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

Schematic of looping chromosomal structure

DECEMBER 10, 2015

3D MAP OF HUMAN GENOME REVEALS RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MUTATIONS AND DISEASE DEVELOPMENT

Whitehead Institute researchers have created a map of the DNA loops that comprise the three dimensional (3D) structure of the human genome and contribute to gene regulation in human embryonic stem cells. The location of genes and regulatory elements within this chromosomal framework will help scientists better navigate their genomic research, establishing relationships between mutations and disease development.


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

Photo of chimera mouse with dark hairs

january 25, 2016

NEW MOUSE-HUMAN MODELING SYSTEM ENABLES STUDY OF DISEASE DEVELOPMENT IN VIVO

Whitehead Institute researchers have created a new mouse-human modeling system that could be used to study neural crest development as well as the modeling of a variety of neural crest related diseases, including such cancers as melanoma and neurofibromatosis. 


Protein Function

Diagram of antiparallel beta-sheet structure of the enzyme catalase

october 8, 2015

ENHANCED-SENSITIVITY NMR COULD REVEAL CLUES ON HOW PROTEINS FOLD

Until now, it has been difficult to fully characterize the different structures that proteins can take on in their natural environments. However, using a new technique known as sensitivity-enhanced nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR), Whitehead Institute and MIT researchers have shown that they can analyze the structure that a yeast protein forms as it interacts with other proteins in a cell.

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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