With the drama of the human genome project behind it, the next main event for the Whitehead Institute for Biomedical Research at MIT remains a question. Its new director has her work cut out for her.
Susan Lindquist, who replaces Gerald Fink, says she hopes to build on Whitehead’s well-known strengths by continuing to integrate its sequencing expertise with other areas of biological research. “One of the major goals of our development campaign is going to be the next generation of proteomics and genomics beyond just sequencing,” she says.
The choice of Lindquist, who has studied the cellular mechanisms that govern protein conformation, seems to indicate a step more in the direction of protein research. But she downplays the significance of her research background in her appointment, saying that the institute is already quite diverse in the scope of its research. “I’m not going to make any major changes,” the University of Chicago protein chemist says. Also, she adds, at least half of the members of the institute “are at one level or another doing things that involve chips or proteomics, or soon will be.”
Lindquist’s watchword could be collaboration — among researchers and between public and private entities. “Everybody sees the key to the future — for not just the Whitehead but biology in general — is pushing new frontiers and new collaborative interactions between people who didn’t necessarily collaborate before, such as between physicists, engineers, and biologists,” she says.
In addition, she hopes the institute will play a greater role as a partner to industry and philanthropic foundations to find ways to quickly apply basic research to solve problems, particularly in medicine. “It’s vital for the health of research that a lot of it be publicly funded, that I will say straight up from the very beginning,” Lindquist says. “But I also feel it’s important that the research winds up being translated into doing good in people’s lives as quickly as possible, and that means collaborating with industry and also with foundations and philanthropic individuals.”
— John S. MacNeil