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

Images of mouse lung cells untreated and treated with a PERK inhibitor

June 5, 2014

Seemingly invincible cancer stem cells reveal a weakness

Metastatic cancer cells, which can migrate from primary tumors to seed new malignancies, have thus far been resistant to the current arsenal of anticancer drugs. Now, however, researchers at Whitehead Institute have identified a critical weakness that actually exploits one of these cells’ apparent strengths—their ability to move and invade tissues. Their research could inform novel approaches to screening tumors for personalized therapy or to drugs that specifically target these cells.


 


Genetics + Genomics

Images of normal and abnormal facial development in Xenopus

July 17, 2014

A REGION AND PATHWAY FOUND CRUCIAL FOR FACIAL DEVELOPMENT IN VERTEBRATE EMBRYOS

A signaling pathway once thought to have little if any role during embryogenesis is a key player in the formation of the front-most portion of developing vertebrate embryos. Moreover, signals emanating from this region—referred to as the “extreme anterior domain” (EAD)—orchestrate the complex choreography that gives rise to proper facial structure.


Immune System

Microscope image of filamentation in Candida albicans with and without amphotericin B resistance

October 29, 2013

Understanding the evolution of drug resistance points to novel strategy for developing better antimicrobials

The most common fungal pathogen in humans, Candida albicans, rarely develops resistance to the antifungal drug amphotericin B (AmB).  This has been puzzling as the drug has been in clinical use for over 50 years. Whitehead Institute scientists have now discovered why.  The genetic mutations that enable certain strains of C. albicans to resist AmB simultaneously render it highly susceptible to environmental stressors and disarm its virulence factors.

Nervous System
Development + Function

Image of cells affected and unaffected by NPC gene mutation

May 15, 2014

Combination therapy a potential strategy for treating Niemann-Pick disease

Whitehead Institute researchers have identified a potential dual-pronged approach to treating Niemann-Pick type C (NPC) disease, a rare but devastating genetic disorder. By studying nerve and liver cells grown from NPC patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), the scientists determined that although cholesterol does accumulate abnormally in the cells of NPC patients, a more significant problem may be defective autophagy—a basic cellular function that degrades and recycles unneeded or faulty molecules, components, or organelles in a cell. Here, the scientists propose two drugs, one to reduce cholesterol buildup and the other to induce autophagy, as a strategy for treating NPC.


Protein Function

Images of cells with normal and abnormal CENP-A deposition

July 17, 2014

FAITHFUL CELL DIVISION REQUIRES TIGHTLY CONTROLLED PROTEIN PLACEMENT AT THE CENTROMERES

The protein CENP-A, which is integrated into human DNA at the centromere on each chromosome, has a vital role in cell division. Work from Whitehead Institute Member Iain Cheeseman’s lab describes how the vital and tightly controlled replenishment of CENP-A progresses.

Stem Cells +
Therapeutic Cloning

Photo: Three-banded panther worm

April 24, 2014

Three-banded panther worm debuts as a new model in the study of regeneration

The lab of Whitehead Institute Member Peter Reddien is introducing the scientific community to the three-banded panther worm (Hofstenia miamia), a small organism with the ability to regenerate any missing body part. As a model, Hofstenia could help further our understanding of regeneration, how its mechanisms have evolved over millennia, and what limits regeneration in other animals, including humans.

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