The Hereditary Disease Foundation (HDF), dedicated to finding cures and treatments forHuntington’s disease and other devastating brain disorders, held a “Celebration of Discovery” Symposium and Dinner last night at the Metropolitan Club in New York. The event was attended by approximately 200 internationally renowned scientists, artists and members of the business and civic community. All are joined in their commitment to eradicating Huntington’s disease and other life-shattering disorders, such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS).
The evening was a special tribute to Dr. Nancy S. Wexler, who celebrated her 70th birthday and marked an extraordinary career in science as a gene hunter, scientist and humanist devoted to bringing hope and healing to families affected by Huntington’s disease. Dr. Wexler was serenaded during dinner by Howard McGillin, who is best known for his record-setting performance in the title role of “The Phantom of the Opera” on Broadway.
The “Celebration of Discovery” Symposium and Dinner raised $1.2 million for the Hereditary Disease Foundation’s $4,000,000 capital campaign to support its cutting edge, scientific research.
Dr. Wexler, who is president of the Hereditary Disease Foundation, said, “My dream is to have a magic pill that we can give to people who are carrying the abnormal Huntington’s gene. We’re not there yet. There is much still to be done. Thanks to an extraordinary $1 million grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation and the generosity of other supporters, we are now hunting for genes that can pushHuntington’s out of the normal lifespan, moving the age of onset to 95, 100, or older. It’s within our grasp.”
The evening began with a Symposium focusing on genes, the brain and recent transformative advances in science. Participants were Dr. Robert B. Darnell, President, CEO, and Scientific Director of the New York Genome Center and the Heilbrunn Professor atRockefeller University; Dr. Beverly L. Davidson, the Arthur V. Meigs Chair in Pediatrics at The Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, and Dr. X. William Yang, Professor in the Department of Psychiatry and Biobehavioral Sciences at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. The moderator was Robert Bazell, Adjunct Professor in the Department of Molecular, Cellular and Developmental Biology atYale University and former chief science and health correspondent for NBC News.
The Hereditary Disease Foundation recognizes transformative research with its Leslie Gehry Brenner Prize for Innovation in Science, created by founding trustee and sea-change architect Frank Gehry. Frank, with his wife Berta, created this award to honor the memory of Frank’s daughter Leslie Gehry Brenner who died in 2008 of cancer.
The 2014-2015 Prize was presented to Dr. William Yang for his work using the human Huntington’s disease gene to create innovative strategies towards developing new therapies and cures. The 2015-2016 Prize was awarded to Dr. Beverly Davidson for her breakthrough work in developing safe and effective gene silencing strategies – turning “off” the Huntington’s disease gene – for the treatment of Huntington’s disease.
The Hereditary Disease Foundation
The Hereditary Disease Foundation is dedicated to finding cures and treatments for Huntington’s disease, and other devastating brain disorders that impact millions of people in the United States and worldwide. Established in 1968, the Hereditary Disease Foundation facilitates collaborative and innovative scientific research to further the understanding of Huntington’s disease, a genetic disorder that strikes in early to mid-adulthood, destroying brain cells, and bringing on severe and progressive declines in personality, cognitive ability, and mobility. It was work organized by the Foundation that led to the discovery of the genetic marker for Huntington’s disease in 1983. The Foundation organized and funded a decade-long international collaboration of over 100 scientists who discovered the gene that causes Huntington’s in 1993. This work played an important role in the development of the Human Genome Project. As a disease caused by a mistake in a single gene, Huntington’s disease is an ideal model for other brain disorders. Progress toward treatments and cures for Huntington’s disease can help in finding ways to treat other illnesses with more complex genetics, such as Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s Disease (ALS). For more information: http://hdfoundation.org
Dr. Nancy S. Wexler
Dr. Nancy S. Wexler is Higgins Professor of Neuropsychology at Columbia University and President of the Hereditary Disease Foundation. Dr. Wexler’s life has been haunted by Huntington’s disease. She saw her mother and other members of her family die from the catastrophic brain disease. This haunting spurred her into action at an early age and at a time when women research scientists were not common in the United States. Her work has taken her from tiny villages in Venezuela, where large numbers of families are impacted by Huntington’s disease, to other areas of the globe and back to New York where she and the Hereditary Disease Foundation’s scientific team work tirelessly to eliminate Huntington’s.