One of the largest gifts ever to the institute will establish the Brit Jepson d'Arbeloff Center on Women's Health in the Sex Differences in Health and Disease Initiative, an effort to build a deeper understanding of how the female and male genome, transcriptome, epigenome, proteome, and metabolome differ. Leveraging the knowledge gained by the institute's investigations into the molecular mechanisms through which the X and Y chromosomes give rise to sex-specific differences in cells, tissues, and organs, the center will explore how those differences contribute to the health of and disease in women.
To that end, the center will work to catalyze basic and translational research by, as well as collaborations between, Whitehead Institute investigators and those at other biomedical research organizations, bringing together experts in sex chromosome biology and sex hormones, computational biology, proteomics, epigenetics, and metabolomics. The center also will pursue partnerships aimed at translating meaningful discoveries into clinical applications for the diagnosis, prevention, and treatment of disease in women.
The first woman to earn a mechanical engineering degree from Stanford University, d'Arbeloff had difficulty finding a job despite graduating at the top of her class and for a time was the sole woman in MIT's mechanical engineering department, where she earned a master's degree in 1961. She went on to become a pioneering engineer, contributing to the design of the Redstone missile in the 1960s and programming software for Digital Equipment Corporation and Teradyne. In addition to her support for the Whitehead Institute, she has established an MIT-based summer program to introduce female high school students to engineering careers, founded the Women in Science Committee at the Museum of Science, Boston, and supported the MGH Research Scholars Program.
"I have long marveled at the stream of scientific discoveries and technical advances by Whitehead Institute researchers," said d'Arbeloff, a member since 2008 of the Whitehead Institute board. "For me, the most exciting of that work is being done within the sex differences initiative — exciting for both the imperative task it is taking on and the invaluable knowledge it is creating. The initiative will help to redress the longstanding inadequacy of research into women's health and disease, and to catalyze development of therapeutics that are demonstrated effective for women."