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.

Green blobs on a blue background.

This is an image of a murine breast tumor comprised of two different types of breast cancer cells - quasi-mesenchymal cells in green and epithelial cells in white. The red cells represent macrophages, which are innate immune cells. This figure demonstrates that macrophages (red) preferentially interact with the mesenchymal sectors (green) but not the epithelial sectors (white) of mixed tumors. Blue represents DAPI, a nuclear stain.


Anushka Dongre

Our Focus

Our aim is to create a foundational understanding of cancer that may be built upon to advance therapies that directly affect patients. Whitehead Institute is a leader in cancer discovery, defining the specific genetic and epigenetic programming that makes cancer cells act differently from normal cells, investigating how cancers co-opt cells’ normal signaling pathways to benefit themselves, and figuring out what enables cancer cells to multiply prodigiously and spread, evading the body’s natural defenses.

Green and blue cells on a black background.

Christina Scheel/Whitehead Institute

Colorful dots on a black background.

Yuelin Song/Whitehead Institute

Illustration of scientist picking molecules from a tree

Steven Lee/Whitehead Institute

Red dots (condensates) on a black background.

Isaac Klein

Major Achievements
Discovered first human oncogene

In the 1980s, Robert Weinberg discovered the first gene in humans which, in certain circumstances, could transform normal cells into tumor cells. 

Created new leukemia model

Former Member David Baltimore created the first animal model of chronic myelogenous leukemia in 1990. The model mice provided a way for scientists to test treatments for the deadly disease. 

Advanced knowledge of how cancer drugs reach their targets

Member Richard Young's lab published a paper in 2020 showing the mechanism by which small molecules, including cancer drugs, are concentrated in cellular droplets called condensates -- a finding that could have implications for the development of new cancer therapeutics.