Research Achievements

Whitehead Institute research has delivered new understandings to fundamental problems in biomedicine and transformed the landscape of contemporary biology.

Over the years, Institute scientists have focused on human genetics, cancer, heart disease, immunology, and developmental biology. Whitehead was the core institution for one of the six original National Cooperative Vaccine Development Groups for AIDS (established by the National Institutes of Health to speed the development of an AIDS vaccine).

By the mid-1990s, the Whitehead/MIT Center for Genome Research emerged as the leading center for the newly organized U.S. Human Genome Project. The Center made the single largest contribution to the completion of the project by sequencing one-third of the reference human genome.

In recent years, Institute scientists have been recognized for their advances in stem cell research, protein folding, cancer stem cells, regenerative biology, disease modeling, non-coding RNAs and more.

For a glimpse at Whitehead contributions to these and other fields, click on the topical tabs above.


Cancer

Image of human mammary model

March 1, 2016

ENGINEERED HYDROGEL SCAFFOLDS ENABLE GROWTH OF FUNCTIONING HUMAN BREAST TISSUE

Whitehead Institute researchers have created a hydrogel scaffold that replicates the environment found within the human breast. The scaffold supports the growth of human mammary tissue from patient-derived cells and can be used to study normal breast development as well as breast cancer initiation and progression.


 


Genetics + Genomics

Cartoon of how a mutation in the genome's three-dimensional structure can activate previously silent oncogenes

March 3, 2016

THERE GOES THE NEIGHBORHOOD: CHANGES IN CHROMOSOME STRUCTURE ACTIVATE CANCER-CAUSING GENES

In a finding with enormous implications for cancer diagnostics and therapeutics, Whitehead Institute scientists have discovered that breaches in looping chromosomal structures known as “insulated neighborhoods” can activate oncogenes capable of fueling aggressive tumor growth. 


Immune System

Images of yeast inside macrophages that have not and have been treated with Inz-5

August 11, 2016

Disrupting mitochondrial function could improve treatment of fungal infections 

By identifying new compounds that selectively block mitochondrial respiration in pathogenic fungi, Whitehead Institute scientists have identified a potential antifungal mechanism that could enable combination therapy with fluconazole, one of today’s most commonly prescribed fungal infection treatments. Severe, invasive fungal infections have a mortality rate of 30-50% and cause an estimated 1.5 million deaths worldwide annually. Current antifungal therapies are hampered by the increasingly frequent emergence of drug resistance and negative interactions that often preclude combination use.

Nervous System
Development + Function

Cartoon of how a mutation in the genome's three-dimensional structure can activate previously silent oncogenes

April 20, 2016

Identifying a genetic mutation behind sporadic Parkinson’s disease

Using a novel method, Whitehead Institute researchers have determined how mutations that are not located within genes are identified through genome-wide association studies (GWAS) and can contribute to sporadic Parkinson’s disease, the most common form of the condition. The approach could be used to analyze GWAS results for other sporadic diseases with genetic causes, such as multiple sclerosis, diabetes, and cancer.


Protein Function

Images of toxoplasma parasites inside of a host cell

September 1, 2016

Genome-wide Toxoplasma screen reveals mechanisms of parasitic infections

Whitehead Institute researchers have conducted the first genome-wide screen in Apicomplexa, a phylum of single-celled parasites that cause diseases such as malaria and toxoplasmosis. The screen sheds light into the vast, unstudied reaches of parasite genomes, uncovering for instance a protein common to all apicomplexans.

Stem Cells +
Therapeutic Cloning

Graphical abstract of the research described below

July 14, 2016

DEFINING WHAT IT MEANS TO BE A NAIVE STEM CELL

Whitehead Institute scientists have created a checklist that defines the “naive” state of cultured human embryonic stem cells (ESCs).  Such cells provide a better model of early human embryogenesis than conventional ESCs in later stages of development.

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