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 showing how cells with and without normal FLCN gene react to nutrients

November 7, 2013

Gene responsible for hereditary cancer syndrome found to disrupt critical growth-regulating pathway

Whitehead Institute scientists report that the gene mutated in the rare hereditary disorder known as Birt-Hogg-Dubé cancer syndrome prevents activation of mTORC1, a critical nutrient-sensing and growth-regulating cellular pathway.   


 


Genetics + Genomics

Image of scissors cutting DNA

December 12, 2013

New gene-editing system enables large-scale studies of gene function

Since the completion of the Human Genome Project, which identified nearly 20,000 protein-coding genes, scientists have been trying to decipher the roles of those genes. A new approach developed at MIT, the Broad Institute, and the Whitehead Institute should speed up the process by allowing researchers to study the entire genome at once.


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

Microscope images showing different cellular phenotypes associated with cholesterol accumulation and autophagy impairment

January 8, 2014

Restarting stalled autophagy a potential approach to treating Niemann-Pick disease

Whitehead Institute researchers have determined that the lipid storage disorder Niemann-Pick type C1 (NPC1) disease is caused not only by defects in cholesterol processing but also in autophagy—a key cellular degradation pathway that malfunctions in many neurodegenerative diseases.


Protein Function

Image comparing a surface form and cave form of the fish Astyanax mexicanus

December 12, 2013

Rapid evolution of novel forms: Environmental change triggers inborn capacity for adaptation

A team of researchers from Harvard Medical School and Whitehead Institute report that, at least in the case of one variety of cavefish, one agent of evolutionary change is the heat shock protein known as HSP90.

Stem Cells +
Therapeutic Cloning

image of eraser erasing a neuron

November 27, 2013

GENETIC MUTATION INCREASES RISK OF PARKINSON’S DISEASE FROM PESTICIDES

A team of researchers from Whitehead Institute and Sanford-Burnham Research Institute has brought new clarity to the picture of how gene-environmental interactions can kill nerve cells that make dopamine. The study uses patient-derived stem cells to show that a mutation in the α-synuclein gene causes increased vulnerability to pesticides, leading to Parkinson’s disease.

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