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MAKERS Profile

Nancy Wexler

Neuropsychologist & President, Hereditary Disease Foundation

More From Nancy

In this video

Nancy Wexler, PhD is a neuropsychologist who's devoted her life's work to finding a cure for the fatal hereditary disorder Huntington's Disease (HD). Although a cure has not been found for HD, Wexler and a team of "gene hunters" made the breakthrough discovery of locating the Huntington gene and dramatically changed how science is approached. Wexler herself has a one in two chance of having the disease.

Nancy's Biography

Born and Raised: Born in Washington, D.C. and raised in Topeka, Kansas.
Character Building: Got an "F" in a Serbo-Croatian Literature course in college and her dad said "It's good for your character to fail."
Dad's Influence: "He actually encouraged me to go to Radcliffe because, he said, 'If you go there, I'll — if you go to Boston, take you out for lobster.'"
Bad Math: "You don't have to be a math whiz to do science, thank God."

Nancy Wexler, PhD is a neuropsychologist who's devoted her life's work to finding a cure for the fatal hereditary disorder Huntington's Disease. She is best known for her major contribution in discovering the location of the gene that causes the disease. Today, Wexler serves as president of the Hereditary Disease Foundation, a clinic founded by her father, Milton Wexler, M.D., and as the Higgins Professor of Neuropsychology at Columbia University.
 
Wexler's 20-year study of the world's largest family with Huntington's disease, in Lake Maracaibo, Venezuela, developed a pedigree of over 18,000 individuals and collected over 4,000 blood samples which lead to the identification of the Huntington's disease gene at the tip of human chromosome 4. Wexler herself has a one in two chance of having the disease. Her mother, grandfather and three uncles all passed away from Huntington's.
 
Wexler received an A.B. from Radcliffe in 1967 and a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Michigan in 1974. She currently holds or has held numerous public policy positions, including Chair of the Joint NIH/DOE Ethical, Legal and Social Issues Working Group of the National Center for Human Genome Research, Chair of the Human Genome Organization (HUGO) and Member of the Institute of Medicine. Wexler has served as a member of the board of directors of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and on the Advisory Committee on Research on Women's Health, NIH. She has received numerous honors and awards including the 1993 Lasker Award for Public Service.

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