Whitehead Institute

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Coordinates: 42°21′48″N 71°05′22″W / 42.363471°N 71.089361°W / 42.363471; -71.089361

Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
Whitehead Institute.jpg
The Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research
Established1982; 40 years ago (1982)
Research typeA scientific community exploring biology's most fundamental questions for the betterment of human health
Field of research
Cancer, Stem Cell, Immunology, Developmental Biology, Regenerative Medicine, Genetics, Genomics
DirectorRuth Lehmann
$521.3 million (2020)[1]
AffiliationsMassachusetts Institute of Technology

Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research is a non-profit research institute located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States that is dedicated to improving human health through basic biomedical research. It was founded as a fiscally independent entity from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), where its 18 members all hold faculty appointments in the MIT Department of Biology or the MIT Department of Bioengineering. Two members (Rudolf Jaenisch, 2010,[2] and Robert Weinberg, 1997[3]) are National Medal of Science recipients; ten have been elected to the National Academy of Sciences;[4] and four have been elected to the National Academy of Medicine;[5] six are Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigators.[6]

In September 2019, Ruth Lehmann was announced as the new director of the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research, commencing July 2020 and succeeding David Page.


Whitehead Institute was founded in 1982 by industrialist and philanthropist Edwin C. “Jack” Whitehead (1920–1992), who sought to establish a research institute "dedicated to improving human health through basic biomedical science".[7][8][9] Whitehead believed that while such an institution should be closely affiliated with an academic institution, it should remain wholly independent and self-governing. In David Baltimore (1975 Nobel Laureate in Physiology or Medicine), Whitehead found a partner who agreed that this approach would create an "optimum environment for basic research".[10] As Whitehead Institute's Founding Director, Baltimore handpicked Harvey Lodish,[11] and Robert Weinberg from MIT,[12] Gerald Fink from Cornell University,[13] and Rudolf Jaenisch from University of Hamburg, Germany, to be Whitehead Institute's Founding Members.[14] This group then identified promising younger scientists to be the first generation of Whitehead Members; and they established the Whitehead Fellows Program as a vehicle for accelerating the careers of highly promising young investigators.

Less than a decade after its founding, the Institute for Scientific Information in Philadelphia identified Whitehead as the top research institution in the world in molecular biology and genetics, based on the impact of its scientific publications.[8] Whitehead Institute's Center for Genome Research (CGR) became the single largest contributor to the Human Genome Project, and reportedly contributed one-third of the human genome sequence announced in June 2000.[15]

In the early 2000s, the CGR formed the independent Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard, of which then-Whitehead Member Eric Lander was named Founding Director and President.

Whitehead Institute's influence continues - over a 10-year period, papers published by Whitehead scientists had more impact in molecular biology and genetics than those from any of the 15 leading research universities and life sciences institutes in the United States.[9] Training and education is integral to Whitehead Institute's mission and approximately 300 undergraduates, graduate students, post-doctoral researchers, and visiting scientists are integrally engaged in its research programs. Four times since 2009, the Whitehead Institute has been ranked first as the Best Place to Work for Postdocs in USA by The Scientist magazine.[16]

Today, Whitehead scientists run research programs in cancer biology, developmental biology, genetics and genomics, metabolism, neurodevelopment and neurodegenerative disease, and regenerative medicine. In addition, numerous biotech companies have been launched by Whitehead Members or based on intellectual property developed at the institute, such as Alnylam Pharmaceuticals,[17] Sanofi Genzyme,[18] Ironwood Pharmaceuticals,[19] Rubius Therapeutics,[20] and Verastem.[21]

In 2019, according to the NACUBO report, the institute had an endowment of $527.9 million.[22]


The Whitehead faculty currently comprises 18 members whose laboratories focus on biology's most fundamental questions.[23] The Members, who are all also MIT faculty members, are:

