knowledge. Now that the Broad Institute stands on its own, it is time for us to reassume leadership status in a host of other areas.”
“What will propel this, and really what’s next for the Institute is a radical re-embrace of scientific individuality—by identifying and betting on the most creative young scientists. That’s what has given Whitehead Institute its disproportionate impact in the past. And that’s what we’re headed for in 2020.”