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BioNook: Neurodegenerative Diseases

Neurological disorders, such as Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), and epilepsy, are one of the leading causes of death and disability in the world today. Each year, nearly 6 million people worldwide die from these and other neurological disorders, according to the World Health Organization. The emotional costs incurred by this high mortality, coupled with the billions of dollars spent annually on associated health care and resulting global economic burden, spotlight the urgent need for an improved understanding of the brain and the disease processes that can affect it. 

One challenge impeding the study of neurodegenerative disease is the brain’s relative inaccessibility. Through the combination of technological advances and novel approaches to neuroscience, genetic, and genomic research, scientists are becoming better equipped to study the brain to address fundamental questions about how the brain works—and why, all too often, it doesn’t. Explore how Whitehead Institute researchers are fostering ingenious approaches to studying brain development and disease, and its impact on the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of neurological disorders.  

How brain cells could play a role in multiple sclerosis (MS)

Whitehead Institute researchers used a new approach for analyzing genetic risk data and discovered that disease-linked genes cause problems in brain cells that contribute to multiple sclerosis, which had been thought of as a solely autoimmune disease. This information could lead to the development of new therapies for multiple sclerosis, and the approach can be applied to gain insights into other diseases.

AudioHelicase podcast: Whitehead Institute’s Olivia Corradin on a new way to probe disease genetics

On this episode of AudioHelicase podcast, Whitehead Fellow Olivia Corradin talked about investigating the genetic underpinnings of diseases through a new technique she developed, the outside variant approach. 

AudioHelicase podcast: Whitehead Institute’s Ankur Jain on RNA clumps and the neurodegenerative diseases associated with them

In this episode of AudioHelicase, Whitehead Institute Member Ankur Jain discusses how RNA can clump in cells and the diseases, such as Huntington's and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), that are associated with these aggregations.

Meet the scientists:

Xin Tang

Xin Tang

Xin Tang is a postdoc in Whitehead Institute Member Rudolf Jaenisch’s lab investigating brain disease and developing approaches to discover new therapies.

Izabella Pena

Izabella pena

Izabella Pena is a postdoc in Whitehead Institute Member David Sabatini’s lab investigating how toxic proteins associated with neurodegeneration are degraded in cells.

Read about the research:


New discoveries about the disruption of condensates in the neurodevelopmental disorder Rett syndrome provide insights into how cells compartmentalize chromosomes as well as new potential paths for therapies.

Brain cells
Whitehead Institute team develops new method to study human brain cells

Approach could accelerate studies of Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s disease and other brain disorders.

Illustration of a person using a claw machine to grab molecules.

Speeding up drug discovery for brain diseases

Sonia Iyer is a postdoc in Whitehead Institute Founding Member Robert (Bob) Weinberg’s lab investigating ovarian cancer. 

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