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.


Slides of tagged cells

September 2, 2015

Cellular recycling complexes may hold key to chemotherapy resistance

Upsetting the balance between protein synthesis, misfolding, and degradation drives cancer and neurodegeneration. Recent cancer treatments take advantage of this knowledge with a class of drugs that block protein degradation, known as proteasome inhibitors. Widespread resistance to these drugs limits their success, but Whitehead researchers have discovered a potential Achilles heel in resistance. With such understandings researchers may be able to target malignancy broadly, and more effectively.


Genetics + Genomics

Microscope images of cells marked for their methylation

September 24, 2015


Whitehead Institute researchers have developed a tool that allows scientists to monitor changes in DNA methylation over time in individual cells. Certain diseases, including cancer, cause changes in DNA methylation patterns, and the ability to document these alterations could aid in the development of novel therapies.

Immune System

Diagram of CDPK1 in its active and inactive forms

August 24, 2015

Tiny antibodies point to vulnerability in disease-causing parasites

By teasing apart the structure of an enzyme vital to the parasites that cause toxoplasmosis and malaria, Whitehead Institute scientists have identified a potentially ‘drugable’ target that could prevent parasites from entering and exiting host cells.

Nervous System
Development + Function

Schematic depicting creation of stable induced neural stem cells (iNSCs)

November 6, 2014

Direct generation of neural stem cells could enable transplantation therapy

Induced neural stem cells (iNSCs) hold promise for therapeutic transplantation, but their potential in this capacity has been limited by failed efforts to maintain such cells in their multi-potent NSC state. Now, Whitehead Institute scientists have created iNSCs that remain in the multi-potent state—without ongoing expression of reprogramming factors. This allows the iNSCs to self-renew repeatedly to generate cells in quantities sufficient for therapy.

Protein Function

Diagram of RAB35's role in oncogenesis

September 3, 2015

New role for an old protein: Cancer causer 

A protein known to play a role in transporting the molecular contents of normal cells into and out of various intracellular compartments can also turn such cells cancerous by stimulating a key growth-control pathway.

Stem Cells +
Therapeutic Cloning

Diagram of cancer versus normal stem cells

September 3, 2015

Variations in cell programs control cancer and normal stem cells

In the breast, cancer stem cells and normal stem cells can arise from different cell types and tap into distinct yet related stem cell programs, according to Whitehead Institute researchers. The differences between these stem cell programs may be significant enough to be exploited by future therapeutics.

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