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

Image of mouse lymph node showing germinal centers

February 18, 2016

B-CELL DIVERSITY IN IMMUNE SYSTEM’S GERMINAL CENTERS MAY HOLD KEY TO BROAD-SPECTRUM VACCINES

The germinal centers that form in the body’s lymph nodes work as a fitness boot camp in which B cells evolve to produce antibodies of increasingly higher affinity to an invading pathogen. This new finding from Whitehead Institute scientists overturns a previously held notion that only a narrow range of B cells can survive this training and go on to secrete high-affinity antibodies. This revised understanding may aid development of effective vaccines against HIV, influenza, and other viruses that mutate rapidly.

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 plate showing different strengths of prion activity in yeast

april 29, 2016

Prion-like protein found in plants

Whitehead Institute scientists have determined that a plant protein involved in the timing of flowering could in fact be a prion. This is the first time that a possible prion has been identified in plants, and it may play a role in a plant’s “memory” of cold exposure during winter.

Stem Cells +
Therapeutic Cloning

Drawing of unhealthy food

March 2, 2016

HIGH-FAT DIET LINKED TO INTESTINAL STEM CELL CHANGES, INCREASED RISK FOR CANCER

Over the past decade, studies have found that obesity and eating a high-fat, high-calorie diet are significant risk factors for many types of cancer. Now, a new study from Whitehead Institute and MIT’s Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research reveals how a high-fat diet makes the cells of the intestinal lining more likely to become cancerous.

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