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

February 2, 2017

Researchers chart global genetic interaction networks in human cancer cells

Investigators at Whitehead Institute and the Broad Institute have identified 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.


 


Genetics + Genomics

Diagram of how editing methylation can change cells

september 22, 2016

Scientists use CRISPR/Cas9 to flip DNA methylation states in vivo

Whitehead Institute scientists have deciphered how to use a modified CRISPR/Cas9 gene editing system to change genes’ methylation state, thereby activating or silencing those genes. Proper methylation is critical for normal cellular operations and altered methylation has been linked to many diseases, including neurological disorders and cancer.


Immune System

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.

Nervous System
Development + Function

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 MIT explain how they used a suite of novel biological and computational methods to shed light on the question.


Protein Function

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.

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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