Chancellor to Recognize Rare Disease Research Advocate at Commencement 2015

June 14, 2015

Monica Coenraads holds a master of business administration degree in international finance, but it’s the world of science in which she’s known as an inspirational leader.

Ever since daughter Chelsea, 18, was diagnosed with a rare and debilitating neurological disease called Rett syndrome as a toddler, Coenraads has dedicated her life to speeding up the research process to find—and fund—a cure. As co-founder and executive director of Rett Syndrome Research Trust, this mother of three and former restaurateur studies the latest research developments into the disease; identifies top scientists working on bold, novel ideas; finds ways for them to work together; and helps to fund their research.

Rett syndrome researcher Michael Green, pictured here with Monica Coenraads, said the support from RSRT makes a significant difference in his lab.
Rett syndrome researcher Michael Green, pictured here with Monica Coenraads, said the support from RSRT makes a significant difference in his lab. 

UMass Medical School Chancellor Michael F. Collins will award an honorary Doctor of Science degree to Coenraads at Commencement on May 31 for her tireless work and passionate advocacy. Chancellor Collins said she is an inspiration to those in the field, which includes UMass Medical School’s Michael R. Green, MD, PhD, whose work aimed at reversing the underlying cause of Rett is funded by RSRT. Dr. Green is a Howard Hughes Medical Institute Investigator, the Lambi and Sarah Adams Chair in Genetic Research and chair and professor of molecular, cell & cancer biology.

“Monica Coenraads leads one of the most impressive and influential research support programs in the world,” Chancellor Collins said. “The focus and energy she brings to the field motivates scientists and sparks discoveries. She has helped raise more than $41 million to fund bold research and is credited with supporting significant breakthroughs.”

Coenraads explained her philosophy in a blog on the RSRT website.

“Before Rett entered my life, I assumed that academic scientists, industry and government worked together seamlessly to discover effective therapies for the horrible ailments that afflict us,” Coenraads explained. “Nothing could be further from the truth. There is no ‘Department of Cures.’ Laboratory breakthroughs don’t naturally bubble up and become drugs.  The reality is that progress must be relentlessly driven, managed, nurtured and prodded, not to mention funded. It’s a messy, difficult and expensive process that can be slowed and derailed by a multitude of hurdles.

“Disease-specific organizations such as RSRT cannot afford to be spectators, passively reviewing proposals and granting money,” she said. “It is incumbent on us to set the research agenda and to facilitate its execution while staying nimble and vigilant to new opportunities.”

Read more at the source.

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