Whitehead Institute is a world-renowned non-profit research institution dedicated to improving human health through basic biomedical research.

Our Impact

Whitehead Institute specializes in foundational research solving deep scientific mysteries that unlock the mechanisms underlying many diseases, leading to new approaches in medicine.

Why foundational research?
Why today?
Why us?
Why foundational science?

Foundational research as opposed to applied research is research conducted not to solve a specific problem, but to satisfy a driving curiosity about the unknown. Seemingly simple queries, such as ‘How do cells divide?’ or ‘How can plants control how their genes are expressed?’ can pave the way for more applied research in therapeutics, cancer biology and genetics, and open up vast new fields of study that reshape the way we understand biology.

Explore foundational science discoveries
Bob Weinberg's cancer discoveries

Through basic research, Robert Weinberg discovered the first gene known to cause cancer in humans. 

A man in a blue shirt stands at the door of a lab.

Robert Weinberg

Ruth Lehmann's germ cell work
A woman in a blazer stands in front of windows.

Ruth Lehmann

Ruth Lehmann has made key discoveries on the biogenesis of piRNAs and their potential role in maintaining germ cell genomic integrity while allowing for genetic variation.

Jing-Ke Weng's plant science
A jade-green plant in rosettes.

Golden root

Jing-Ke Weng probes plants used in traditional Chinese medicine to discover new drugs. 

Why prioritize foundational research now?

Since its beginnings in 1982, Whitehead Institute has explored the core questions that underlie our basic understanding of biology. And while our mission remains the same, much has changed in the intervening decades; new research tools allow our scientists to look deeper and design better experiments than ever before. The more we understand about how biological systems work, the better we can design informed and effective therapies and treatments to meet the challenges of modern society.

Read about our impact:
Silvi Rouskin's work on RNA structure

Silvi's work on RNA structures can reveal insights about viruses such as HIV and SARS-CoV-2. 

A woman in a pink shirt talks to a group of people in a lab.

Whitehead Fellow Silvi Rouskin

David Page's sex differences studies
Four people sit and stand at a lab bench

Brit d’Arbeloff and David Page (both seated) with Page lab postdoctoral fellow Adrianna San Roman (left) and Sahin Naqvi (rear), then a Page lab graduate student and now a postdoctoral fellow at Stanford University.

Research in David Page’s lab explores how sex chromosomes affect women’s health and diseases.

What makes Whitehead Institute uniquely qualified to advance basic science in the biomedical field?

Researchers at Whitehead Institute are world-renowned for their contributions to cancer biology, genomics and more, and the impact of our publications positions us as the top research institution in the world for molecular biology and genetics. The Institute's location in Kendall Square creates an exciting and collaborative scientific environment where our scientists often team up with researchers at Harvard, the Koch Institute, and MIT on cross-disciplinary studies. Whitehead Institute also prioritizes giving back to the community, hosting summer programs, lecture series, and other events for scientists and aspiring scientists.

Learn about our role in the scientific community:
Award-winning faculty
Robert Weinberg received his award from Dr. Giuseppe Bernardi

Whitehead Institute’s faculty has received awards from the Genetic Society of America, and National Academy of Medicine, and more, and several PIs are members of the National Academy of Sciences. Seven faculty members are investigators for the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and four over the past 38 years have won the National Medal of Science.

Community science programs
Photo of Expedition: Bio students

Whitehead’s public programs, for example the Expedition Bio program for middle school students, merge curiosity with real world science through hands-on activities, laboratory modules and discussions with researchers.

Trending Series
An illustration of a clock on the wall represents the growth of cells over time.

Whitehead Institute scientists are finding new ways to follow cells as they move around the body, pass through their life cycles, and arrive at their ultimate fates.

Composite Image of red potatoes, a plant growing through cracked earth, and a golden root plant.

Whitehead Institute primarily focuses on biomedical research, and yet in recent years researchers in several labs here have discovered ways in which their work might contribute to climate resilience and sustainability. Scientists here are applying their skills to problems of climate change and sustainability in medicine, agriculture, and beyond.

Covid in liver cells. Green is dsRNA, red is calreticulin, blue is nuclei stained with DAPI.

Since the start of the pandemic, several Whitehead Institute scientists have pivoted their research focus to address the biology of SARS-CoV-2 and the health impacts of COVID-19. 

Research Areas

Whitehead Institute researchers are making important insights into the biology of the brain, from how it develops to what goes awry in neurodegenerative diseases and neurodevelopmental disorders.

Our researchers seek to understand the activity of and interactions between the many molecules that make up the complex world of the cell. They investigate how the molecules and specialized structures inside of our cells work in concert with each other, in a precisely choreographed dance, to ensure that biological processes happen when and how they should.

Cancer is a disease, or set of diseases, in which abnormal cells in the body experience uncontrolled growth. Cancer biology is complex, with many potential factors contributing to a given cancer’s development and outcome. Researchers at Whitehead Institute are investigating the fundamental biology of cancer cells and have helped drive steady advances in biomedicine’s understanding of cancer, contributing to innovative strategies in both diagnosis and therapy.

Our researchers are investigating important questions about how organisms develop —How does one generation beget the next? How does a single cell give rise to a complex organism?—and, with the help of new tools and innovative approaches, revealing answers that give us a better understanding of the fundamental aspects of life.

Metabolism is essential for life; it’s the set of chemical reactions that keep a body running. Researchers at Whitehead Institute are discovering a wealth of information on metabolism and its connections to health and disease.

Whitehead Institute researchers are shedding light on the intricacies of plant biology in order to provide insights into plant development that could contribute to improved crop yield and global food security; discover plant-derived medicines and other valuable natural products; and improve our fundamental understanding of biological processes, including gene regulation and protein folding.

Our researchers are working to understand the biology underlying infectious diseases and the microbes and viruses behind them, using innovative genetic approaches and  new tools and methods.

Proteins are the workhorses of the cell, a class of molecules with an astonishing breadth of functions. Whitehead Institute researchers are advancing our knowledge in protein biology, including how cells create and maintain specific proteins, and what happens when proteins go awry, in order to understand their functions in normal cellular processes and in disease.

Whitehead Institute has been a trailblazer in the fields of genomics and genetics since it became the single largest contributor to the Human Genome Project—and the Institute continues to be a world leader in genetics and genomics research.

Whitehead Institute’s core facilities set it apart. The cores, staffed by experts and providing state-of-the-art instrumentation and tools, allow our scientists to pursue more ambitious investigations.

Our Community
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Our Campus
Our Campus

Located in the biotech and biomedical research hub of Kendall Square, the Whitehead Institute campus features five floors of laboratory space, as well as state-of-the-art facilities for genomics, computing, microscopy and more.

Whitehead Institute's scientists hail from around the world, bringing a multitude of perspectives and ideas. Although our faculty is smaller than many of our peer institutions, the Institute’s contributions to bioscience have long been second to none, and our scientists, administration, and support staff work together to push the boundaries of biology forward.

Whitehead Institute’s collaborative culture encourages researchers at every level to share new ideas and benefit from the experience of their colleagues. Gatherings such as weekly coffee hours and annual scientific retreats facilitate this exchange. The Institute is also active in the Boston-Cambridge community, hosting educational programs for local teachers and students.