  • David Bartel – co-discovered the abundance of microRNAs and has since played a leading role in defining these short RNAs and how they act to regulate genes in plants and animals[24]
  • Iain Cheeseman – studies the kinetochore, the group of proteins that assemble at the centromere and that are required for chromosome segregation and cell division; defining the roles of the different components of the kinetochore may enhance understanding of mechanisms underlying a variety of diseases[25]
  • Gerald R. Fink – developed baker's yeast as a model for studying the fundamental biology. His use of classical genetics, biochemistry, and molecular biology has yielded numerous important findingsr regarding how fungal pathogens invade the body, evade the immune system, and establish an infection[26]
  • Mary Gehring – studies how gene expression in plants is modulated by epigenetics (heritable information that influences cell function but is not encoded in DNA)[27]
  • Rudolf Jaenisch – investigates the genetic and epigenetic basis of diseases including Parkinson's, autism, and Rett and Fragile X syndrome. He has used patient-derived induced pluripotent stem cells to develop sophisticated models of conditions such as Alzheimer's and diabetes. Jaenisch created the first transgenic animal model and was the first to demonstrate therapeutic cloning in mice[28]
  • Ankur Jain – studies how biomolecules in a cell self-organize; in particular, the form and function of membrane-free cellular compartments such as RNA granules. His lab develops new biochemical and biophysical techniques to investigate these compartments and to understand their dysfunction in human disease[29]
  • Ruth Lehmann – is the director of Whitehead Institute and studies the biological origins of germ cells, and how they transmit the potential to build a completely new organism to their offspring [30]
  • Pulin Li – investigates how networks of interacting genes within individual cells help those cells organize into complex tissues and other multicellular functions[31]
  • Harvey F. Lodish – studies red blood cell formation and diseases associated with this process. He is recognized for pioneering work on erythropoietin, the hormone controlling red blood cell formation, as well as for studies of the formation of fat cells and their role in diseases such as obesity and diabetes[32]
  • Sebastian Lourido – investigates the biology of apicomplexan parasites, which include the etiologic agents of many common human diseases, such as toxoplasmosis (Toxoplasma gondii), cryptosporidiosis (Cryptosporidium spp.), and malaria (Plasmodium spp.). His lab uses Toxoplasma to model conserved aspects of apicomplexan biology, and recently used CRISPR-based genetic screens to identify parasite genes that contribute to infection[33]
  • David C. Page – was the director of Whitehead Institute from 2004 to 2020 and studies genomics of sex chromosomes;[34] he has made pioneering discoveries about the Y chromosome, is investigating the differential impact of XX and XY chromosomes on cellular function throughout the body, and is elucidating the resulting sex-biased effects on health and disease
  • Peter W. Reddien – studies how regenerative organisms regrow body parts. Using the flatworm planaria, he has identified important components of the molecular and developmental programs specifying the body parts to be replaced, and shown that they require pluripotent stem cells called neoblasts, as well as expression of position control genes and signals from the muscle[35]
  • Robert A. Weinberg – studies the molecular and genetic basis of human cancer, cancer stem cells, and the factors involved in cancer metastasis. Having discovered the first human oncogene and the first tumor suppressor gene, he is studying how cancer stem cells contribute to tumor invasion and metastasis[36]
  • Jonathan Weissman – studies how proteins fold in the cell and how this process can go awry, causing disease [37]
  • Jing-Ke Weng – focuses on understanding the origin and evolution of specialized metabolic systems in plants; he is particularly interested in developing new therapeutics inspired by traditional herbal medicines of the world[38]
  • Yukiko Yamashita – studies the mechanisms that regulate asymmetric stem cell division, and their implications for cancer and other diseases [39]
  • Richard A. Young – studies factors that influence gene expression in healthy and diseased cells. His work is helping to define basic mechanisms of gene expression and inform how its dysregulation in certain diseases, including cancer, could be targeted therapeutically[40]

Fellows Program[edit]

