Research

Research at Whitehead

Whitehead Institute provides researchers with the resources and freedom to follow their scientific instincts, form novel collaborations, and conduct high-risk research. While probing basic biological processes, the Institute’s 16 faculty Members and 3 Fellows develop innovative technologies and lay the foundation for projects that improve human health. They run pioneering programs in cancer, immunology, developmental biology, stem cell science, regenerative medicine, genetics, and genomics.

Members

 

Fellows

Research News

Illustration of a brain containing RNAs

June 7, 2018

Network of diverse noncoding RNAs acts in the brain

First known network consisting of three types of regulatory RNAs is identified

Image of planarians

April 19, 2018

New single-cell database to propel biological studies

Whitehead team analyzes transcriptomes for roughly 70,000 cells in planarians, creates publicly available database to drive research in a variety of organisms and fields

Illustration of a woman with breast cancer

April 11, 2018

Study suggests perioperative NSAIDs may prevent early metastatic relapse in post-surgical breast cancer patients

Mouse study links early metastasis to systemic inflammation caused by wound healing

Image of GATOR1 structure

March 28, 2018

Structure of key growth regulator revealed

Researchers solve molecular structure of GATOR1 complex using cryo-electron microscopy

Image of mouse pancreas with engrafted human beta cells

March 23, 2018

Novel human/mouse model could boost type 1 diabetes research

Researchers at Whitehead Institute have developed a novel platform with human beta cells that could allow scientists to better understand the mechanisms underlying type 1 diabetes and what provokes it.

Three-eyed planarians

March 15, 2018

A Blueprint for Regeneration

Researchers at Whitehead Institute have uncovered a framework for regeneration that may explain and predict how stem cells in adult, regenerating tissue determine where to form replacement structures.

Illustration of scientist looking at a neuron

February 15, 2018

Fragile X syndrome neurons restored using CRISPR/Cas9-guided activation strategy

Fragile X syndrome is the most frequent cause of intellectual disability in males, affecting 1 out of 3600 boys born. For the first time, researchers at Whitehead Institute have restored activity to the fragile X syndrome gene in affected neurons using a modified CRISPR/Cas9 system they developed.

Image of fish and RNA hairpins

December 21, 2017

Pairing mismatch helps impaired fish RNA cleavage proceed swimmingly

Researchers at Whitehead Institute have uncovered how small changes in the fish Argonaute (Ago) protein, an RNA slicing protein, that happened in its lineage an estimated 300 million years ago greatly diminished the efficiency of RNAi in these animals, while another ancestral feature, in a critical pre-microRNA, was retained that enabled the microRNA to still be produced despite the fish’s impaired Ago protein.

Picture of a golden root plant

December 19, 2017

Harnessing nature’s riches

With unique sustainable engineering method, a team of Whitehead Institute researchers unlocks the biochemistry needed to synthesize key substance from rare medicinal plant.

Images of Arabidopsis seeds

December 19, 2017

Small RNA mediates genetic parental conflict in seed endosperm

When it comes to gene expression in the endosperm of seeds, gene provenance matters. In this specialized tissue, plants actively strive to keep the expression of genes inherited from the mother versus the father in balance, according to Whitehead Institute scientists.

Image of plants with curled leaves due to lack of gene methylation

December 14, 2017

Epigenetic rheostat helps uncover how gene regulation is inherited and maintained

DNA Methylation—the addition of chemical tags to DNA—typically reduces the expression of methylated genes. Whitehead Institute Member Mary Gehring and her lab have identified a mechanism important for maintaining methylation, that when disrupted, results in the demethylation of large sections of the Arabidopsis plant’s genome.

Illustration of scientist picking molecules from a tree

November 27, 2017

Large-scale approach reveals imperfect actor in plant biotechnology

Whitehead researchers detect the chemical ‘mistakes’ of common herbicide-resistance enzyme, successfully re-engineer it for enhanced precision

Image of planarians

November 22, 2017

Surprising roles for muscle in tissue regeneration, study finds

Whitehead Member Peter Reddien pinpoints distinct muscle subsets that orchestrate and pattern regrowth

Image of a cell in anaphase

November 16, 2017

Of highways, engines, and chromosomes

Whitehead researchers unravel fundamental molecular machinery that propels chromosome movement

Illustration of scientist opening a cell and looking at a molecule

November 9, 2017

Key nutrient sensor identified for cellular pathway linking nutrient availability to cell growth

Whitehead Member David Sabatini has identified the methionine sensor in the mTOR pathway, which is a crucial metabolic pathway in cells. His work provides interesting data suggesting that the anti-aging and anti-diabetes effects of low methionine and mTOR inhibition may be connected.

Image of mouse spermatocyte, which is the source of retinoic acid

November 7, 2017

Retinoic acid regulates transitions in mouse sperm production

Researchers swimming upstream in reproductive technology work now have important insights into sperm production

Image of red algae and Roland Kersten on Ventura beach

October 30, 2017

A new workflow for natural product characterization comes ashore with red algae

Whitehead Member Jing-Ke Weng uses an omics-based path for identifying and generating sesquiterpene-based therapeutics at scale.

Illustration of scientist looking at tree of life including acoel and planarian

October 30, 2017

Small worm muscles up to reveal ancient body patterning mechanism during regeneration

Whitehead Member Peter Reddien has determined that a major function of muscle in planaria and acoels--a small regenerative marine worm auspiciously located on the evolutionary tree as an outgroup to all the rest of the Bilateria--is to serve as the source of instructive positional information for instructing regeneration.

