David C. Page, head of the prestigious Whitehead Institute in Cambridge since 2004, will step down in summer 2020, the nonprofit biomedical research center said Wednesday.
Page, 62, who joined the institute in 1988 and is an expert on the Y chromosome, will return to working as a professor of biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology after completing his third five-year term as director and president. An international search has begun for his successor.
“The scientists of Whitehead Institute have helped to drive biomedical research forward and onto exciting new paths,” Page said. Soon, “the institute itself will experience a generational evolution, and my successor will help define the organization’s future — and, by extension, help shape the direction of biomedical research for decades to come,” he added.
Since its founding in 1982, the Whitehead Institute has been one of the world’s leading biomedical research centers, producing a steady stream of scientific discoveries and new research approaches. The institute is an independent organization closely affiliated with MIT, and Whitehead members hold MIT faculty appointments.
Whitehead and MIT have been Page’s professional homes since he earned a degree from Harvard Medical School and the Harvard-MIT Health Sciences and Technology Program, and he completed research in the laboratory of David Botstein, a prominent geneticist, at MIT in 1984.
During his tenure, he oversaw the creation of the Institute’s Intellectual Property Office, strengthened its facilities, and established new ventures such as the Metabolomics Center.
Reared in Amish country in rural Pennsylvania, Page told the Globe in 2014 that he didn’t know he would become a scientist, let alone one who would receive a MacArthur “genius grant’’ in 1986 at the age of 30.
“When I was growing up, I had no idea what a scientist does because I’d never met one,” he said. “I was the first person in my family to go to college.”
In 2012, he appeared on “The Colbert Report,” the popular Comedy Central show, to rebut reports that the Y chromosome — and therefore, men — may be at risk of extinction. Page prepared for the interview by watching hours of Colbert footage and practicing with props — some plastic tubes and a hair scrunchie.
“There is fun, relaxing, and fun, intense,” he told the Globe. “This was fun, intense.”