The Whitehead Fellows Program provides an opportunity for highly accomplished recent PhDs to direct their own labs, rather than work in a senior researcher's lab as a traditional postdoctoral researcher. Fellows receive dedicated lab space and funds for equipment, lab operations, salary, and core staffing. They also receive mentoring from Whitehead Faculty Members, who serve as resources and integrate the Fellows into the institute's collaborative culture.[41] Past Whitehead Fellows include George Q. Daley, Dean of Harvard Medical School; Angelika Amon, MIT professor and cancer researcher; Eric Lander, President and Founding Director of Broad Institute; Kathleen Rubins, NASA astronaut and space biologist; Keith E. Mostov, professor of cell biology at the University of California, San Francisco; David C. Page, Whitehead Institute Director; and Peter S. Kim, former President of Merck Research Laboratories.[42]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ As of June 30, 2020. U.S. and Canadian Institutions Listed by Fiscal Year 2020 Endowment Market Value and Change in Endowment Market Value from FY19 to FY20 (Report). National Association of College and University Business Officers and TIAA. February 19, 2021. Retrieved February 20, 2021.
  2. ^ "National Science Foundation". Retrieved 16 July 2018.
  3. ^ "The President's National Medal of Science: Recipient Details | NSF – National Science Foundation". www.nsf.gov. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  4. ^ "Member Search". www.nasonline.org. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  5. ^ "Directory Search Form". National Academy of Medicine. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  6. ^ "Scientist Search Results". HHMI.org. Retrieved 22 December 2020.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  7. ^ https://www.nytimes.com/1992/02/04/nyregion/edwin-c-whitehead-72-dies-financed-biomedical-research.html The New York Times
  8. ^ a b "Whitehead Institute – History". wi.mit.edu. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  9. ^ a b "About Us". Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research. Retrieved 3 July 2018.
  10. ^ "Whitehead Institute – History – Pioneering Vision". wi.mit.edu. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  11. ^ Harvey F. Lodish
  12. ^ The Deadly Side of Cancer: How Cancer Spreads with Robert Weinberg
  13. ^ Biotechnology, National Research Council (US) Committee on Research Standards and Practices to Prevent the Destructive Application of (2004). "Biographical Sketches of Committee Members". National Academies Press (US). {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  14. ^ Founders
  15. ^ Kumar, Seema (2000-07-12). "Whitehead scientists enjoy genome sequence milestone". Whitehead Institute. Retrieved 2018-07-16.
  16. ^ "Best Places to Work Postdocs 2013". The Scientist.
  17. ^ "Whitehead Institute – News – 2005 – Knockout punch: the promise of RNAi". wi.mit.edu. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  18. ^ Lodish HF (2017). "Fifty years of mentoring and advising". Mol Biol Cell. 28 (22): 2908–2910. doi:10.1091/mbc.E17-07-0481. PMC 5662247. PMID 29084906.
  19. ^ "Management Team". www.ironwoodpharma.com. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  20. ^ Orcutt, Mike. "Startup Says Engineered Blood Cells Can Deliver Drugs to the Body". MIT Technology Review. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  21. ^ "Xconomy: Verastem, Founded by MIT Big Names, Raises $16M to Fight Cancer Stem Cells". Xconomy. 16 November 2010. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  22. ^ As of June 30, 2019. "U.S. and Canadian Institutions Listed by Fiscal Year (FY) 2019 Endowment Market Value and Change in Endowment Market Value from FY 2018 to FY 2019". National Association of College and University Business Officers and TIAA. Retrieved February 28, 2020.
  23. ^ "Whitehead Institute of MIT".
  24. ^ "Whitehead Institute – Faculty – David Bartel". wi.mit.edu. Retrieved 21 December 2020.
  25. ^ "Whitehead Institute – Faculty – Iain Cheeseman". wi.mit.edu. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  26. ^ "Gerald R. Fink". MIT Department of Biology. Retrieved 19 March 2019.
  27. ^ "Whitehead Institute – Faculty – Mary Gehring". wi.mit.edu. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  28. ^ "Whitehead Institute – Faculty – Rudolf Jaenisch". wi.mit.edu. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  29. ^ "Whitehead Institute – Faculty – Ankur Jain". wi.mit.edu. Retrieved 19 March 2019.
  30. ^ "Whitehead Institute – Faculty – Ruth Lehmann". wi.mit.edu. Retrieved 21 December 2020.
  31. ^ "Whitehead Institute – Faculty – Pulin Li". wi.mit.edu. Retrieved 8 October 2019.
  32. ^ "Whitehead Institute – Faculty – Harvey F. Lodish". wi.mit.edu. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  33. ^ "Whitehead Institute – Faculty – Sebastian Lourido". wi.mit.edu. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  34. ^ "People – Faculty – David C. Page". wi.mit.edu. Retrieved 21 December 2020.
  35. ^ "Whitehead Institute – Faculty – Peter W. Reddien". wi.mit.edu. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  36. ^ "Whitehead Institute – Faculty – Robert A. Weinberg". wi.mit.edu. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  37. ^ "People – Faculty – Jonathan Weissman". wi.mit.edu. Retrieved 21 December 2020.
  38. ^ "Whitehead Institute – Faculty – Jing-Ke Weng". wi.mit.edu. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  39. ^ "People – Faculty – Yukiki Yamashita". wi.mit.edu. Retrieved 21 December 2020.
  40. ^ "Richard A. Young". MIT Department of Biology. Retrieved 19 March 2019.
  41. ^ "Whitehead Institute – People – Fellows – Selection". wi.mit.edu. Retrieved 22 February 2019.
  42. ^ Peter Kim To Head Merck's Labs

External links[edit]