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

Images of tissue sections from breast cancer patient biopsies

July 31, 2014

Master heat-shock factor supports reprogramming of normal cells to enable tumor growth and metastasis

Long associated with enabling the proliferation of cancer cells, the ancient cellular survival response regulated by Heat-Shock Factor 1 (HSF1) can also turn neighboring cells in their environment into co-conspirators that support malignant progression and metastasis.


 


Genetics + Genomics

Images of normal and abnormal facial development in Xenopus

July 17, 2014

A REGION AND PATHWAY FOUND CRUCIAL FOR FACIAL DEVELOPMENT IN VERTEBRATE EMBRYOS

A signaling pathway once thought to have little if any role during embryogenesis is a key player in the formation of the front-most portion of developing vertebrate embryos. Moreover, signals emanating from this region—referred to as the “extreme anterior domain” (EAD)—orchestrate the complex choreography that gives rise to proper facial structure.


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

Image of cells affected and unaffected by NPC gene mutation

May 15, 2014

Combination therapy a potential strategy for treating Niemann-Pick disease

Whitehead Institute researchers have identified a potential dual-pronged approach to treating Niemann-Pick type C (NPC) disease, a rare but devastating genetic disorder. By studying nerve and liver cells grown from NPC patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells (iPSCs), the scientists determined that although cholesterol does accumulate abnormally in the cells of NPC patients, a more significant problem may be defective autophagy—a basic cellular function that degrades and recycles unneeded or faulty molecules, components, or organelles in a cell. Here, the scientists propose two drugs, one to reduce cholesterol buildup and the other to induce autophagy, as a strategy for treating NPC.


Protein Function

Images of cells with normal and abnormal CENP-A deposition

July 17, 2014

FAITHFUL CELL DIVISION REQUIRES TIGHTLY CONTROLLED PROTEIN PLACEMENT AT THE CENTROMERES

The protein CENP-A, which is integrated into human DNA at the centromere on each chromosome, has a vital role in cell division. Work from Whitehead Institute Member Iain Cheeseman’s lab describes how the vital and tightly controlled replenishment of CENP-A progresses.

Stem Cells +
Therapeutic Cloning

Phase and fluorescence images of conventional (primed) human embryonic stem cells (ESCs) and naïve human ESCs

July 24, 2014

Whitehead Institute researchers create “naïve” pluripotent human embryonic stem cells

Embryonic stem cell (ESC) research has been hampered by the inability to transfer research and tools from mouse ESC studies to their human counterparts, in part because human ESCs are “primed” and slightly less plastic than the mouse cells. Now researchers in the lab of Whitehead Institute Founding Member Rudolf Jaenisch have discovered how to manipulate and maintain human ESCs into a “naïve” or base pluripotent state similar to that of mouse ESCs without the use of any reprogramming factors.

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