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.


Slides of tagged cells

September 2, 2015

Cellular recycling complexes may hold key to chemotherapy resistance

Upsetting the balance between protein synthesis, misfolding, and degradation drives cancer and neurodegeneration. Recent cancer treatments take advantage of this knowledge with a class of drugs that block protein degradation, known as proteasome inhibitors. Widespread resistance to these drugs limits their success, but Whitehead researchers have discovered a potential Achilles heel in resistance. With such understandings researchers may be able to target malignancy broadly, and more effectively.


Genetics + Genomics

Diagram of the crystal structure of Cas9 in complex with guide RNA and its target DNA.

October 15, 2015


Using two complementary analytical approaches, scientists at Whitehead Institute and Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard have for the first time identified the universe of genes in the human genome essential for the survival and proliferation of human cell lines or cultured human cells. Their findings and the materials they developed in conducting the research will not only serve as invaluable resources for the global research community but should also have application in the discovery of drug-targetable genetic vulnerabilities in a variety of human cancers.

Immune System

Diagram of CDPK1 in its active and inactive forms

August 24, 2015

Tiny antibodies point to vulnerability in disease-causing parasites

By teasing apart the structure of an enzyme vital to the parasites that cause toxoplasmosis and malaria, Whitehead Institute scientists have identified a potentially ‘drugable’ target that could prevent parasites from entering and exiting host cells.

Nervous System
Development + Function

Schematic depicting creation of stable induced neural stem cells (iNSCs)

November 6, 2014

Direct generation of neural stem cells could enable transplantation therapy

Induced neural stem cells (iNSCs) hold promise for therapeutic transplantation, but their potential in this capacity has been limited by failed efforts to maintain such cells in their multi-potent NSC state. Now, Whitehead Institute scientists have created iNSCs that remain in the multi-potent state—without ongoing expression of reprogramming factors. This allows the iNSCs to self-renew repeatedly to generate cells in quantities sufficient for therapy.

Protein Function

Diagram of antiparallel beta-sheet structure of the enzyme catalase

october 8, 2015


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

Diagram of cancer versus normal stem cells

September 3, 2015

Variations in cell programs control cancer and normal stem cells

In the breast, cancer stem cells and normal stem cells can arise from different cell types and tap into distinct yet related stem cell programs, according to Whitehead Institute researchers. The differences between these stem cell programs may be significant enough to be exploited by future therapeutics.

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