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

Illustration of DNA helices in tubes

July 4, 2016

ENGINEERS DESIGN PROGRAMMABLE RNA VACCINES AGAINST EBOLA, INFLUENZA

MIT and Whitehead Institute scientists have developed a new type of easily customizable vaccine that can be manufactured in one week, allowing it to be rapidly deployed in response to disease outbreaks. So far, they have designed vaccines against Ebola, H1N1 influenza, andToxoplasma gondii (a relative of the parasite that causes malaria), which were 100 percent effective in tests in mice.

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

Photo of clay model demonstrating how the frog mouth opens

August 2, 2016

Jaw-dropping research explains mouth formation during embryonic development

Whitehead Institute researchers have identified an area in the developing face of embryonic frogs that unzips to form the mouth. The scientists, who named this region the “pre-mouth array”, have also discovered the cellular signaling that triggers its formation. Elucidating this critical aspect of craniofacial development in a model organism enhances understanding of and potential treatment for human facial birth defects.

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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