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The one hundred honoree: Johnathan Whetstine, PhD

Innovation Story

The one hundred honoree: Johnathan Whetstine, PhD

Mass General Giving

In studying how lung cancer cells become drug-resistant, Johnathan Whetstine, PhD, and his team at the Mass General Center for Cancer Research have uncovered a mechanism that enables replicating cells to select pieces of DNA containing genes encoded to protect them from attack.

This naturally occurring process allows replicating cancer cells to defend themselves against previously effective treatments. Dr. Whetstine’s discovery has shown that the process does not have to occur randomly, but can be directed by enzymes within the cell and is therefore subject to intervention. His pioneering work holds promise for the development of new strategies to block resistances to chemotherapies and targeted therapies with broad and profound implications for many cancers.

Dr. Whetstine became inspired to pursue a career in cancer research by his high school genetics teacher, Doyle Stewart, and he has never forgotten the impact it had on his life. Every year, he teaches a course at a local high school, and has given students the opportunity to work in a laboratory during the summer. Many of these students have gone on to pursue degrees in biology.

“I worked in John’s lab for almost two years, my senior year of high school and my freshman year in college,” says nominator Jung-Eun Lee. “He is one of the most brilliant and hard-working people I have ever met, yet with such a warm heart and a genuine interest in his students. He never stops taking care of them, enabling them to follow their dreams.”