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Breakthrough leadership: A great leader passes on. But another picks up the baton.

Leaders in London blog readers : scroll down for your Robert Kennedy clip

This is Dr. Milton Wexler, an extraordinary leader who died last month, aged 98. When Dr. Wexler’s wife died of Huntington’s Disease, decades ago, this amazing man – a psycho-analyst, not a specialist in hereditary diseases – later supported by his daughter Nancy, galvanised scientists around the world, bringing them together in collaborative groups to unlock the mysteries of HD. Thanks to their efforts, and the Hereditary Diseases Foundation, which they founded and funded, the gene was discovered a decade ago. Much of the momentum towards finding a cure for this illness over the past few decades has come initially from this one man and subsequently from his daughter Nancy and her sister Alice.

There’s a wonderful short article in The Examiner (but it is not linkable to) explaining how Wexler, a Hollywood psycho-analyst, came into the hereditary research field from outside and quickly became its global leader and inspiration, with his daughter Nancy taking up the baton. Here’s an extract with lessons for other leaders and would-be leaders in how to step from one field into another and shake it up by inspiring people to look for a new way of doing things:

“In the early 1970s, Wexler began to recruit young scientists to help find a cure. The freewheeling workshops – inspired by his therapeutic sessions with artists – stressed brainstorming and were innovative in biomedical research.In 1983, scientists nurtured by Wexler – and later also by Nancy, a clinical psychologist – found the genetic marker for Huntington’s. In 1993, they located the gene itself. ‘The search for the Huntington’s gene became the paradigm for all such gene hunts,’ said Dr. Francis Collins, director of the government-supported National Human Genome Research Institute in Bethesda, Md. ‘That all came out of that wonderful intellectual ferment that Milton and Nancy created.’ “

Yes, I have a personal interest in this as you can see from the Home Page of this site.

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