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

Diagram of the Nutrostat machine

March 16, 2014

How diabetes drugs may work against cancer

Scientists at Whitehead Institute have pinpointed a major mitochondrial pathway that imbues cancer cells with the ability to survive in low-glucose environments. By identifying cancer cells with defects in this pathway or with impaired glucose utilization, the scientists can predict which tumors will be sensitive to these anti-diabetic drugs known to inhibit this pathway.


 


Genetics + Genomics

Diagram of  high-throughput sequencing-based method that measures the poly(A) tails of individual messenger RNA molecules

January 29, 2014

A protein-production tale of the tape: Separating poly(A)-tail length from translational efficiency

Whitehead Institute researchers have determined that poly(A) tails on messenger RNAs (mRNAs) shift their role in the regulation of protein production during early embryogenesis. This finding about the regulation of mRNA translation also provides insight into how microRNAs control protein production.


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

Graph of growth curves of wild type and amyloid-beta strains treated with clioquinol

March 3, 2014

Yeast model reveals Alzheimer’s drug candidate and its mechanism of action

Whitehead Institute scientists have used a yeast cell-based drug screen to identify a class of molecules that target the amyloid-β (Aβ) peptide involved in Alzheimer’s disease (AD). 


Protein Function

Schematic of how interrupting ATPIF1 rescues cells with mitochondrial dysfunction

march 27, 2014

Scientists find potential target for treating mitochondrial disorders

Mitochondria, long known as “cellular power plants” for their generation of the key energy source adenosine triphosphate (ATP), are essential for proper cellular functions. Mitochondrial defects are often observed in a variety of diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease, and are the hallmarks of a number of untreatable genetic mitochondrial disorders whose manifestations range from muscle weakness to organ failure. Whitehead Institute scientists have identified a protein whose inhibition could hold the key to alleviating suffering caused by such disorders.

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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