Image of a breast cancer cell

October 20, 2017

Stuck on the membrane: A pro-metastatic transcription factor’s journey from anonymity to a promising target for breast cancer therapy

Whitehead Member Piyush Gupta has identified a protein stuck in the cell membrane that plays an important role in a cellular pathway crucial for cancer metastasis. The protein is a potential new target for breast cancer therapy that targets the cancer cells' metastatic behavior. 

Illustration of scientist measuring a cell on a scale

October 19, 2017

Study reveals key molecular link in major cell growth pathway

A team of scientists led by Whitehead Institute has uncovered a surprising molecular link that connects how cells regulate growth with how they sense and make available the nutrients required for growth.  The researchers’ findings also implicate a new protein, SLC38A9, as a potential drug target in pancreatic cancer. 

Image of zebrafish

October 6, 2017

Genetic body/brain connection identified in genomic region linked to autism

For the first time, Whitehead Institute scientists have documented a direct link between deletions in two genes—fam57ba and doc2a—in zebrafish and certain brain and body traits, such as seizures, hyperactivity, large head size, and increased fat content. Both genes reside in the 16p11.2 region of the genome, which has been linked to multiple brain and body disorders in humans, including autism spectrum disorder, developmental delays, seizures, and obesity.

Slide of red blood cells

September 5, 2017

Mystery solved: how thyroid hormone prods red blood cell production

For more than a century, the link between thyroid hormone and red blood cell production has remained elusive. Now, Whitehead scientists have teased about the mechanism that connects them, which could help scientists identify new therapies for specific types of anemia.

Diagram of how the control of the translation of mRNAs into proteins shifts as the egg becomes an the embryo

June 14, 2017

Elegant switch controls translation in transition from egg to embryo

The transition from an egg to a developing embryo is one of life’s most remarkable transformations. Now Whitehead Institute researchers have used fruit flies to decipher how one aspect—control of the translation of messenger RNAs (mRNAs) into proteins—shifts as the egg becomes an the embryo.  This type of switch could tell scientists more about how human cells work and embryos develop.

April 6, 2017

Growth medium based on human plasma rewires cell metabolism

Cultured human cells are the foundation for disease and drug research. Now Whitehead Institute researchers have designed a growth medium that more closely resembles the cells’ environment in the body—and demonstrated that, relative to decades-old recipes that have remained the workhorses of cell culture studies, it significantly alters the cells’ inner workings.

Image of an invasive outgrowth of cancer cells

April 3, 2017

Biomarker identified for likely aggressive, early stage breast cancer

Whitehead Institute scientists have identified a gene that could help clinicians discern which patients have aggressive forms of early stage breast cancer, which could prevent hundreds of thousands of women from undergoing unnecessary treatment and save millions of dollars.

Design of red blood cell capable of carrying antigenic peptides

March 6, 2017

Cargo-carrying red blood cells alleviate autoimmune diseases in mice

Using red blood cells modified to carry disease-specific antigens, a team of scientists from Whitehead Institute and Boston Children’s Hospital have prevented and alleviated two autoimmune diseases—multiple sclerosis (MS) and type 1 diabetes—in early stage mouse models.  This research is an exciting step toward therapeutics for autoimmune diseases, which affect an estimated 23 million Americans.

February 23, 2017

Researchers uncover a role for HSP90 in gene-environment interactions in humans

Researchers at Whitehead Institute have now uncovered a role for the protein-folding chaperone HSP90 in humans, not only as a modifier of the effects of mutations, but as a mediator of the impact of the environment on the function of mutant proteins. And these effects of HSP90 can alter the course of human diseases.

February 2, 2017

Researchers chart global genetic interaction networks in human cancer cells

Investigators at Whitehead Institute and the Broad Institute have succeeded in identifying the set of essential genes—those required for cellular proliferation and survival—in each of 14 human acute myeloid leukemia (AML) cell lines that had previously been characterized by genome sequencing. By combining their “gene essentiality map” with the existing genomic information, their study revealed liabilities in genetically defined subset of cancers that could be exploited for new therapies.

January 25, 2017

New Clues on the Basis of Parkinson’s Disease and Other “Synucleinopathies”

Parkinson’s disease (PD) and other “synucleinopathies” are known to be linked to the misfolding of alpha-synuclein protein in neurons. Less clear is how this misfolding relates to the growing number of genes implicated in PD through analysis of human genetics. Two new studies from researchers affiliated with Whitehead Institute and Massachusetts Institute of Technology explain how they used a suite of novel biological and computational methods to shed light on the question.

January 3, 2017

Scientists engineer gene pathway to grow brain organoids with surface folding

Whitehead researchers provide insight into a specific gene pathway that appears to regulate the growth, structure, and organization of the human cortex. They also demonstrate that 3D human cerebral organoids--miniature, lab-grown versions of specific brain structures--can be effective in modeling the molecular, cellular, and anatomical processes of human brain development. And they suggest a new path for identifying the cells affected by Zika virus.

Recent papers

MAy 18, 2018

NUFIP1 is a ribosome receptor for starvation-induced ribophagy.

Science. 2018 May 18;360(6390):751-758. 


May, 2018

Understanding the tumor immune microenvironment (TIME) for effective therapy.

Nat Med. 2018 May;24(5):541-550.


april 30, 2018

Enhanced phosphocholine metabolism is essential for terminal erythropoiesis.

Blood. 2018 Apr 30.


All research papers

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